To create something entirely new in an industry built on tradition sounds impossible, but that is what Kylie Kwong has done with her modern Chinese-Australian diner in Potts Point. After witnessing Rene Redzepi expound on the bounty of Australian native ingredients back in 2010, the beloved Sydney chef looked to her own backyard to become the change she wanted to see in the hospitality industry. Cue a menu that forged its own path, merging Kwong’s Chinese heritage with wallaby tail, sea parsley, karkalla and Warrigal greens, with delicious results.
And Kwong didn’t stop there. Her community ties go deeper than the roots of a Moreton Bay fig. The honey on your soft, two-bite pork buns is from the Wayside Chapel’s rooftop hives. Herbs and fresh produce are sourced from local schools and community gardens. The fresh, vibrant shiraz from Jauma in South Australia is made especially for the restaurant. Kwong is most definitely a people person.
Saltbush armoured in a ring of golden, flaky pastry that you dip in tamari and a oily, ferocious housemade chilli sauce by now has reached cult status as a Sydney bar snack. They are designed to emulate the shallot pancakes eaten as street snacks across China, but these ones come with a distinct outback flavour.
A pile of glass noodles, sticky with caramelised wallaby tail mince and fired up with chilli, are the kind of dark bronze that would make a body-builder jealous and nail that salty-sweet high-wire act. And the umami hits just keep coming, especially in a plate of fried eggs doused in XO sauce and tamari that deliver a king’s ransom in crispy edge bits that you’ll straight-up fight your dining companion for. Lucky you’ve only got chopsticks, not a steak knife to hand.
The deep-fried half duck is a signature on the menu here, but make sure you examine the specials list in detail because it’s possible that they’ll also be serving those crunchy-skinned bird in slices to be packed into warm, steamed pancakes with cucumber, green onions, hoisin and chilli. This rendition is more savoury than your classic Peking duck pancake. They use pasture-raised Burrawong fowls that are seasoned inside and out with Sichuan pepper, steamed and then fried to a crisp.
No man is an island, but your steamed snapper fillet is, bobbing languidly in a veritable paddling pool of gently salty broth humming with ginger. We would almost classify this as a soup, and it’s certainly evoking all the right feelings of rest and restoration after the last spoonful is thrown over rice.
When asked ‘what is Australian cuisine?’, people can look panicked and point at everything at once, or at an avocado. We reckon Billy Kwong might be the answer to that vexing question. The food here tells a story about Australia and its history, but it’s not stuck in the past. Billy Kwong looks forward to what’s possible with an inclusive attitude and razor-sharp skills, and that’s what makes it the Sydney restaurant that everyone should visit at least once.