Kylie Kwong at Billy Kwong

lunch with Kylie Kwong

I crave Asian flavors, which became apparent on a couple of occasions this month. For one thing, it seems that I want to add chiles and fresh ginger to everything. Here is Sydney, Australia, where so much of the food feels Asian-influenced – clean flavors, fresh ingredients often cooked quickly over high heat (cooks using fiery woks always seem to be “attacking” the food, simultaneously pulling out and searing flavors), and served with immediacy – I mentioned to a dining companion that I loved everything I’ve eaten here. And what was particularly delightful was that my favorite flavors were used liberally in the food, including fresh ginger, which was so Asian. He looked at me, and said “Really? I think of fresh ginger as an Australian thing.” But when I said that I always saw fresh ginger piled high in Chinese markets, he said, “You know, it’s abundant in regular markets here in Australia as well.”

Being from California, Asian food is my “comfort” food and I never realized how much I depend on a bowl of spicy bibimbap for lunch in the winter or a light plate of cold buckwheat noodles with nori and ginger dressing in the summer. I like any and all Asian food, no matter what time of the year it is or where I am.

asian saucesoysters
Chinese vegetables with Meyer lemonAt Kylie Kwong

Paris is a somewhat culturally diverse city, but is just beginning to really embrace all the wonderful cuisines of Asian. I don’t know how far it will go, but interestingly, last week when I was walking around looking for a place for lunch in the middle of the city, virtually all the Japanese and Korean restaurants on the rue Saint-Anne were packed, with lines of people (mostly French people..) streaming out the door. And a majority of cafés were pretty much empty.

chinese chicken

That’s not true all around the city, but I think it’s happening in areas where there’s good Asian fare because people are searching out fresh, healthy flavors, and it’s a little more convivial to be sitting around a table laden with bowls and plates of food, where you can enjoy a little of this, or take a larger portion of something of that. Or pull up to a big bowl of noodles and quickly slurp them down, then be on your way if you’re in a hurry. (However one cultural difference that surprised me when I first moved to France is that people don’t share in Chinese restaurants; everyone orders their own thing and has a bowl of rice with a main dish.)

cooking vegetableswashing mussels with Kylie Kwong
musselsCook Kylie Kwong

But how happy was I to discover that Sydney is a hotbed of great Asian cooking and restaurants. Immediately I hit Chinatown for roti at Mamak, a Malaysian place, and I already have a list of Thai and dumpling joints to keep my well-fed this week. But Billy Kwong was at the top of my list, the restaurant of Chinese cook extraordinaire, Kylie Kwong. I met her the first night in town, and I immediately sensed a terrific cook, as well as a wonderful woman, behind those geometric glasses.

shucking oysters

So how surprised was I to be invited to her restaurant for an impromptu lunch on Sunday (when the restaurant is normally closed) with a few chef friends. Walking in the door of this small, very personal restaurant, I noticed the kitchen takes up perhaps 50% of the space and bridges any gap that would break the immediacy of the connection between diners and cooks.

When we got there, Kylie was already running around the kitchen with a big smile on her face. And after pouring us a few glasses of rosé, since it’s completely impossible not to get swept up into her enthusiasm, we all pitched in, peeling asparagus, chopping ginger, pounding chiles, and shucking local oysters, then setting them on platters and arranging them around the large table.

biodynamic wine

Of course, it’s impossible to cook with just on glass of wine, and the rosé filled any gaps in conversation during cooking, and followed us through the six-hour lunch. Since it was a private lunch, I’m not going to name names, but there was singing, perhaps a bit of dancing, more rosé, and a small fist-fight even broke out. (Don’t worry, it was between two young boys, who were just being kids, who also were restless and jet-lagged.)

rosépork shoulder
Chinese prawnsmussels in broth
chopping scallionsmaking sauce

I have to say, I’ve worked with a lot of chefs and cooks, and you can instantly tell if someone is a good cook by how they treat their ingredients. It’s not about careful cutting or stressing over if you have precisely five-ninths of a teaspoon of pepper. It’s taking the food that’s in front of you, instinctively figuring out the best way to cook it – and what will go well with it – then grabbing a wok or skillet, cranking up the heat, and taking control of the stirring or mixing until you’re happy with the result. Good food isn’t hard, and the reason restaurant food is often very flavorful is because professional cooks work fast and just go for it.

prawns

Kylie cooked like that and it was a lot of fun jumping in and doing kitchen tasks with such an accomplished cooked, that made everything look effortless. And from the smile beaming from her face the entire afternoon, she was enjoying it as much as we were.

asparagus Kylie Kwong at Billy Kwong

I don’t know if I could recount everything we had, but we started with fresh local oysters, braised pork belly with thick soy sauce (which wasn’t really a starter, but I couldn’t help grabbing a crispy end slice since it was right in front of me), and vegetables pickled in spicy kimchi brine. We had quickly sautéed vegetables – a combination of Swiss chard, asparagus, chiles, and organic Meyer lemon halves, finished with tamari, then heaped into shallow bowls.

