If you’re even slightly aware of Sydney’s most popular restaurants, Billy Kwong is old news. Or an old favourite – whatever you want to call it. But every good food lover has it high on their list of must tries and I’m no different. But if you enjoy the way I describe things or my heavy handed use of Picasa or whatnot, I’m sure you’re dying to hear of my Billy Kwong experience.
But before I start, may I just say: There is a reason Kylie Kwong’s style of western-influenced Asian is on everyone’s agenda.
I had the most beautiful night out with friends to celebrate our graduation from the wonderful world of uni life. And without a doubt, I could use the word ‘faultless’ to describe this acclaimed restaurant. Upon arrival on a stormy Friday night, we were written onto a list of names and told that our wait would be between an hour and ninety minutes. Exactly within an hour, we were given a call to welcome us back – perfect timing.
The space inside is warm-hued and cosy, complete with black wooden cupboards and tables, (dodgy though pretty comfortable) plastic stools and bright pops of red and white in lighting and overall decor. And the space is utterly tiny. I expected the restaurant to be double in size, but it achieves an intimate atmosphere I’m sure it was aiming for.
We were swiftly seated and given a run down of the night’s specials and when we asked, a brief explanation of the Banquet Menu ($95 pp). We quickly decided we wanted to try a bit of everything so the banquet it was!
I really appreciated how our waitress asked if there was anything we wanted not included on the menu – I am not inclined to enjoying chicken livers so we opted out of that and the duck was a must (there was no way we’d pass up on the most popular dish).
So here’s a little glimpse into what I thought of each dish (5 entrees, 3 mains – we also received an appetiser and a dessert). I’d like to add that my view is obviously subjective and we all have different tastes but you already know that!
First up was a plate of Homemade Chinese Pickles. The pickled vegetables were really flavoursome with a slight tang and a bit of crunch. The crackers seemed to have Sichuan pepper sprinkled over; that numbing feeling enveloped my tastebuds immediately.
Next we received the Freshly Shucked Oysters Steamed with Ginger, Shallots & Biodynamic Sesame Oil which were plump and juicy with a simple sauce which complemented the oysters perfectly.
The Steamed Prawn Wontons with Organic Brown Rice Vinegar Dressing were juicy and the pastry thin, allowing the simplicity of the prawn flavour to shine through.
Next up was definitely my favourite entree, unfortunately I don’t know the name but it was so beautifully plated! The deep-fried crunch of the pastry combined with the tender (tofu?) innards was a winner for me. Yum!
The Sung Choi Bao of Organic Vegetables, Salt Bush & Black Fungus consisted of a steaming plate of glistening vegetables and some iceberg and chilli to help construct a little parcel of goodness. Again, the flavours were uncomplex and some might even say bland but the veggies were cooked well and with juices dripping gloriously down our faces, it was a fun experience.
For the squeamish person I am, I surprised myself with this next dish. Our waitress explained what it was – Crispy Cricket & Prawn Wontons with Sweet Chilli Sauce – and the deep-fried crickets were really freaking me out. I brushed off the insect and ate the shatteringly crispy prawn wonton and was relieved not to notice anything creepy crawly inside. But then my companions egged me on so I gave in, hesitant as I popped the bug into my gob. Crunch! That’s literally all it was, and I was glad not to feel anything weird texture-wise.
The bright orange hues and crispy golden outer of the Homestyle Fried Biodynamic Eggs with Organic Tamari & Homemade XO were so pretty to look at. The dish was an explosion of flavours and textures: crispy, crunchy, creamy, salty and spicy.
Onto mains! This was what we were really looking forward to, and at this stage, just satiated enough to keep at it. The spectacular signature dish – Crispy-Skin Pasture-Fed Duck with Biodynamic Orange – arrived and the anticipation paid off. The plating of the duck is quite dramatic, with a long line of sliced duck and leg, huge pieces of broken up cinammon bark and a scattering of star anise and orange slices. Photogenic much?
I suppose this is why they call some dishes ‘theatrical’?
Why you so pretty for?
The duck was everything I expected and more, the pieces juicy and tender with a hint of spice and a slight sweetness from the orange-based sauce. I can’t say drenching the jasmine rice in the tangy flavoured sauce was the best thing to do – for me, the flavours clashed and the taste wasn’t pleasant. Which is when I discovered the rice was probably best with the Steamed Fillet of Line Caught Snapper with Ginger, Shallots & Shiro Shoyu which came out at the same time as the duck. Of course nothing can take over the duck and all its glory but the delicately flavoured fish was cooked well and at least went better with the rice. The last dish was outshone by everything else but what did I expect? It was only a plate of bok choy, you can’t do too much to make it amazing – it was pretty lack-lustre.
At this point, we were almost bursting at the seams but when everything tastes brilliant, you soldier on.
We didn’t expect a dessert but got one anyway, hey, I’m not complaining. The (unnamed) poached pears with a macadamia cream and praline was a tiny little portion so we shared the sweet, soft pears and our extraordinary meal was over. I honestly didn’t want it to end! I can’t say my stomach was contemplating the same thing though. So there’s my first degustation experience and what a success it was!