The Sydney restaurant scene is very different from London's. Certainly it has its fair share of glamorous and expensive establishments, but its core is populated by little hole-in-the-wall gems - Japanese, Korean, Greek and Lebanese to name a few. This thriving world of eateries is one of the reasons I love to go home. For very little money you can eat delicious food in simple surroundings. Often when I am there I eat out every evening, something I rarely do here.
Billy Kwong is one such place - a Chinese restaurant situated in Crown Street in Darlinghurst, bang in the middle of Sydney's urban heartland. It's not much more than a shopfront, there's no booking system and it seats only 48. Queues begin to form well before its 6pm opening time.
It's a lively, modern place owned by chef and food writer Kylie Kwong. The food is fresh, quick and thoroughly delicious - clean, strong flavours sit side by side with beautiful, fresh organic produce creating a type of Chinese dish that is different from anything I have eaten before.
Despite its modernity, Kwong's recipes are based on old-fashioned methods such as steaming, poaching and red-braising. Kwong learnt her trade working for Neil Perry, of Sydney's legendary Rockpool restaurant, and arguably Australia's greatest chef. During her six-year stint with him, he clearly taught her the value of classic techniques. And from her family - she is fourth-generation Australian Chinese - Kwong realised the importance of Yin and Yang: the philosophy that underpins Chinese culture and is ever-present in its cuisine.
Kwong is also a very successful author who has written several books. My favourite is her first one, entitled Recipes and Stories, in which she writes lovingly of her family and the incredible importance of both family and food in Chinese culture.
I first met Kwong last year when she came to visit Petersham. I was struck by her boldness and strong personality. But what appealed to me most of all was how her cooking manages to weave together such a clever, quirky combination of both Chinese and Australian influences. She talked about how, being raised in a Chinese community within Australia, she would eat Cantonese food six days of the week and then on the seventh eat Australian. And how each weekend she would be taken by her mother and grandmothers (she was raised with three generations living in one house) to Sydney's Chinatown before going on to the bustling fish markets of Black Wattle Bay. From this she discovered the importance of developing relationships with providers in order to understand provenance. And from the warmth expressed through family meals at home, she learnt the value of sharing food. She spoke to me of her mother's "kitchen law" which encouraged the use of all the senses, as well as the heart, in the kitchen.
Kwong's food is certainly imbued with both heart and soul. It is vibrant, energetic and sits comfortably between old and new. Truly authentic and at the same time uniquely Australian.
Today she is a practising Buddhist, which has recently given her food a different edge. She talks about the importance of the truth in cooking, how things must have relevance and integrity. She has recently been made Ambassador for Fair Trade in Australia and the restaurant itself has become fully organic in the last year or so. She feels a connection to her Chinese roots more now than ever and has begun leading food tours to China and Tibet.
I had great fun spending the morning cooking with her. I learnt a lot about working with a wok. I also felt a strong parallel with her style of cooking and my own. Both depend on freshness, beautiful, high-quality ingredients, complex layering and a big infusion of our own voices.
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, off Petersham Road, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627
Steamed fish with ginger and shallots
300g/10oz fish fillets: sea bass, bream or halibut
80ml/3fl oz Chinese chicken stock
2tbsp Shao-hsing wine
2tbsp ginger julienne
1 Chinese white cabbage leaf, cut into 4
1/2tsp white sugar
2tbsp light soy sauce
1/4tsp sesame oil
125ml/4fl oz green shallot julienne
11/2tbsp peanut oil
1/2 a bunch of coriander, leaves only
A small pinch ground white pepper
Place the fish in a heatproof bowl that will fit inside a steamer. Pour the combined stock and wine over the fish, then sprinkle on half of the ginger. Place the bowl inside the steamer over boiling water, cover and steam for 5-6 minutes. Next, place the cabbage in the bowl, cover and steam for 2-3 minutes or until the fish is cooked. It's done when the white flesh is no longer translucent.
Remove the cabbage and place in a bowl. Put the fish on top. Pour any stock over the fish, sprinkle with the sugar and drizzle with the combined soy sauce and sesame oil. Sprinkle with the remaining ginger and half of the shallots.
In a small pot, heat the peanut oil until it reaches smoking point. Slowly drizzle it over the fish and garnish with remaining shallots, coriander and pepper, and serve.
Chickpea salad with Chinese flavours
250ml/8fl oz organic chickpeas
750ml/11/4pints cold water
1 small red onion, finely sliced
1 small tomato, roughly diced
1 small carrot, peeled
125g/4oz mint, leaf only
125g/4oz coriander, leaf only
For the dressing
2tbsp cane sugar
1 egg yolk
60ml/3fl oz tamari
60ml/3fl oz brown-rice vinegar
60ml/3fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
Soak the chickpeas overnight. Drain, put them in a pan, cover with water, boil and simmer for an hour or so, until they are tender. You may need to add more water during the cooking process. Drain and set aside.
For the dressing, whisk the egg and sugar in a bowl until fluffy. Add the tamari and vinegar and whisk. Add the oil and whisk. Place the chickpeas and vegetables in a bowl, add the dressing and mix. Place on a plate and serve.
