Here’s a chef’s guide to Byron Bay & surrounds to help you through your stay. Leave a comment below and let me know your favourite! For regular updates also visit Sarah’s blog Get Forked And Fly
A Tale of Two Corners – July 2016
I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss.
I see the lives for which I lay down my life, peaceful, useful, prosperous and happy.
– Charles Dickens
It is the best of times. That is to say it is the best time to eat in and around the Byron Shire in the eight years I have lived here. Never before have we enjoyed such diversity of food offering really good cooking and the welcome return of table service. In the past fortnight I have found myself gravitating toward the bustling busker block that bookends Bay Lane and Lawson Street. In particular, to visit the two upscaled diners that dominate both corners of Jonson Street. In the past I would dismiss the pair as being too dilapidated, too touristy and just plain average. Now they shine with hospitality and warmth boasting all seasons comfort with compelling streetscapes, fabulous design and biblical sunset views.
Celebrate and enjoy delicious, affordable food with good service at Balcony Bar & Oyster Co. co-owned by Chef Sean Connolly and Byron Fresh Café. Gorgeous renovations to both properties have lifted the outdated decor from backpacker shabby to Euro-Hamptons chic and the results are clean, light and airy. Considered table placement enhance the flow of swift, attentive service amongst bustling venues that cater equally to both local and tourist trade.
The Balcony (below) radiates elegant coastal vibes with its blue and white nod to Hamptons cool. Long gone are the sticky sofas and clunky, fatigued Balinese décor that formerly outweighed the view. Dollar oysters on Wednesdays is such a hit that one must book a table to partake in the happiness that shucks from four to six. Unheard of in the Byron Bay winter! Think zinc and the beauty of the bivalve when the Oyster Festival cracks open in August.
Byron Fresh Café (above) is complete with the just-must-Instagram ‘stop in the name of love’ seat on Bay Lane and is delightful! New menus celebrate local produce, community wellbeing and the desire to eat real food. Chefs have reduced refined sugars, salt and white flour from the kitchen, choosing to use natural, wholemeal and organic ingredients where possible. Hallelujah! Oh, and the black iron teapot bursting with steaming Sencha was an absolute joy – believe it or not it’s hard to find a loose leaf in a region famous for its smoke!
Once upon a time, a shabby beach shack lived on the roundabout headed out to Cabarita Ocean Health Retreat, where I was Head Chef for a few years. Recently the old Hideaway has undergone such a transformation, it is barely recognisable to me. Enter Halcyon House with its feature restaurant Paper Daisy (below). Possibly the nicest Sunday lunch I have had all year. Chef Ben Devlin was head chef at Brisbane’s Esquire with Ryan Squires – some of the best food I have had in BrisVegas to date. Now ensconced at HH, Ben’s relaxed Miami-meets-Martinique offerings are a joy to behold. A signature pastrami beef on rye with sauerkraut and pickle ($14) is a locals’ breakfast must have. On my first visit, the paper bark grilled cod with white onion and sea weed ($24) was such a triumph that I insisted we have French champagne to celebrate (there was little protest)! Also notable was a simple, yet elegantly abundant plate of tomatoes with black garlic, onion and mozarella ($10). The menu is bordering on cheap, but you can stay at Halcyon for a pretty penny. Or book for Sunday lunch and then pop into Fleet on the way home if you’re coming back to the Bay.
21 Cypress Crescent, Cabarita Beach (02) 6676 1444
Foam, Lennox Head
Foam Restaurant (above), in the beachside town of Lennox Head, has a unique blend of dynamic surf location, a weekly changing menu, beautifully appointed, precise wine list curated by co-proprietor Marcus Corcoran whose passion for wine and food service has placed in him in iconic restaurants including Biota, Bowral and St. Elmo, Byron Bay. His discerning, surf-chic professional service guarantees a refreshing dining experience amongst a sea of ordinary, tourism driven hospitality venues within the region. Read full review.
