Kylie Kwong is excited. She’s just been appointed ambassador of the new South Eveleigh precinct (formerly Australian Technology Park), where she’ll be strengthening community by helping choose retailers, cafes and pop-up events to live in the space. She’ll also be opening her new eatery here in late 2020.
“Get rid of [the word] ‘restaurant’ right now,” Kwong tells Broadsheet (nicely) when we ask her to describe what her new venue will be like. “It’s a casual eatery. It’s going to have a very simple menu, but a very meaningful menu. We cooks, when we’re serving food or creating our menu, have to ask ourselves ‘What is our message, what do we stand for, how do we curate our menu to get that across?’”
It was big news when the restaurateur announced she’d close her modern-Chinese diner Billy Kwong earlier this year. At the time she told Broadsheet it was a tough decision but in the lead up to a milestone birthday it made sense. “I have 40 staff, 140 seats, and it requires everything I have to maintain and do the things I like in the way I like to do it. [Billy Kwong] is artisanal, it’s not a commercial operation. I like to write the specials, I like to run the food to customers and I like to make sure it feels like it’s a family. I’ve been a restaurateur for 19 years, I turn 50 this year and it’s time to change.”
While this won't be Billy Kwong 2.0, she’ll be lacing her Cantonese food with Indigenous ingredients as she did at her beloved restaurant. Kwong will reintroduce the steamed savoury pancakes that drew crowds from across the city to her Carriageworks market stall, which happens to be across the train tracks from the new precinct, in Eveleigh.
She’ll also be sourcing sustainable seafood from Josh Niland’s Fish Butchery, produce from Palisa Anderson (Chat Thai, Boon Cafe, Boon Luck Farm, and native ingredients from Indigenous rooftop farm Yerrabingin, which is 200 metres down the road in the same precinct.
“It’s a reflection of my Chinese heritage,” she says. “This pancake is going to tell you the story of South Eveleigh. It’s going to convey to you my values and philosophy around social issues and celebrate the First Nations people, it’s going to talk to the importance of sustainable seafood, the importance of sourcing locally grown produce rather than importing produce. It’s a humble pancake, but it will pack a punch.”
Anyone who dined at Billy Kwong would be familiar with the clapping sticks Kwong used to announce an order was ready. The sticks she used were made by Clarence Slockee, who is one of the founders of the Yerrabingin rooftop garden. For her new inner-west eatery she made her own sticks under the guidance of Slockee, who helped her find some eucalyptus gum sticks that had fallen from a tree in South Eveleigh.
“I’ll now be able to use them in my new venture. It’s about authenticity, the extraordinary Aboriginal culture and legacy,” she says. “I feel so privileged to have this opportunity to collaborate with these special people in this very special place.”
South Eveleigh has a long history. It was once the home of the Gadigal people, the traditional owners of the land. It’s where Australia’s national railway network was born in the 19th century and is still home to a number of heritage-listed former railway workshops. Mirvac has been developing the site (which is not far from Redfern Station) since 2016, and by 2021 it’s slated to house 18,000 workers.
“South Eveleigh was incredibly significant,” says Kwong. “It has significant historical relevance for industrial Australia and has always been at the cutting edge of technology. I feel really privileged to be a part of this community.”
In her role as ambassador for South Eveleigh, Kwong will work with the property developer to engage with the local community and encourage workers, local residents and community organisations to get involved with the precinct. Kwong’s partner, Nell, has contributed a treehouse installation to the space and Egg of the Universe, a cafe and yoga studio, opened there in September. In early 2020 Kwong will announce a series of events “of different sizes, always underpinned by food, which is my main passion,” she says.
“I want to constantly look at how I can drive positive social change. I want to use this ambassadorship to explore true nourishment. It’s about connection to community. When one is faced with big life decisions, at the end of the day I always think you’ve got to go where the energy is.”
Kylie Kwong’s new venue is slated to open in late 2020.