2 Locomotive St Eveleigh, NSW 2015
|Opening hours||Mon-Fri 11am-2.30pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
One of my neighbours turned up at Lucky Kwong the very first day it opened to the public. She loved it. "You just relax, and trust everything," she says. "It's not even about the food, it's about the heart."
Since then, it's also about being able to get in. With just 25 seats, lunch only Monday to Friday, no telephone and no bookings, there is always a crowd of people at the door, waiting for their names to be called.
It couldn't be more different from Kylie Kwong's previous 140-seater, Billy Kwong in Potts Point, with its big menu, high prices and modern Cantonese banquet dishes.
Housed in a heritage locomotive workshop in the busy-by-day, quiet-by-night South Eveleigh precinct, this is essentially a market stall disguised as a cafeteria.
There's a sense of the cathedral about the light-filled room, its arched windows, and open kitchen as the altar, but a ruthless efficiency prevails within.
You order and pay by QR code and smart phone, fetch your own water and you may possibly be seated on a stool facing a painted brick wall. No matter. Like my neighbour, everyone seems thrilled to just be here.
The food is simple, modest and home-style, elevated by some of the best produce you can get your hands on – vegetables and herbs from Boon Luck Farm, sustainable fish from Josh Niland's Fish Butchery, pork belly from Tathra Place.
And, of course, noodles from Kwong's Uncle Jimmy of Jang's Noodles, established in 1964 (go Uncle Jimmy).
It's also elevated by the intent. Lucky Kwong is a private landmark for Kwong. Named for the son that she and her wife, Nell, lost in 2012, it's fiercely personal, bringing together the threads of loyalty, love, friendships, and connections with communities such as the Wayside Chapel and Jiwah, the native garden established by Cudgenburra/Bundjalong man Clarence Slockee at South Eveleigh.
But what if you haven't drunk any Kool-Aid recently, and just want a nice lunch? That's here, too.
Prawn dumplings ($16) are a must – big, floppy, hand-made dumplings, drowning in a sweet, salty, spicy, chilli tamari broth. There's a light tingle from Sichuan pepper and a pungent tickle from native bush mint, but the sweet purity of the prawn filling wins through.
The rest as follows: a comfort-food, red-braised beef brisket ($19) using biodynamic beef from Paul Kurtz's Cowobbee cattle farm near Oberon is slow-cooked with Shaoxing wine, soy sauce and spices along with red radish, daikon and carrot from Palisa Anderson's Boon Luck Farm.
Uncle Jimmy's Hokkien noodles ($16) are tangled in a sauce of brown rice vinegar, tamari and shiro shoyu, topped with a huge thatch of finely slivered spring onions, shredded cabbage and bean shoots – can't get much more Canto than that. Pork belly ($19) is a hit, braised-then-fried with the sweet-and-sour tang of Davidson plum.
A vegetable plate ($19) brings more bounty from Boon Luck Farm – long radishes, Thai eggplant, shiitake mushrooms, baby zucchini and bok choy, in a ginger-inflected tamari sauce with spongy tofu and steamed rice.
My fave is a steamed pancake ($19) layered with omelette, vegetables and herbs, with a caramel-tamari sauce. A tip – wrapping it like a spring roll gives it the charm of warm popiah, and gives the best chance of devouring it with any shred of dignity.
With so few tables, Lucky Kwong's only chance of making money – of being truly sustainable – is in turnover and takeaway, and that's what dictates the dining experience. The kitchen goes flat-out, and service is limited to smile, fetch and carry.
With no dessert (never a strong point in a Kwong diner, as it happens, so not missed), you're in one door, and out the other.
If some other celebrity chef were at the helm, you'd be miffed. But this is Our Kylie, who lifts others with her on the tide. We're lucky to have her.
Drinks One white wine, one red wine, three beers, two alcohol-free beers, sparkling coconut water and tea – what more do you want?
Vegetarian Good meat-free choices include salads and stir-fries.
Pro tip If you don't want to wait, get there when the restaurant opens at 11am.