Sunday, July 26, 2009

small footprint, huge vibe

last night i braved the 90 minute "no reservation" queue in a city full of packed restaurants & made it back to kylie kwong's divine hole in the wall: billy kwong. the wait wasn't altogether unpleasant because almost directly across the road my date & i slowly made our way through the low-key wine list at the humming bar come bistro which is the dolphin bar. ye olde stomping ground from my previous incarnation as a local.

by the time we received the maitre d's call, the night had lost it's not quite wintry edge & we were ready to embrace it firmly. i was FAMISHED. it all started with the moreish sea-salted peanuts & delicious billy kwong branded biodynamic margaret river merlot [which explains why my head is in three-toed sloth gear this morning]...

sadly for us by the time we were seated the restaurant was well into 2nd setting mode which meant that the infamous crispy skinned duck was no longer available. this did not affect me at all, in fact i was secretly happy that limits of control meant that perhaps there were still some ducks left flying amok somewhere outside the wonderful mahogany cupboard lined walls of this magical boutique space which is somewhat akin to C S lewis's wardrobe [the walls magically come alive when you least expect them to]. still my dinner date was disappointed, so i feigned concern & pointed out another dish i'd like to participate in which i could actually eat but sadly our food choices are completely incompatible & seafood is a dirty word in his vernacular. so onward we strode like independent culinary soliders & prepared to dessimate the menu separately.

billy kwong like most chinese eating houses' fare is really designed to share. in the gorgeously intimate environment in the narrow shopfront, one would require extraordinary coordination to be able to share with more than two people at a table as the tiny space has really been milked in terms of maximising bums per tables per square metre. flailing elbows are not the go. still it's fun & i enjoyed helping out the neighbouring table with fallen chopsticks & red wine on shirt spill tips when uncharacteristically enough it all happened at the adjacent table rather my own. separate but together.

what can i say? my dish was enormous so i stopped at the stir-fried mussels with homemade chilli sauce and black beans. accompanied by steamed organic jasmine rice & steamed greens with organic tamari which made boutique grocer fresh look limp, the end result was visual, textural & tastebud heaven. my date had red braised caramelised organic pork belly with chinese coleslaw which is probably the worst thing anyone opposite me in such close proximity could ever order. needless to say there was no kissing for dessert. still he said it was worth it.

what i've always loved about kylie kwong's cooking is the deceptive rustic simplicity that her food has. in the end this talented woman knows that produce is key. with an exclusive loyalty towards organic energetic ingredients, this makes the task of a skilled master in the kitchen yielding an understated yet highly crowd-pleasing successful result that much easier.

ethical eating is the old wholefoods wave all dressed/grown up in the urban jungle sans dreadlocks. billy kwong was the first carbon neutral restaurant in NSW: it's obviously sustainable because there's never a time i go past where that lovely little darkened room driven by the murmur of appreciative conversation & the soft clatter of chopsticks is not full to brimming.

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