Over the past decade and a bit, chef/owner Kylie Kwong and her team – which over the years has included Berta’s Tama Carey, the Woods’ Hamish Ingham and Pin Bone’s Mike Eggert and Jemma Whiteman – have pushed the envelope at this tiny little Surry Hills snacketorium, offering sometimes-challenging-but-always-delicious Chinese food.
Bugs, for instance, have just started appearing on the menu. Try fried rice with roasted mealworms or a sauce of chilli and crickets. They’re more about texture than taste, but it’s always fun to order them to see the look on your co-diners’ faces.
They’re big on native Australian ingredients here too, like the briny, almost smoke-flavoured stir-fried old man saltbush with garlic. Or hot, sour and sticky wallaby tail. Those dark, lip-coating dishes are a bit of a specialty at Billy Kwong: a special of roast duck is all-at-once richly spiced with star anise and cinnamon then tanged up with orange and given a bittersweet edge thanks to both the juice and fruit of a Davidson plum.
Billy Kwong classics like fried eggs with crisp-fried golden whites and creamy yolks, a musky house-made XO sauce and a thin drizzle of tamari (think of it like a wheat-free soy sauce flexing its muscles) hidden underneath a cloud of thinly sliced green onion and chilli are most definitely worth ordering. So is the ginger fragrant white cut chicken, slow cooked whole and served in silky slices.
Speaking of classics, you’d be a nut not to order the pork san choy bau. It’s about the most luxurious version we’ve tried. A stack of iceberg lettuce cups appear on the table along with a dish of hot, funky chilli paste and a big pile of fresh dill and mint. Take a leaf, spoon on the sweet, smoky organic pork, shredded with a huge nest of green onion and fresh chilli strands over the top, and top with the fresh herbs. We said goddamn.
We should warn you here that posterior comfort is not foremost on the minds of Billy Kwong staff. They’re much more concerned with keeping you well fed and watered. Excitingly, they've started stocking Young Henry’s
growlers, and we also love that ultra-refreshing Lethbridge pinot gris is going for an ultra-snappy $49. The tiny stools are at just the right height to keep you shifting constantly, stretching your legs out and, no doubt, kicking whoever is opposite you. Lesson here? You probably wouldn’t take your nan unless she’s got bionic knees.
That said, the food always arrives quickly. Staff won’t rush you, but it’s important to visit the restaurant armed with the knowledge you’re here for a good time, not a long time. Make the most of it and order everything.