41 Pacific Parade, Lennox Head (02) 6687 7757
We are so smitten with Fleet. Absolutely smitten. ‘The best restaurant experience I have had since eating at Attica in the first few months it was open. This place is redefining Australian food and service. The local produce and flavours are paramount and the food is not clever for its own sake; the technique and presentation are however impeccable. The manicured, plump fillet of sardine, salt cured and steeped in vinegar and served with wholemeal sourdough and their owned cultured butter is an example. The wine list is short but well thought out.. The staff / owners are beautiful, hospitable people. They welcome everyone and truly want you to enjoy and share their vision. You said last night that Fleet is going to be viewed as significant in Australian culinary history. I agree. This is a restaurant everyone should go to once. Relax, engage and let them serve you and match the wines. It is worth the trip to Brunswick Heads alone. The company as top notch as well Sam Gowing x’ James- Hains, Melbourne.
2/16 The Terrace, Brunswick Heads (02) 6685 1363
Fabulous food and folk to be found at 100 Mile. Enjoy ‘The Candice’ for breakfast, wonderful working lunches and pop-up events around the Shire. Beautiful Sarah Swan is a like-minded woman in food with such a passion for regional produce. She worked with Neil Perry for many years and is a fun loving, hard working jewel in the Byron crown.
8 Banksia Drive, Byron Bay (02) 6680 9814
Happy Hour at 4-6 Sun-Thurs is still the best kept locals’ secret in town! This is Australia’s premiere resort and we are blessed to have it at our feet. Great for conferences, cocktails, Christmas parties and year round terrific dining. Pop in for coffee and stay for lunch one day. Buy my book in the Gift Shop while you’re there!
77-97 Broken Head Road, Byron Bay (02) 6639 2000
We still love St Elmo and it still serves very good tapas and cocktails. Built by our friend Ben Musu, had a change of ownership some time ago, but still maintains itself as the best bar to sit at in town. The menu offers excellent modern Spanish tapas dishes and small plates, inspired by fresh & flavoursome ingredients. Designed to be shared with great company in a relaxed and intimate environment.
Cnr Fletcher Street and Lawson Lane Byron Bay (02) 6680 7426
Where you’ll find lots of visitors
As the late spring sun bunkers down for the night, its final rays deliver a beacon of light radiating across fresh pastures of hope. Enthusiastically I join an authentic tribe of Byron Bay producers, locals, influencers and doers for a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit The Farm for a delightful pre opening tour, drinks and dinner. As locals gather we kiss, shake hands, cheer and clink glasses, knowing we are so very lucky to be the first to beat this joyous path into the world of Australia’s newest and most easterly gastronomic tourism destination. We beam about the prospect of having such a world-class venue on our doorstep. Read more
11 Ewingsdale Road, Ewingsdale
Harvest & Town
Harvest Cafe, and Town in Bangalow are just fabulous. The degustation at Town remains our most memorable meal since living in the Northern Rivers for over seven years.
Harvest Cafe 18-22 Old Pacific Highway, Newrybar (02) 6687 2644
This brand spanking new resort opened in February 2016 and is a refreshing oasis in this rapidly growing gastronomic tourism precinct. Terrific staff, great location and backed by the Accor group so you will find a world class resort right here in Byron Bay. Very kid friendly too. “A welcoming and relaxed eatery for resort guests and public. Fiercely seasonal modern regional cuisine for living well is our passion. Our produce-first menus run all day, so you can enjoy the views to our stunning infinity pool precinct and fire pit in all shades and colours. Dine indoors or on the terrace, home to our busy wood fired oven.”
144 Bayshore Drive, Byron Bay (02) 6639 1500
It would be remiss of me not to mention the great pub food in this town. Always reliable, fresh and friendly. My favourite is The Rails, where you can happily go along on your own and enjoy great food and free live music. I doubt you’ll be ‘on your pat’ for long! The semi-boned roast chook (below) with tarragon butter, greens and chats is the best value meal in Byron Bay for just $22. Hands down! The rest of the menu at The Rails is just as good. The food at The Northern is also good and very easy going. The Beach Hotel has an extensive modern menu with fast service and plenty for kids. Famous for its Sunday sessions and a view to thrive for. This iconic pub is a great place to people watch or meet a local buddy for a beer midweek. The neighbouring Italian at the Pacific restaurant is always fun and a great place for a party. It’s my secret place when I want a glass of cold rose – away from the band action on a Sunday arvo. Great staff. Good food. (02) 6680 7055
Last summer the best food was just out of town, however cafes in Byron Bay are constantly changing and the experience can vary dramatically from day to day. Some have haphazard service and beware of sneaky add-ons, surcharges and public holiday loadings. Popular eateries include Top Shop, Roadhouse, Dip, Bayleaf, Fishheads, Fishmongers, The Beach Cafe, The Byronian, The Balcony & Byron Fresh (see above), Mokha, Republik.
