Booking ahead for a long awaited dinner at Billy Kwong

When we were in Sydney last year, we stayed in a hotel close to Surry Hills and had breakfast at Bills. If you are familiar with the area, you’d know that celebrity chef Kylie Kwong’s Sydney restaurant Billy Kwong is only a few doors down. Being a dinner-only venue, we oogled their menu in the window and pledge to visit them on our next visit to the city.

Billy Kwong

It took a year, but when the opportunity came, I called a week prior to make a dinner booking over the long weekend and the Billy Kwong staffer almost said there wouldn’t be a table at all. Thankfully she found a spot for 6pm on Saturday for us and warned that it was not uncommon for a line to form outside prior. The rule is to just get in line with everyone else who had a booking, but not to be late, as they would only hold our table for 15 minutes. Talk about military precision.

The SO and I took no chances and walked over to Surry Hills with plenty of time to spare, but even arriving at 5:45pm didn’t have us first at the door. But as promised, they opened on the dot at 6pm and had us seated with menus quickly.

Billy Kwong

As you can see, Billy Kwong really isn’t a large restaurant at all. Every table were positioned close to each other, lending the restaurant a warm and cosy (and noisy) atmosphere. The three wait staff on the other hand, had to dance and twirl past tight corners to answer questions, take orders and serve platters.

Neither of us had any idea how large the portions might be and the SO left the ordering to me. I love being in the driver’s seat at meal times!

Billy Kwong - Steamed siu mai of crab and scallop. AUD$28

Steamed siu mai of crab and scallop. AUD$28

As good as the crab and scallop siu mais were, they were the least impressive dish of the evening. The cup of wonton skin was a pale cream (yay for no artificial yellow dyes!) and delicately thin, wrapping the succulent fragrant morsel of steamed crab and scallops. These four little golf balls were easily overpowered by the generous dollop of XO sauce – which contained dried scallops, if my tastebuds are correct.

Billy Kwong - Periwinkle stirfried with potatoes in XO sauce

Periwinkle stirfried with potatoes in XO sauce

Some of the day’s specials sounded extremely tempting: the blue swimmer crab dry fried with Szechuan pepper, and the duck done in a pancake. But while both were tempting, I was much more intrigued by the periwrinkle. “Isn’t it a flower?” I asked the waitress innocently after she had described the dish. “Oh, no. It’s a shellfish.” Whoops.

The matchstick lengths of potato were quickly blanched and then stir-fried with the bite sized cuts of firm periwrinkle flesh in Kelly Kwong’s moorish XO sauce. The large empty green snail shells were also served with the dish, but don’t worry – they were clean and empty on the inside, so diners wouldn’t have to contend with picking them out with the prong of a fork. This was my favorite dish of the evening, not only for its flavor but for the variety of textures – honesty, if they hadn’t told us the bulk of the dish was potatoes, I would’ve thought it was zucchini or a delicate noodle.

Billy Kwong - Red-Braised, Caramelised Wallaby Tail with Black Bean & Chilli. AUD$41

Red-Braised, Caramelised Wallaby Tail with Black Bean & Chilli. AUD$41

Billy Kwong

The SO however voted for the caramelised wallaby tail as his favourite of the evening. We had been expecting something more like sliced meat… like roo tail? Instead this dish was full of bones – nothing the SO nor I had any trouble popping into our mouths to worry our tongues over to suck the flesh off the bone. The waiter did bring little forks for us to pick at the meat, so the less adept needn’t hesitate to order this one. What’s a little mess for something as succulent, tender and delicious as this dish?

We had no trouble imaging the flavours from this dish with something more familiar, such as pork’s trotters or ribs. What I found particularly delightful was that tiny bit of soft cartilage that having been cooked right, yields the most delicate jelly texture that I find very elusive in Western cooking.

Billy Kwong - Stir-Fried Native Coorong Bower Spinach, Karkalla ( Succulent ) & Salt Bush with Ginger & Shiro Shoyu. AUD$18

Stir-Fried Native Coorong Bower Spinach, Karkalla ( Succulent ) & Salt Bush with Ginger & Shiro Shoyu. AUD$18

To balance the stronger flavours and provide some greenery to the evening, I opted to give the Stir-Fried Native Coorong Bower Spinach, Karkalla (Succulent) & Salt Bush. As simple of this vegetable dish might look, the variety of textures lended by the three natives were definitely new to us.

Billy Kwong served very Asian cuisine that was instantly familiar to us, yet not because of the use of Australian native ingredients that provided such an interesting and enjoyable dining experience. Plus we had some of the best service from our waiter, who upon learning we were from out of town, leapt to recommending several attractions and offered to take our photo in front of the restaurant. How is that for service?!

Billy Kwong

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