Chinese condiments

There were also various sauces for dipping and dousing, like creamy scallion sauce for the boiled chicken, oil infused with crescents of spicy red chiles for dribbling over thin slices of pristine raw fish, and a sauce that Kylie pounded in her mortar and pestle, adding a good pour of fish sauce, which I timidly dipped a steamed prawn in, until Kylie leaned over and filled my sauce dish to the brim so it would splash over the already splattered table when I dunked the tail of the shellfish in, saying – “David, you really need to dredge the prawn through the sauce…go for it!” And who was I to argue?

Billy Kwong  - Kylie Kwong



Billy Kwong
Shop 3
355 Crown Street
Surry Hills
Sydney, Australia
Tel: 61 2 9332 3300

60 comments

  • In a word: JEALOUS.
    :)

  • I can’t even begin to describe how delighted/jealous/excited/thrilled I am that you had such an experience with one of my favourite chefs in the world AND in my home country. Glad you’re enjoying it, David. :)

  • utterly FABULOUS!
    wish I was in yr shoes…

  • You’re definitely hitting up the best of Sydney… BSB, Billy Kwong – I haven’t heard you mention Black Star Pastry in Newtown yet, make sure you get there! You will not be disappointed (as long as you get there before they run out)…

  • Wow wow wow! I had friends who wanted to eat there yesterday but found out it was shut to mere mortals ;-). Hope Sydney continues to fill all yr culinary needs – sounds like you’re having a grand time.

  • To go to a Chinese restaurant and not share — that’s just not right.

    Lyon, although considered to be one of the best cities in Europe when it comes to food, really lags behind in the Asian food race. I wonder if it will ever catch up, because of its perhaps-too-glorious (French) gastronomical past.

  • Lucky, lucky you! I think Kylie Kwong is a fantastic chef and a great TV personality in Australia. There aren’t many Asians on TV and she is a wonderful ambassador of Asian cuisine. Billy Kwong was also high on my list of restaurants to visit when I went back to Australia a few years ago. Although the food was terrific, unfortunately I couldn’t see anything I was eating – the restaurant was so dimly lit that even the waiters couldn’t see us! Luckily you were there during the day ;-) I can’t wait to read about what were you will eat next in Sydney!

  • This whole webpage of food looks absolutely delicious. I rarely eat Asian food, but not for lack of wanting it or loving it. I would gladly devour a lot of the things pictured here.

  • omg. everything looks so fresh and delicious !

  • Saw Kylie on Sunday, and heard about the lunch, it sure sounded wonderful! Loved spending a moment and having my book signed, but really sorry Melbourne isn’t on your agenda – you will have to return sometime soon, we have restaurants with recipes that can grow hair on chest, and who knows in your case maybe a few on the top of the head also!

  • I love Kylie! She had some cooking shows on PBS in the states a few years ago, and they never failed to make me hungry. She’s an infectious, excited cook! I’m very jealous :)

  • Myself being a fan of Asian cuisine, I very much enjoyed the Asian or Asian influenced cuisine I found all over Australia. The nice thing is, that the Asian food on that continent really tastes great (whereas in Europe it sometimes still occurs that food just looks Asian, but has no specific taste; of course, there are also many lovely Asian places here). Looks like you had a perfect experience, great photos.

  • Any six hour lunch complete with a fist-fight can be nothing short of astonishing.

    But come now… were you really THAT surprised to find that the French wouldn’t want to be caught sharing oversized plates of comforting Chinese food in public? With others? :P

  • Wow, look at all those incredible dishes! Very jealous of your experience, looks like a blast!!

  • Those oysters look amazing!

  • The pictures are wonderful! what a feast! I love Kwong’s food show! so Jealous!

