After 14 years on Crown Street, Kylie Kwong closed the doors on the original Surry Hills home of Billy Kwong in October, and now she's set to open the new chapter on Macleay Street in Potts Point. Kick-off is Friday 12 December, and they're taking bookings from Monday the 8th, but in the meantime we've got the lowdown on what stays, what goes, what's in, what's out and, most importantly, what's for dinner.
Celebration, collaboration and community is the ethos of the new restaurant.
Over the years Billy Kwong evolved from merely being a red-hot eatery to a restaurant with a social conscience. As the Gourmet Traveller restaurant guide once teased, the Surry Hills site's shopfront looked a bit like a Kombi's bumper with all the stickers from Fairtrade and the like, but it's proven to be no faddish greenwashing, with Kwong's commitment to responsibility across the environmental and social spheres now an essential part of how the business is run.
What does that mean for the food?
More an evolution than a revolution. The structure of the menu and the focus on produce-forward Cantonese-Australian cooking remain the same because, as Kwong says, they're what her customers like. "It works." Classics such as the home-style fried eggs with XO sauce, the prawn wontons with brown-rice vinegar and the steamed fish with ginger and spring onions are all there, alongside the crisp saltbush cakes with chilli sauce, red-braised wallaby tail with blackbean and other newer favourites, with indigenous ingredients continuing to loom large.
What about totally new dishes?
Look to the specials menus for the latest, whether that's a collar of kingfish braised in Young Henry's beer then deep-fried and served with organic caramelised tomatoes, native basil and sea parsley, or savoury cakes made with weeds collected from an array of local community gardens, and organic wheat and buckwheat flour milled for the restaurant by the Wholegrain Milling Co.
And what's this about a new angle to dessert?
Kwong has been collaborating with Merna Taouk, of Dessertmakers, a pal she made at the Eveleigh Markets, to come up with some new sweets, a (Fairtrade) chocolate mousse and ginger panna cotta with quandong syrup among them.
What about the room?
The new site, which used to be Arun Thai, is much larger than the original restaurant. Crown Street seated 50; Macleay Street will be more than double that - closer to 120. "It will definitely be Billy Kwong as you know it but just a whole lot more accessible," says Kwong. "We have bottled the BK DNA and transferred it across town into a much bigger and more comfortable space - think comfy chairs, great acoustics, seriously accessible booking system , a beautiful long bar and plenty of table space also for larger groups." George Livissianis, the designer responsible for such recent rooms as The Apollo, Cho Cho San and Café Paci, has done the fit-out.
So no more three-legged plastic stools?
That's right - they've been donated to the Wayside Chapel, a charity for which Kwong is an ambassador.
Does that mean the wine list will be a lot more natural-leaning than before?
Yes indeed. And not just the wine. Giorgio de Maria, a past GT Sommelier of the Year and the head of wine operations for the Vini group, has put together a very bold list that gives no quarter to mainstream names. Of perhaps most interest is the list of Project Wines, limited-edition bottlings that have been produced in collaboration with some of the edgiest wineries in the country (Kwong's pals at Lucy Margaux, Shobbrook and Jauma in South Australia among them), plus Orsi in Emilia-Romagna.
There's similar thinking at work with the beers brewed by Newtown's Young Henrys and Manly's Nomad (a quandong saison and pale ale, respectively), with the whisky and gin made by Lark Distillery in Tasmania, and with Ethiopian coffee sourced by Russell Beard of Surry Hills roasters Reuben Hills.
"Simply put, the quality of the wines, beer and spirits will mirror the quality of the food," says Kwong.
And how is Kylie Kwong feeling about the result?
She is pretty amped up, to say the least. "We love to celebrate and highlight the talent, passion, skill and commitment of our food and wine producer friends and colleagues - those who allow we cooks and restaurateurs to make our dreams a reality," she says. "Billy Kwong is all about collaboration, celebration and community - food and family are at the centre of both my Chinese heritage and Andrew's Italian heritage. It feels like a natural fit to be working on this together and it's a project we have both been discussing for the last five years. The time is right and we are just so excited.
"Come in and let us feed and water you. Everyone is welcome in our home."
Billy Kwong, Shop 1, 28 Macleay St, Potts Point, NSW, (02) 9332 3300.
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