For Kylie Kwong, beloved modern-Chinese chef, restaurateur, author, television presenter and all round national treasure, the food she creates is as much about flavour as it is about expressing her social and cultural beliefs.
“Chefs are seen as cultural and social leaders,” Kwong tells Broadsheet. “When people go to a restaurant or an eatery, they go not just to eat, but also for a cultural experience. ‘What does one’s business stand for?’ [is] a question I constantly ask myself.”
Kwong’s new venture, Lucky Kwong (LK), opened yesterday, in the historic Locomotive Workshop of the new South Eveleigh precinct, near Redfern station. The casual 25-seat cafeteria-style eatery doesn’t take bookings and is open for lunch only, Monday to Friday. Diners pay at the busy counter, or order via a QR code at the table. You can also takeaway dishes.
Billy Kwong, the seminal eatery that closed in 2019, this is not. But the core – big Cantonese flavours that draw on the dishes Kwong grew up with – is the same. She’s also still using her clapping sticks, made for her by long-time collaborator and Cudgenburra and Bundjalung man, Clarence Slockee, to announce when her dishes are ready to be served.
Slockee is South Eveleigh’s Aboriginal mentor and environmental educator. He and his crew at Indigenous-owned-and-led landscape and cultural design company Jiwah look after the grounds at South Eveleigh and will provide many of the native ingredients that appear on the menu at LK. Kwong will also use honey from her beehive on Wayside Chapel’s organic rooftop garden in Kings Cross (she has been an ambassador for the Wayside Chapel since 2015).
“For me, LK is all about true nourishment – a celebration of everything that I love in life with care, community, collaboration and delicious, life-giving food at its heart,” Kwong says. “Lucky Kwong aims to be a force for good within the community.”
Kwong has been integrating Australian native edible plants with Cantonese-style food for years, and the location of Lucky Kwong – and her role as South Eveleigh’s ambassador for food, culture and community – takes this practice to another level.
“Integrating the South Eveleigh rooftop bush foods into my cooking is a way I can offer an authentic and meaningful version of Australian-Cantonese food,” Kwong says. “I can continue to help convey and share the important story of South Eveleigh and this country’s First Nations people through my food offering.”
The small menu features daily specials that highlight producers, collaborators and sourcing info: caramelised pork belly with Davidson’s plum from the Northern Rivers region of NSW; steamed prawn dumplings with Sichuan chilli dressing and fresh bush mint from the Jiwah native urban rooftop garden; and stir-fried vegetables with tofu grown by Palisa Anderson on her organic Boon Luck Farm (also in the Northern Rivers region). Kwong enthusiasts will be happy to hear the savoury pancakes – the dish that launched a thousand queues at her famous stall at Carriageworks Farmers Market – are on the menu, too.
“Each day I will offer a daily special topping to this pancake dish,” Kwong says. “Examples include: Josh Niland’s Fish Butchery’s raw hiramasa kingfish with LK chilli and Jiwah sea parsley, or caramelised Saskia Beer chicken with Wayside Chapel honey and LK chilli.”
Design and construction firm Alliance Project Services (which also worked on Matt Whiley’s Re-, next door) worked closely with Kwong to preserve the heritage of the space. The interiors are made up of raw, rough-hewn materials: think cork floors, white brick walls, original arched windows and soaring ceilings extending upwards towards the exposed beams, pipes and pitched corrugated metal roof.
The brass letters above the entrance and the table numbers were designed by Vince Frost of Frost Collective (who created a bespoke font for LK) and forged by South Eveleigh’s resident blacksmith, Matt Mewburn. Mewburn also collaborated with Kwong’s wife, the artist Nell, to forge the steel branch of the central artwork that overlooks the space.
The work, Ghost Song for Lucky Kwong 2021, is the first time Nell and Kwong have worked together. The branch is adorned with hand-blown glass “ghosts” that embody the spirit of Lucky, the baby boy Nell and Kwong sadly lost to stillbirth in 2012, and the cafeteria’s namesake.
“With the opening of Lucky Kwong I now have a physical space alongside the emotional and spiritual space that forms very much a part of who I am,” says Kwong. “My LK bricks and mortar set-up now enables me to express my love for my child in a very real, palpable, tangible way. It feels so great to share LK’s spirit with the world; he really is a very, very special soul. For Nell and I, we have always been conscious of finding the right channels for each of us to express our maternal love.
“I have called my new place after our child, as an acknowledgement of this transformational journey, of what he has brought to my life, and yes, because I now feel genuinely lucky.”
2 Locomotive Street, Eveleigh
Mon–to Fri 11am–2.30pm