  • is it just me or is the chicken bleeding (a bit)? love the whole post though. well done!!! ;)

  • For good Asian food David, you must go to Golden Century in Chinatown. The best!!!

  • What a feast! Glad to hear Asian flavors being embraced in Paris…You must read The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones, if you haven’t already. A wonderful novel that takes place in China and does a great job of covering the history and practice of Chinese culinary masters…with a little mystery and romance thrown in…

  • Sounds like a feast worthy of Kerry Greenwood! Glad Kylie nudged you beyond your heat-averse zone, too. Revel in the burn!

  • Looks to be a far cry from most Parisian restaurants which claim to “specialize” in Asian Food. Continue living the good life!

  • Amazing looking food. I love Kylie Kwong and have since I saw her show few years ago on The Learning Channel (?). Yes, that chicken looks to be bleeding, but I’ll bet anything it was freshly killed (like that morning) and perfectly cooked (i.e. not dried out). So Jealous…

  • Beautiful photography

  • simply the most beautiful post — creating drooling jealousy amongst readers. creamy scallion sauce for chicken? recipe, or at least ingredients, please please please.

  • I heart Kylie Kwong (and David Lebovitz, of course)!!! I miss Kylie’s wonderul cooking TV shows, and hope they come back to US soon!!! Thanks for mini-vacation to Australia!!!

  • What a blast! Missing Kylie’s TV show from a couple of years back.

  • I’m afraid that Sweden is even behind Paris on the Asian food front, and I live in the most ethnically diverse city in the country. At least there are some decent Asian markets and a couple of ok restaurants but there are very few, delicious Asian fixes here, and they are certainly not inexpensive.

  • As a fellow Californian, I can understand what you mean about Asian food being your comfort food. There are some days when that perfect bowl of noodles is exactly what you need to transform your day. Cheers to finding great comfort food wherever you are, and thanks for sharing this lunch with us.

  • Fantastic lunch! Pleased to see that rosé is well thought of in Sydney. Many times it is not rated so highly, I think undeservedly. Again your photos, David, make the story come to life 100%…or more in the imagination of the reader. Agree that the Asian food restaurants that serve the food to share between the diners at the table are best.

  • My antipodean brother-in-law who lives in Queensland swears by a gourmet dish called a “pie floater” I was wondering if you had tasted it yet. Seemingly, it is a meat pie dropped into a plate of pea soup The upper class variant has, I believe, brown sauce as a condiment and the wine which accompanies it is called xxxx beer.

    Bon apetit.

  • I have a girl crush on Kylie! Like, I want to be her friend, just from seeing her on TV. I told a friend who was in Sydney recently to go to Billy Kwong, but I don’t think she did. Watched her shows on DIY Home in the US. Would love to see more of her.

  • Jack: It wasn’t the heat, it was the quantity of sauce. I love spicy foods!

    Emma + cocopuff1212: The first time I went to a Chinese restaurant in Paris, as usual, I asked around and tried to “round up” the order so when the waiter came, we could give him the run down. And everyone said “I’ll have this” and “I am going to have that” – and when the food arrived, each person had a plate of food next to them with a bowl of rice, and that was that.

    Am not sure why that is but I try to point out the large tables of Chinese people with the lazy-Susan in the middle for sharing dishes. It’s not that there aren’t French dishes meant to be shared, so wonder why Chinese food is seen as something each person orders individually.

    blissing: She really is great. I’m going back again, this week.

    Leslie: Kylie has a couple of books and I haven’t had the time to look through them, but perhaps you can find the recipe in one of them.

  • dear goodness, I want that delicious looking chili sauce right now! I must get my hands on one of Kylie’s books. MMmm

  • Beautiful photos!

  • Glad to read that you are experiencing the joys of Asian food in Australia. When I was there in the ’90′s, I found on many restaurant tables a bottle of this sweet, somewhat spicy, viscous red-colored sauce…..it was Thai sweet chili sauce, which I’d never had before. I snatched up a bottle in an Aussie grocery store, took it back with me to the States. Since then, Thai sweet chili sauce luckily has been discovered and sold in American grocery stores, so I always have it on hand.

  • i want to live in your life

  • I love Kylie, I am immensely jealous you had this amazing experience! I’ve only been to Sydney once but never had the opportunity to go to Kylie’s restaurant. This post makes me want to pull her book out of my shelf and cook one of her dishes tonight!

  • you know, David, every one of us reading these Sydney posts is green with envy. So much food, so little time…..

    ENJOY!

