I had been talking about dining at Billy Kwong for years but never actually made it, so when Em wanted to catch up for dinner mid-week I decided enough talking about it, let’s do it. I left work and rushed up to Surry Hills to make it to the restaurant in time for opening – Billy Kwong doesn’t take reservations and I had heard all about the queues it attracts. I arrived right on 6pm when the doors were due to open and discovered a queue of about 40 people and my chances of getting a table for the first sitting slim. As the first guests were seated I caught myself wondering if they felt like they were in a fish bowl with the rest of the hungry customers staring in through the floor to ceiling glass windows. The last table was seated leaving three couples in front of us who put their name down for round two. We reached the front doors at 630pm and put our name down, then set off for the Dolphin for a drink, having been told the wait would be between an hour and an hour quarter.
Right on queue I received a phone call advising our table was ready. Anticipation rising we squeezed into our table on the far side of the restaurant and I wondered how the waiters manage not to tumble over the guests who are seated almost shoulder to shoulder in the tiny dining room? Yet despite the crowd we had no problem hearing each other and felt cosy in our little corner. The waiter brought us a small bowl of peanuts to tide us over whilst we perused the menu and straight away there was an explosion of flavour in my mouth. I’m not sure whether the nuts were organic, but they were truly the nicest peanuts I have ever eaten.
It took less than a minute for us to decide on the $95 banquet, the courses of which are not actually listed on the menu. We were informed the banquet would comprise of 7-9 courses depending on the kitchen’s desire, as well as sides and dessert. The only other question we had to answer was whether there was anything we don’t like or are allergic to. Then it was game on!
- Organic Sweet Corn & Egg Soup
- Sashimi of the Day – Kingfish and Trout
- Freshly Shucked Oysters Steamed with Ginger & Shallots
- Crispy Prawn Wontons with Sweet Chilli Sauce
- Stir-Fried Mussels with Homemade Chilli Sauce & Black Beans
- Steamed Sea Bass
- Roasted, Caramelised Organic Pumpkin with Black Beans & Ginger
- Steamed Savoury Pancakes with Braised Beef Brisket, Cucumber and Shallots
- Duck with Citrus Sauce
- Crispy-Skin Free-Range Chicken with Organic Brown Rice Vinegar Dressing
- Steamed Chinese Greens with Organic Tamari
- Poached Pears
Organic Sweet Corn & Egg Soup.
A brief moment later our first course appeared – organic sweet corn and egg soup to warm us up on the cold winter’s night. I love my vegies, but I am not a huge fan of corn and Em is not a huge fan of egg so I wondered whether this dish was going to hit the spot. To my surprise we all agreed, it did just that. The main thing I noticed about this dish was how fresh and pure it tasted. The broth had great depth of flavour which Dylan felt was a great anchor to the other elements in the dish and could lend itself to many other great combinations.
Sashimi of the Day – Kingfish and Trout.
Dylan and I were in heaven with the arrival of a plate of beautifully presented sashimi. Em was hesitant as she’s not a huge seafood/fish fan, but as always said she would give it a go. The kingfish melted in the mouth, the flavour just exquisite. The trout was a welcome change from the more common sashimi option of salmon. The higher fat content of trout brought an additional level of contrast to the delicate kingfish, balancing the dish beautifully. Kylie’s concept of chefs cooking to the culinary laws of Yin and Yang is evident in this dish with the plating, selection of fish in both flavour and texture.
Freshly Shucked Oysters Steamed with Ginger & Shallots.
I had never had a steamed oyster before, so I was rather curious when our waiter delivered this course. Wow! Steamed oysters are wonderful. The ginger and shallots perfectly balance the saltiness of the oyster and I think the steaming process reduced the salty, sometimes overpowering flavour of the oyster.
Crispy Prawn Wontons with Sweet Chilli Sauce.
Just like any good deep fried wonton, these were extremely crispy and made the perfect crunch when bitten in to. The sweet chilli sauce was not your typical viscous variety but an authentic sweet soy base with pickled red chilli (quite fiery with a tang). Although not everyone’s cup of tea (will I ever learn to like tangy foods?) Dylan was in condiment heaven. The supreme crispiness of wontons and the succulent flesh of prawns were definitely made for each other.