The wonderful icon Rae’s on Wategos is always worth a try for a fresh and flashy feed, and on my last visit the food and service were exceptional. The Belongil Bistro is always very good and Treehouse on Belongil is a favourite amongst pizza lovers. All are out of town a little.
O-Sushi and Kinoko Japanese restaurants offer fast, fresh and fun sushi trains. Both have very good a la carte menus, and are always exceptionally busy. Doma, in Federal has some of the most authentic Japanese food I have ever eaten in Australia. The Belle General on the beach at East Ballina offers a fresh menu of wholefoods and really good, honest food with extra friendly staff and no pretence.
Oh, don’t miss the sensational food at Traditional Thai. Awesome, authentic cooking.
Handmade everything from the pastes up, and a really innovative Asian menu.
5/2 Fletcher St, Byron Bay NSW 2481 (02) 6685 5151
At a glance –
The Belle General 12 Shelly Beach Rd, East Ballina
Paper Daisy 21 Cypress Crescent, Cabarita Beach
100 Mile Table 8 Banksia Drive, Byron Bay
Doma Cafe 3-6 Albert Street, Federal
Fleet 2/16 The Terrace, Brunswick Heads
Folk Kiosk & General Store Lot 1/399 Ewingsdale Road, Byron Bay
Harvest Cafe 18-22 Old Pacific Highway, Newrybar
Milk and Honey 5/59a Station Street, Mullumbimby
Roadhouse 6/142 Bangalow Road, Byron Bay
Table View 30 Mullumbimbi Street, Brunswick Heads
The Byron at Byron 77-97 Broken Head Road, Byron Bay
Three Blue Ducks at The Farm and Bread Social 11 Ewingsdale Road, Ewingsdale
Spa treatments, treats & tonics
For the best musculo-skeletal massage Tonic Massage clinic is highly effective for chronic muscle pain – and they do HICAPS rebates for private health funds. Fab. You’ll find them underneath my mate Raffy’s La La Land, in the arcade near Byron Bay Medical Centre. (02) 6685 5993
Recently I have returned for practitioner strength massages at Go Vita in Byron Bay. The massage room is within the shop and on the street, so you’ll need to tune out of street sounds. Practitioners are world class here.
69 Jonson St, Byron Bay (02) 6680 7464
Get bendy & blissed
Geoff Brook’s Ananta Studio is a must for dedicated yogis. The classes are generally a little stronger and a little more purpose driven than the standard class. What they all have in common is the ability to be transferable in their application to our daily lives. 2b/144 Jonson St, Byron Bay 0414 969 187
Guided by leading spa expert Marionne De Candia, her highly trained therapists specialise in all forms of massage and skin care therapy, with some market leading anti ageing products available on request. (02) 6685 5366
Friend and healthy guru Jemma Gawned’s Naked Treaties Raw Bar is the bomb for sensational living green juices and her superfood smoothies. Have with a good pinch of E3Live and grab a signature Nickers bar to go. This is Australia’s original raw food cafe. Always the best.
2/3 Marvell Street Byron Bay
In case you’re wondering, Samantha Gowing is a green tea drinking chef, nutritionist, mentor, author, blogger and former judge for the Restaurant & Catering Association NSW. She also holds a Diploma of Nutritional Health Science and a Master of Gastronomic Tourism degree from Le Cordon Bleu. This is an unsolicited, often updated blog post for the purpose of happy eating and healing in the Northern Rivers. No chefs were harmed in the process.How to Rate a Restaurant Email Sam Facebook InstaSam