  • mmm.. billy kwong’s was a regular haunt of ours. I miss a quick drink across the road and then ducking in when they text you if a spot opens up.

    please have a cocktail (and food if you have the time) at Longrain too… mmmmm.

  • That looks incredible! I absolutely adore Asian flavors and food – unfortunately, I’m allergic to ALL seafood, so I seldom get to indulge….

  • So glad you are enjoying Sydney and Sydney food. If you are getting to go back to Billy Kwong I am doubly jealous!

  • You make me wanna jump on a plane and fly to Sydney. It must have been quite a lunch and experience.

  • I’ve just moved to Sydney five months ago from Vancouver, Canada. I’ve been to Billy Kwong with a bunch of cook friends and we had an amazing dinner. They do this dish where they crack an egg into hot oil and deep fry it so it’s bubbly and crispy, with a runny yolk in the centre, then they spoon over this chilli soy dressing over it. It was to die for!! It’s really nice to see a different perspective of the same places I’ve visited. Looked like you guys had a feast.

    I know you probably have a pretty busy schedule, but you should check out Kakawa Chocolate. (It’s on William St. in Darlinghurst). They just opened less than two years ago. It’s a small boutique chocolate shop and they don’t use any preservatives, so their products only have a ten day shelf life. Enjoy your stay in Sydney.

    Happy eating!

  • WOW what a feast! It looks like you’re having an awesome time here in Sydney :)

  • I happened to be walking past Billy Kwong’s on my way to Bill’s for a late brunch on Sunday, and was envious of everyone sitting around that table eating the amazing feast -(and was great to sneek a glimpse at Kylie herself!).. I’m glad you enjoyed it. It smelled amazing – even on the other side of the window! Enjoy Sydney!

  • so glad to see you discovering the delight that is Australian modern cuisine in one of its many forms. Having done much travel, its always a delight to come home to such fresh produce which treated well .

  • oh man, this all looks so good!

  • did you also enjoy sitting in the little tables and chairs?

  • simon: I was pretty comfy – we were there for most of the afternoon. The good thing about the low stools is that if you drink too much rosé, you don’t have far to go.. ; )

    Camille: Yes, a number of people were walking by, hoping/thinking she was open. Which is why she had this lunch for us…because so many places in Sydney are closed on Sunday. Plus we wanted to spend some time getting to know each other outside of the Sydney Crave food festival events.

    Well, the good thing is, if you live here – you can go back whenever you want!

  • What an amazing experience. I’m so glad you’re enjoying Australia.

  • I’m pretty sure I could live deliriously happy on great Asian food and great bakery goods for quite some time. Oh, I would probably need a good salad, a good burger, fench fries, fried chicken and a NY strip every so often, but not as often as as a person would think.

  • a 6 hour lunch is my dream come true!

  • Welcome to Australia David!

  • OH! While you’re in Sydney, pop by Adriano Zumbo’s pastry shops. He’s the Australian version of Pierre Hermé.

  • Chinese food is all about sharing and communal dining. This is how we eat at home, various dishes – meat, veges, condiments, soups – all laid out in the middle and each one with a small bowl of rice.

    Even in Chinese restaurants dishes are cooked for a minimum of 2-3 people – it is quite impossible to dine in these places alone unless you’re ready to order just one place of fried rice and pack away what you can’t finish home. It is the Chinese and Fusion restaurants in Europe and US which started this ‘individual’ portions.

  • the Chinese, particularly the Cantonese, would not touch that chicken if there isn’t a bit of blood in there. that’s the only way they would eat “paak chi gai”.

    thanks for a nice post.

  • Being a Chinese and considering myself a darn good cook, your post still make me drooling. That’s pretty impressive.

  • I haven’t been to Billy Kwong since I left Australia to go travelling. I’ve been dying to go back. It’s hard for me to get out for dinner with twin babies – plus my husband is vegetarian – but I must make this happen. I did have some Billy Kwong savoury pancakes at the Eveleigh Market at Carriageworks in Redfern though – that was great!

  • PS I think we get to count ginger as Australian, since there are varieties of native ginger.

  • Thank you for this wonderful post on Billy Kwong. We can’t agree more with the appeal of Asian crusine, especially the tasteful but still healthy dishes. The enticing pictures in this post have even augmented their appeal :]

    P.S. Also thanks pointing out the cultural differences in France (eating communally vs. individually) . Will be useful for future visit to Paris!