Down Under (and dinner at Billy Kwong)
We have been in Australia for almost a week and are well into our Aussie routine.
The flight here was long and involved having to change seats but I did get through it and after about 15 hours in the air landed at Sydney’s airport at 10:30 am in good spirit and ready to explore.
Not so fast. The apartment we rented and paid for in full (non-refundable) did not live up to our expectations. The location was good but there was no way we were staying there, let’s leave it at that. Thankfully, we had an agent involved and they offered us another apartment for an additional sum. We were so relieved that we had another option that we took it, no questions asked.
While we were waiting to make the switch we walked down to Elizabeth Bay Marina for a quick bite by the water. We stumble upon a lovely casual eatery with a patio and settled at a high table taking in the beautiful view. It was windy but warm and sunny. Australians are so friendly. Before you know it we were conversing with the group at the next table and even exchanging business cards to keep in touch. We ordered a couple of small dishes to share: corn fritters with a poached egg and a spring vegetables salad (it’s spring here now). Both were fresh and delicious with the poached egg adding a creamy element to the crispy fritters.
Later the agent picked us up and delivered us to the other apartment. This one was better: bright and airy with a large balcony, located in the chic neighbourhood of Potts Point. Our building is situated on a quiet street just off the fashionable MacLeay street with its high-end restaurants and fun cafes.
Since we are spending a month in Sydney, I did not want to stay in the touristy zone and prefer to live where local people live. I can make my way to the touristy sites as needed. Our apartment in Potts Point is within a walking distance to almost everything and we have been walking to Woolloomooloo, the Sydney Bridge and Opera House, Circular Quay, the Rocks, museums, cathedrals and more.
We checked into the apartment, did not even unpack and went out exploring the neighbourhood. Immediately we spotted two of the restaurants that were on my must-go-to “list”, a list, by the way, as long as my arm. Keep in mind that I have been watching Masterchef Australia for 9 seasons now (binge watching, it did not take me 9 years) and probably should get an honorary culinary resident status here in Australia as I have learned a tremendous amount about the culinary scene here from watching the show.
We checked out interesting food stores, antique shops at the Galleria, discovered restaurants that were on my list, found out where the dry cleaner was (no dryer in the apartment) and picked up a couple of things to keep in the fridge, although at this stage I have no intention of cooking. Maybe next week. We returned to the apartment after exploring and got unpacked and organized. Believe it or not, we are travelling for 4 months but I packed only one suitcase with clothes and one carry-on with electronics. Okay, I am lying. Another carry on with shoes. Obviously I don’t need all these shoes, not sure why I packed them.
Dinner the first night was at Billy Kwong , Chef Kylie Kwong’s restaurant. Chef Kwong who is one of my favourite guest chefs on Australia Masterchef, is a restauranteur, author and TV personality named by Food & Wine magazine as one of the world’s 25 most innovative women in food and wine. Kwong is a Chinese-Australian known for combining Australian ingredients with Chinese (Cantonese) cuisine. She focuses on locally grown organic produce and Australian native bush foods and I was looking forward to exploring new flavours. The arrived at 7:30 and the beautiful restaurant was packed with diners. We were offered a seat at the long bar which was perfect as we could watch the cooks steam dumplings, plate dishes and, best of all, watch Kylie herself run the pass for the entire evening. “Running the pass” means that she lets the cooks know what orders come in and coordinates delivering the dishes to customers in a timely manner. Kylie wears a LED lit headset and checks every dish before it leaves the counter and handed over to service. It was a fascinating scene and I could (almost) forget the food and just watch her work. Not really, I was dying to taste the food.
As it arrived, the food was delicious, fresh, fragrant, packed with flavours and layered with textures. We also tasted some indigenous produce we have never tried before.
We started with vegetables and warrigal green dumplings that were encased in see-through, paper-thin dumpling dough and served with a delicate sauce. Warrigal greens are New Zealand wild spinach and were one of the first indigenous leaves that European settlers consumed as protection against scurvy. Apparently the leaves contain some toxins and must be blanched before they are used in cooking. The dumplings were delicate and flavourful and we are still alive so they must have blanched them well.
Next came crispy organic saltbush cakes with chili sauce and tamari. Saltbush is another indigenous leafy plant growing in the Australian outback and lending a salty flavour to savoury dishes. The cakes were deep-fried and served hot. The filling had a distinct salty, grassy flavour, with a little pleasant bitterness, a new taste experience and delicious. The warms chilli sauce and the salty filling offset the pastry nicely. I believe this dish was an Australian nod to the more traditional cantonese onion cakes.
The biggest dish was a fried chicken with brown rice vinegar, spring onion and ginger and to be honest, it was not what we expected. Fried chicken to us meant crispy skin chicken but this dish was covered with a delicious pungent and tangy sauce you could eat with a spoon. The chicken was was fork-tender and we had no complains.
For vegetables we had stir fried eggplant with roasted chilli, Tasmanian wakame and ginger. Wakami is a type of sea weed harvested in Tasmania. When the plate arrived I saw a piece of crisp eggplant on top and picked it up with my chopsticks. OMG. This was not an eggplant, it was a whole roasted chilli. In my defence, the restaurant is low lit so it was easy to make that mistake (I lit it for the picture above). Let’s just say that it took me a while before my tastebuds calmed down.
Dessert almost seemed like an afterthought, there because people want it, not because it is important to the experience. We ordered mango gelato that was so smooth, bursting with mango flavour and delicious that we were glad we did not miss it. Visually it was unadorned, served in a metal cup you might expect in another type of restaurant, not here.
I was watching a few other beautiful platters go by and will definitely return for a few more food experiences in this fabulous restaurant. Tomorrow morning it’s the King’s Cross Saturday farmers market. Stay tuned.