Stir-Fried Mussels with Homemade Chilli Sauce & Black Beans.
Whilst this was a mussel dish we found it was the sauce that stole the show. The dish was a world apart from mussels we were more accustomed to, usually presented in a light broth in a classic French or Thai style. The black beans gave a rich, bold flavour and paired with the homemade chilli gave the sauce a strong presence without overwhelming the fresh Australian Black Mussels. A perfect portion, not left wanting nor feeling like you’ve overdone it. The recipe for this wonderful dish can be found here on Kylie’s website.
Steamed Sea Bass.
Beautifully steamed sea bass fillet, with a light and fresh flavour. The sauce had a slightly overbearing ginger taste but not so much to spoil the dish completely. Overall it was well executed but it seemed lost in a world of amazing dishes, outshone by the rest of the banquet. The recipe for this dish can be found here on Kylie’s website.
Roasted, Caramelised Organic Pumpkin with Black Beans & Ginger.
I love pumpkin and was delighted to see the large portion we were served. However I found myself sadly a little underwhelmed by it. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but it would have been nice to have the pumpkin lifted to a higher level rather than seeming like any other roasted version.
Steamed Savoury Pancakes with Braised Beef Brisket, Cucumber and Shallots.
The dish of the night for sure. This is the dish little miss Em has been waiting for, it had her name written all over it. We saw this one on the specials list and were stoked when it arrived at our table. I love the idea behind these that everyone makes their own pancake to their own tastes, with as little or as much filling as they desire.
We each took our perfect little pancake, topped it with our desired amount of filling – a stick of cucumber, shallot, a little mountain of braised beef, a sprinkling of sesame seeds that have been roasted with chilli and salt, and a drizzle of the house made XO sauce. Amazing. The pancake was still warm and fluffy, the meat braised to perfection, tender and falling apart, and the crunchiness of the cucumber and shallot brought it all together. Then you get the hit of the sesame and XO sauce. Such wonderful balance. Just gorgeous. Our only complaint was there wasn’t more!
Duck with Citrus Sauce.
I had only recently begun ordering duck out in restaurants, but I was thrilled when one of Kylie’s signature dishes arrived. I was impressed with the fragrance, glossy appearance and bright colour of the oranges. When a signature dish arrives you can’t do anything but hold your breath in anticipation and we certainly were not let down. There were so many layers to the dish with cinnamon, star anise and citrus, yet it was still the duck that took centre stage. If we had ordered this course from the a la carte menu instead of the banquet we would have left completely satisfied. Divine.
Crispy-Skin Free-Range Chicken with Organic Brown Rice Vinegar Dressing.
By the time the chicken arrived we were close to bursting and unable to fully appreciate it, especially as we spent a lot of time picking around the large amount of bones. It could have been quite a rich heavy dish, but the vinegar lifted it to a light, easy going course nearing the end of the banquet. Unfortunately after the duck we felt the finale had already happened.
Steamed Chinese Greens with Organic Tamari.
Chinese broccoli. Yum. I love my greens and was so excited when the broccoli arrived, piled high and drenched in tamari. I was struggling to fit any more in, but somehow found room for this super food. The fresh, light flavours were beautiful, such a simple dish but not to be outdone by the others. Yum yum yum I still love broccoli.
Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more, we all found room for dessert. Well to be honest the waiter suggested we share one dessert between the three of us which was a very wise idea. I can’t deny I was disappointed the dessert wasn’t chocolate based (though when do you ever order chocolate at a Chinese restaurant?!) as I’m not usually one to go for the fruity dessert. But I love the little surprises you get from the unexpected. The pear was perfectly poached and topped with a generous amount of cream. I thought it would be quite heavy, but with the three of us sharing it was the perfect amount of sweet to finish off the night.
$95 per person was worth it. The wait was worth it. We will definitely be back.
Kalleske Calrry’s 2009 Grenache, Shiraz and Mataro.
Shop 3, 355 Crown Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 9332 3300
Billy Kwong Website