Billy Kwong is not a Chinese restaurant. Well, I mean I assume he is also a man, but I’m talking about Billy Kwong in Potts Point. It may be decked out like a Chinese restaurant, it may smell like a Chinese restaurant, and it may even serve typically Chinese dishes, but don’t let all that fool you.
Since opening its doors in 2000, Billy Kwong has been the poster child for the Modern Australian take on the Chinese cuisine – fusing native Australian ingredients with Chinese cooking techniques to create something that’s unique to Sydney.
As for the quality of the food, my friends are split into two camps. The non-Asian friends love it and would happily head there for a night out; and the Asian friends, well, let’s just say that there’s better Chinese to be had at a more affordable price.
But keeping in mind that it’s (repeat after me) not a Chinese restaurant, it’s actually a pretty decent feed.
We started with Steamed Prawn Wontons, $19, and Rice Noodle Rolls, $28. The wontons, with its silky wrapper and fresh filling, sat in a peppery puddle of brown rice vinegar and chilli dressing. A small salad of finely sliced herbs finished the dish, and made sure that every mouthful was satisfyingly fresh, sour, salty, and spicy.
The Rice Noodle Rolls did not fair quite as well, with a fairly thick sheet of rice noodle wrapped around a cigar of pulled braised beef brisket. I loved the crispy texture of the fried rolls, but flavour-wise, it needed a little something something to cut through the richness. The beef was, well, beefy, but not outstandingly so, and it didn’t taste any particular spice that spoke to a labour of love. And at $28 for an entree, I was really hoping for a LOT more love.
For the main, we got the Crispy Duck with Davidson’s Plum, $48, with Stir Fried Native Australian Greens, $12, to share. The duck came in a huge serving (we were warned by the waiter) and the fuchsia sweet plum sauce was a fun take on the Duck á L’orange from days gone past. Intensely spiced, the salty sweet gravy was just so satisfying ladled over rice, and reminded me of glossy plates of sweet and sour pork from my childhood. SAH GOOD.
Although just between us, I could’ve gone without the duck. Just the sauce, sour plums, rice and maybe a touch of chopped chilli, thankyouverymuch.
The Native Australian Greens were stir-fried with ginger and white soy. I’m sure it would be more impressive to know exactly what greens we were eating, but to me, it all just tasted like wilted spinach. Lovely spinach, but wilted spinach nonetheless. I know, right? #FoodBloggerFail
The biggest thing that struck me about the experience at Billy Kwong is not actually the food: it’s the service. Our water glasses were never empty, and our teapot was constantly topped up with hot water. Our waiter knew the menu from back to front, and gave sincere recommendations about what (and how much) we should order. The welcome was warm, and they were very quick to notice if we looked up and needed assistance.
I guess that’s what really separates my Asian friends and my non-Asian friends: we place so much importance on the food that the service really is optional. We don’t care if you ignore us, if the food is delicious and at a good price. Everyone else, though, sees the value in the service provided, and at Billy Kwong you’re really paying for that privilege.
A lovely place to have dinner, as long as you’re not expecting an authentic Chinese restaurant. Because it is not. ?