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.
And that's the driving idea behind Lucky Kwong (LK), which is in the historic Locomotive Workshop of the 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.
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 provide many of the native ingredients that appear on the menu at LK. Kwong also uses 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).
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 there's a different special topping to the pancake dish. 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 copper 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.