Australia: Food: Hot Fusion ; with Its Sexy Asian-Modern Food and Shanghai Tea-House Aesthetics, Billy Kwong Is the Restaurant They're All Talking about in Sydney's Hip Surry Hills District. So Why Not Try Its Recipes for Yourself? Words by Neale Whitaker
Whitaker, Neale, The Independent (London, England)
Comparisons are daft, I know, because London's London and Sydney's Sydney. But I'm a Londoner in Sydney and I compare all the time. So if I were to say that Sydney's Crown Street is a sort of Westbourne Grove you might get the picture. A bit organic and lah- di-dah at one end, and rough as dogs at the other. And cheek by jowl restaurants. Surry Hills, the inner-city district that Crown Street bisects, might be "edgy" (read shabby and over-priced) but it's the best place to eat in town. Ask the locals, or just talk to restaurateur Bill Granger, the "billy" half of billy kwong, the hottest ticket on Crown Street.
A quick word about the lower case. Sydney, and Bill Granger in particular, is in love with it. kd lang has a lot to answer for. billy kwong, opened in April this year by Granger and head chef and business partner Kylie Kwong (both pictured above), is the third in a trinity of restaurants which comprise the no-apostrophe bills cafe, in neighbouring Darlinghurst, and bills 2, also on crown, sorry Crown Street. billy kwong is dubbed a "Chinese Eating House" by its owners, and yin and yang are two things Sydney does very well. Asian and Modern. Inspired Chinese cooking courtesy of Australian-Chinese Kwong (already a food star since her days working with Sydney maestro Neil Perry) and a sleek, dark-wood interior created by Taiwanese designer Chen Lu. It's the traditional Shanghai tea-house given a millennium spin, with Kwong's kitchen centre- stage. "With billy kwong, we've created something which doesn't fit a mould," says Granger, "it comes from us."
Granger has a Midas touch. When he opened bills in the early Nineties he was the first in Sydney to strew the daily papers on a big central table and let customers sit communally over great coffee and superlative breakfasts. bills is globally famous these days and Granger should probably be patenting his ricotta hotcakes. Instead he's sharing them with the world in his first book, Sydney Food, published in the UK this month.
But with billy kwong Granger seems happy to let Kylie Kwong steal the limelight. He describes her as "the most incredible talent". And as charismatic a head chef/maitre d' as you will find. Kwong's menu draws from the traditional Chinese kitchen and fuses it with popular modern Australian ingredients. She's mad about fish. Specials on any night of the week might include steamed Pacific oysters or mako- shark fillet. The Sydney Morning Herald recently voted her crispy skin duck with mandarin sauce (see recipes) one of the city's top 10 dishes.
"The restaurant's alive in every sense," says Kwong. "You have a sensual experience when you come here. You smell the food, you hear the music, there's an energy." I remind Granger and Kwong of the checklist they recited to me back in March, shortly before they opened. They wanted their restaurant to be "humble, simple, raw, honest, warm, friendly, easy, chic and soulful". Humble I'd challenge, but all the rest are present and correct. And do you know what I'd add? Sexy. It's a really sexy place. Billy Kwong? More Suzi Wong. &
billy kwong, 355 Crown Street, Surry Hills, Sydney (00 612 9332 3300). Open Monday to Saturday, 6-10pm. BYO (Sydney has draconian licensing laws). `Sydney Food' is published by Murdoch Books, priced pounds 14.99
O ] Spicy dry-fried green beans
Serves 4 as part of a Chinese banquet
200g large green beans, topped and tailed
3 large red chillies, deseeded and cut in half lengthways
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
11/2tbsp hoisin sauce
1tsp peanut oil
1/2tsp sea salt
vegetable oil for deep frying
Deep fry green beans and chillies in enough vegetable oil to cover, for about 3-4 minutes or until beans are al dente. …