During a weekend stay in Sydney, I got to visit Kylie Kwong’s Surry Hills restaurant Billy Kwong with some friends. The restaurant takes 6pm or 8pm bookings, and those in the 6pm slot need to be out by 8pm. The restaurant rang us earlier in the day to confirm our booking and were advised that we would still need to line up. When we got there at 6.05pm, surely enough there was already a queue out the door.
The inside of the restaurant is very small and cramped fitting just 12 small square tables and 1 larger round table with plastic stools. The main feature in the room is a huge round lamp providing some dim mood lighting.
There are rows of wine bottles lining both far walls and a selection of wine and beer on the drinks menu. It was difficult trying to get the attention of the wait staff since everyone in the 6pm sitting of the booked out restaurant were trying to do the same thing. We were a bit worried about getting out on time.
The menu has a selection of entrees, mains and one dessert of the day. We asked our waitress what was in Kylie’s Banquet at $95 per head as the menu items weren’t listed. It’s basically tailored to diners’ tastes to include 5 entrees and 3 mains. The four of us decided to just pick off the menu instead. The handwritten specials menu was quite hard to read/decipher.
We ordered 3 entrees to share – the first being freshly shucked oysters steamed with ginger, shallots and biodynamic sesame oil ($17). This was served warm with fresh coriander and spring onion on top. The broth was simple but done so well. I thought it was a really elegant way to cook the oysters.
We ordered the wok-fried rice noodle rolls in beef and black bean ($29). I thought this looked great and certainly not what I had imagined. The rolls were stuffed full of soft beef brisket style meat. I absolutely loved the crunchy fried outer roll. This was my favourite dish of the night. But I couldn’t see or taste much of the black bean. I’d gladly order this dish again.
Next was the sang choi bao of certified free range pork, ginger and mushrooms ($29). A large bowl with the filling was provided but we only had four lettuce cups so there was lots of filling left to fight over. Disappointed there was no hoisin sauce. Instead, this was substituted for a very spicy chilli oil which I didn’t touch. The filling itself was lovely with a bit of crunch from freshly grated cabbage and carrots. The addition of fresh mint on the side of the lettuce cups gave the sang choi bao a nice freshness. I never would have thought to add mint but will need to remember this for home made sang choi bao. Very messy to eat. We’d all used up our serviettes to clean the sauce that had dripped down all over our hands and table but luckily, almost psychically, our waitress knew when we needed more napkins and when to wipe down the table.
Our waitress suggested we order some Asian greens to break up the mains. We all sort of looked at each other and nodded. This was an extra $16. Not too bad – crunchy veggies without being smothered in soy or oyster sauce. We did notice a lot of sesame oil used in all the dishes.
The crispy skin duck with biodynamic oranges and quandong ($49) on the specials menu looked pretty good. We had to ask our waitress to decipher some of the wording at first and she also told us that a quandong is an Australian native wild peach. This dish was named hottest dish last year by The Australian so we were all keen to try it. It looked pretty good coming out with sliced oranges, cinnamon sticks, star anise and the small quandongs scattered on the plate. The duck was fantastic – beautiful crispy skin that crunched when you bit into it and juicy tender duck meat that had been marinated in the orange sauce. A different take on duck with plum sauce, that worked fabulously well together. This dish is never off the menu and is one of Kylie Kwong’s signature dishes. Delicious!
For something different, we ordered the red-braised caramelised Flinders Island Wallaby tail in black bean and chilli ($34). I had no idea what wallaby would taste like and have never seen this on a menu anywhere else. The meat was wonderfully tender and came off the bone easily with a fork or by sucking on it. It tasted a bit like a lighter version of lamb to me. The black bean and chilli sauce was a great complement to the wallaby. We all surprisingly enjoyed this. Yum!
The dessert of the day was poached peach with organic cream, hazelnut praline and a side of chocolate ($16). We ordered one of this to share between the four of us. I thought it was a standard poached peach dessert. The cream was a little sour for me but I did like the peach syrup it was sitting in as well as the crunchy hazelnuts.
A side of dark chocolate was provided with the blocks of chocolate broken up. This gave the dessert another element in feel and taste, adding a slight bitterness to the syrupy sweet pear. A good combination. However, this wasn’t a great dessert for me and I’m regretting not walking down a few metres to Bill’s for dessert instead.
We were all really pleased that the food came out quickly as we were able to walk out of there at 8pm. It helps that the restaurant is so small. Service was initially difficult to get a hold of, but after most orders were taken, it improved. Our waitress knew the menu inside and out, was knowledgable about the food, knew exactly when we needed more napkins and a mop up of the table without us asking and was very friendly. Water is topped up regularly by staff as well.
It gets very loud inside, and it doesn’t help that everyone is cramped in, so I had to shout to talk to the others at the table. We all enjoyed the dishes here with the exception of dessert. Great modern Chinese food but it’s a little pricey – $49 for the free-range chicken on the menu? I still had an enjoyable experience here and am glad I’ve tried it out.
I do love Kylie’s guiding philosophy of using sustainable locally grown organic and biodynamic produce and leaving as little an environmental footprint as possible.
Bookings highly recommended! Edit: Billy Kwong has moved to Potts Point and online bookings can be made through their website.