When you live in a tourist town it is easy to take the landmarks for granted. When it comes to cooking, you’re only as good as your last dish, or for the diner it’s the memory of what you recently ate and where. Think about the last café or restaurant meal you visited and then check in with your upstairs brain to see what you recall. For me, it was my beloved tarragon chicken at The Rails last Saturday because it was the best I’ve had. It was late in the afternoon, the pub was not busy and I sat near the kitchen door so my lunch arrived sizzling hot, therefore setting the new benchmark for an old favourite. Comparison and contrasts are the yardsticks that make you return to a restaurant if you’ve had a good time.
Last week I found myself at Beach Byron Bay, twice. Was it memorable? Absolutely! Let me tell you why shortly as firstly I need to explain that in the ten years I have lived in Byron Bay I have had hit and misses at Beach. Ultimately I felt there was a lack of congruence between its identity and its delivery. My earliest memories were of an expensive casual café serving fair to very good, predictable beachside favourites – think fish and chips, burgers, warm salads, grills and so on. Breakfast had always been a reliable standout, but lunch and dinner left me un-charmed, so unless we had visitors who love an ocean view it fell off my restaurant radar. A few years ago I was invited to try a new, delicious breakfast menu and as we enjoyed our repast we watched whales frolic in the ‘front yard’ as I call it, romantically hoping for Migaloo who was rumoured to have been passing through that morning.
At the beginning of spring I received an invitation to bring a friend to lunch. As we sat on the deck on a cloud filled day we watched the sky dance and flow as indigo clouds turned nifty shades of grey reflecting on the glassy mirror of the bay. The light was exquisite. We were enchanted by terrific service and enjoyed a lunch of shared plates that included the best ever Merimbula oysters with shallots and chardonnay vinegar $4 ea. King prawns, chilli, garlic, salmorejo with toasted woodfired ciabatta $28 (above) and a sensational fillet of local silver mackerel, Asian greens, sprouting cauliflower and pickled radish $35. However, it was the side order of radicchio with sorrel, grapes, walnuts and a merlot vinaigrette $12 (below) that stole the show. As I licked all the food groups – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent – it was one of the finest leafy side dishes I’ve had. Simple, thoughtful, memorable and in perfect balance.
“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.”
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Last week Appellation Oysters in conjunction with Shuck Oysters hosted chefs and food writers from the Northern Rivers and Gold Coast to a special Chef’s Oyster Masterclass. As exclusive diners on the deck we learnt about the cultivation, physical and flavour characteristics, and the rigorous selection process underpinning the exceptional quality of Appellation Oysters. By the way, at this year’s prestigious Australian Food Awards Shuck’s Australian Whole-Smoked Oysters in Sunflower Oil product was awarded gold, and the Smoked Oyster Paté awarded silver. A credit to the vision and mission of founder Lucy Ashley.
We were also treated to a Yarra Valley Caviar and finger lime lesson proving that Beach Byron Bay is more than just a tourist destination for dining, dating and getting hitched. As a multi-faceted venue, it is an ideal platform for product launches, regional business meetings, spirited gin parties and, of course, the wonderful wedding trade that now sees Byron as the preferred destination to volcanically challenged parts of Southeast Asia.
At a recent ladies’ lunch for two we chose Byron Bay burrata, with chargrilled and gin-marinated beetroot and horseradish $21. My esteemed dining companion and I agreed that the beets needed a little more smokiness from the chargrill to truly balance that robust fist of burrata bursting with its characteristic cream. My steak, a Butcher’s cut with parsnip, globe artichoke and a salsa verde $34 (below) was a classic bistro lunch. We declined the dessert menu as I had enjoyed a Calvados babà, apple custard, cinnamon myrtle $15 (centre) immensely on a previous occasion and it remains memorable and crave-worthy.
Now tell me, when was the last time you asked for a Negroni and were offered a choice of three? At Beach I had the choice of Australian with Angostura bitters, French made with Lillet and Italian with Campari. Our waiter Gian-Franco’s impeccable European style and his knowledgeable colleagues on the floor delivered attentive, friendly and just delightful service at both lunches – a wonderful compliment to the Italian fare emanating from the kitchen. With its relaxed Mediterranean menu punctuated with highlights from Byron’s best producers, this restaurant has truly stepped up to the plate and palate.
Seaside dining in Australia is potentially anchored in trepidation or buoyed with optimism. An ocean of promise delivers hope that the food and service may match a breathtaking view is often dampened by shallow service or mediocre food. A bureaucracy of red tape and hefty public liability insurance levies prohibit sit-on-the-beach dining in many parts of Australia.
Beach Byron Bay sits on the small cliff over Clarke’s Beach with sweeping views over the water, rain, hail or shine and just a few metres wander down to beach. I look forward to the next decade as Beach rides one of the nation’s finest dining waves. There are sunset cocktails available daily and a terrific kiosk near the entrance of the restaurant, perfect if you’re wearing sandy feet and a sarong.
OPEN EVERY DAY
Breakfast – 7:30am to 11:30am
Lunch – 12pm to 3pm
Dinner – From 5.30pm
Dinner Reservations Essential
10% surcharge applies on Sunday
15% surcharge applies on public holidays
All American Express transactions will incur a surcharge of 1.8%
I was a guest of the restaurant as a reviewer on the first lunch, a guest of Shuck and Appellation Oysters as a chef and as a happily paying customer on my most recent visit.
Most food and the restaurant and the wine below belong to Beach, the salad and oyster pics are mine, and Kirra Pendergast took the pic of Sarah McGrory and I.
See also my Byron Bay Good Food Guide