I had wanted to dine at Kylie Kwong's restaurant in Surry Hills ever since I chanced across an episode of her Simply Magic series some years ago. I was blown away by her passion and love of Chinese food and culture, and shortly afterwards I ate my first Shanghai dumpling - beginning a love affair of my own with Chinese cooking. And I've since had the pleasure to meet several friends who have lived in China, all of them only too happy to educate my palate.
The guiding philosophy behind Billy Kwong restaurant is: "to leave as small and light an environmental footprint as possible, to give back to the community whenever and wherever we can, and to think globally and act locally". Ahhh - be still my beating heart.
Under the red moody glow of a huge Chinese silk lantern in the small dining area, we ordered Sung Choi Bao, Kylie's signature Crispy Skin duck, fried rice, steamed Chinese greens - and the night's special, yabbies with thinly sliced vegetables and a chilli sauce.
The Sung Choi Bao was earthy and delicious, and served with a magnificent chilli sambal - which I put aside to have with the main course - it was also fantastic drizzled over the rice. The yabbies came served in half shells, the meat pulled out first by our forks, until we got more confident and lost our manners - poking indexes in and pulling the meat free, shoving it in our mouths and licking the juice from our fingers. But the highlight for me was the duck. The portions were very generous - it may have been almost the whole bird - the skin not only crispy but also disintegrated and gave way upon biting into it, and the meat so succulent and juicy it was hard not to race back to the plate for more. The sauce it was swimming in was perfect - robust and sweet, with orange segments and cinnamon quills scattered about. And the fragrance, incredible.
Billy Kwong's does not accept bookings so we were left to chance getting a table - as it turned out we had to share a large table with another couple, who were enjoying a vegetarian degustation. I did feel a little sorry for them, sharing with us ravenous duck-loving Melburnians- who made a disgraceful mess of our side of the table, adding to the general ambiance with our meat aromas, slurping and vocalising our delight at each mouthful. We felt so comfortable there and were surrounded by many fellow food lovers who also didn't bother too much about table manners. It was very refreshing - not only in terms of the food, but also the overall atmosphere - it felt good to be eating there on so many levels.
The evening was topped off by a simple dessert of poached pears with an almond praline and yogurt sauce. It cleaned the palate well and was a perfect full stop behind succinct sentences of spice, sweet, crunch, salt, sour and succulence. I couldn't resist purchasing a signed copy of Kylie's book "It Tastes Better" - my husband joked that maybe their signature duck dish recipe would be in there and we shared a laugh. Until I opened the book to discover that, yes - the duck dish was indeed included in the book. Generous as her servings, Kylie Kwong is also willing to share recipes which some other high profile chefs would - justifiably - rather keep to themselves.