Crispy duck with blood plum sauce
2tbsp Sichuan pepper and salt
60g/21/2oz plain flour
Vegetable oil, enough for deep-frying (omega)
For the blood plum sauce
250ml/8fl oz water
250g/8oz white sugar
250g/8oz ripe blood plums, about 4 cut in half
160ml/6oz fish sauce
6 whole star anise
2 cinnamon quills
80ml/3oz lime juice
Rinse the duck under cold water. Trim away the fat from the cavity, but keep the neck, parson's nose and wings intact. Dry and rub the duck with the Sichuan pepper and salt. Cover it and place in the fridge overnight to marinate.
Transfer the duck to a steamer basket. Place it over a pan of boiling water, cover and steam for an hour, or until the duck is cooked through. Remove, and place on a tray, breast-side up. When cool, place in the fridge.
Meanwhile, make the plum sauce. Combine the water and sugar in a pan and boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the plums, fish sauce and spices, and simmer for a minute. Add the lime juice and remove from stove. Keep the sauce warm while you fry the duck.
Cut the duck in half lengthways. Ease the meat away from the carcass, leaving the thighs, legs and wings intact. Toss in flour to coat. Heat the oil in a hot wok. Deep-fry the duck pieces, one at a time, for 3 minutes, or until crispy. Remove the duck and drain well on kitchen paper. Leave to rest in a warm place for 5 minutes. Finally, slice the duck, arrange on a plate and spoon over the hot plum sauce.
Beetroot and carrot salad with eggs
100g/31/2oz beetroot, grated
100g/31/2oz carrot, grated
2tsp cane sugar
1tbsp brown rice vinegar
For the dressing
125ml/4oz cane sugar
3 egg yolks
1/2tsp sea salt
75ml/3fl oz brown rice vinegar
50ml/2fl oz tamari
500ml/17fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
Place the beetroot in a bowl, sprinkle with the sugar and salt and marinate for 2 hours. Add the vinegar and stir. Strain, retaining the juice. Boil the eggs. Peel and set aside.
To make the dressing, mix the egg yolk and salt in a bowl - whisk until fluffy. Add the cane sugar and whisk. Add the vinegar and tamari and whisk. Slowly drizzle in the oil until it's the consistency of thick, runny custard.
Place the beetroot and carrot on a plate. Slice the eggs in half and place there too. Drizzle some beetroot juice over the salad and pour the dressing over to finish.
5 large free-range eggs
2tbsp braised dried Chinese mushrooms, finely sliced
1/2 bunch garlic chives, cut in half crossways
1 lup cheong sausage, finely sliced
1tbsp salted radish, finely sliced
1tbsp pickled mustard greens, finely sliced
250ml/8fl oz vegetable oil
4 king prawns, peeled, with the tails intact
60g/21/2oz green shallots, finely sliced
A small pinch ground white pepper
For the sauce
60ml/21/2fl oz peanut oil
1tbsp ginger julienne
1 large ripe tomato, cut into wedges
2tbsp shao hsing wine
1tbsp white sugar
125ml/4oz Chinese chicken stock
1tbsp light soy sauce
1tsp black vinegar
1/2tsp sesame oil
Whisk the eggs in a bowl. Add the mushrooms, chives, sausage, radish and mustard greens, mix and set aside.
Heat the peanut oil in a hot wok, then stir-fry the ginger, salt and tomato for 2 minutes. Add the wine and sugar and fry for 1 minute. Add the stock and soy and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the vinegar and sesame oil, then remove. Keep warm while you make the omelette.
Heat the vegetable oil. Pour in the eggs and stand over the heat for 10 seconds to cook the mixture on the base of the wok. Gently pull the omelette away from the sides, allowing any uncooked egg to spill into the oil. Reduce the heat and cook until set. Remove, and slide into a serving bowl. Stir the prawns in a hot, oiled wok until tender.
To serve, pour the warm tomato sauce over the omelette, top with the prawns and garnish with shallots and pepper. Serve immediately.
Q&A Skye answers your culinary queries
Q. I saw a delicious-looking white bean purée in a recent article. Can you tell me how to make it?
A. At Petersham we use a lovely small white Spanish bean called arrocina (from www.brindisa.com) but you can use whatever white beans you prefer.
If, like me, you always forget to soak beans overnight, there is a little trick you can do. Place them in a pan of cold water, bring them to the boil and as soon as it's boiling, drain the water off. Cover again with cold water and repeat, pouring the water off again as soon as it boils. This makes them tender. The other tip with beans is not to salt the water during cooking as this prevents them from softening.
You will need 500g dried white beans, 3tbsp crème fraîche, 2 cloves of garlic (very finely chopped), 1tbsp of olive oil and 100g of grated Parmesan.
Place the beans in a pan, cover with water, leaving an inch or so above the top of the beans.
Place over a medium heat and as soon as the water boils turn it down and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until tender. Drain, place in a bowl and add the crème fraîche, garlic, Parmesan and oil, and combine. You will need to season well at this point as the water was unsalted. It's delicious with duck confit, slow-cooked lamb or with roasted onion squash and salsa verde.
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