The Show Day long weekend gave us the perfect opportunity to sneak away to Byron Bay for a weekend, but first we had to run the gauntlet! Past the verdant fields of North NSW, we turned onto the swampy flats and the sign warned: ‘Queued Traffic’. How could they know?
Despite the Council’s ‘keep to one lane’ philosophy, Byron is a diverse ‘leisure palace’ of pristine beaches, walking tracks, unique shops and galleries, pubs, live music and entertainment (even just walking down the street), people-watching…and in our case food venues – markets, cafés and restaurants!
Our first discovery was the quaint Red Ginger. This is the cutest shop I’ve seen in some time; the place where I enthused ‘This is exactly the sort of shop I’d love to own!’ It’s all things Asian, an eclectic range of cookbooks, implements and ingredients, Chinese bric-a-brac, fabrics, furniture and gifts, not to mention the hot cabinet of yum cha and the complimentary green tea to be enjoyed at chic little booths.
Bay Leaf, also the retail outlet for Marvell Street Coffee Roasters, is a natural foodie haven. As owner Dan and I talked aeropress and cold drip, The Main Squeeze ordered his Daily Grind Espresso.. Beautifully textured, it’s a smooth and creamy coffee with hints of sweet walnut. With Dan’s background in corporate nutrition, you can be sure that each meal is nutritionally balanced and healthy. My Lamb salad is whole food goodness on a plate, packed with spelt grains, roasted sweet potato, almonds, dried kale, fresh peas, leaves and goat cheese. Absolutely delicious, I can’t help but wonder why Dan can’t help out packing my lunch every day! The best I could do was walk away with a bag of beans and a few ideas!
We’d booked at St Elmo for dinner and by 7pm the place is pumping. This is Havaiana Kingdom, uber cool and Latin, and I’m the only dame wearing shoes! Dressed up, yes, but the diners are all very casual. Not so the food: it’s upmarket Spanish tapas and share plates, innovative and sophisticated – Sliders of softshell crab with smoked chilli aioli and Piquillo salad; Seared Scallops with Chorizo and Prawn paella stuffed peppers; Slow cooked saffron lamb shoulder with silverbeet and Manchego gratin…Dish after dish we wine and dine, getting caught up in the celebratory mood of other tables – a birthday here, a hen’s night party there – so much choice, so many tastes, a whole wall of wines to choose from, let alone the cocktails…we roll out, hip pocket lighter, but what a fabulous night we had! Oh yes, my shoes were off by then!
One One One, beside Red Ginger, is a sophisticated casual restaurant serving simply delicious rustic Mediterranean fare. Well-priced and generous, we enjoyed unusual dishes (Whitebait fritter with smoked paprika, topped with garnish, served in its own skillet) spying many more which would warrant a return visit (such as Panfried sheep milk cheese with lemon and parsley). Food is inventive and service excellent.
We’d heard about the Federal Doma Café and decided to take the 20 minute drive into the hills to investigate. Note to self: Never trust the Walkman! An hour later, via dirt roads and gated properties, we realised we’d taken the very scenic circuitous route to the one pub town of Federal! But it was worth it! Run by Japanese couple, Takayuki and Takashi (formerly O-Sushi chefs), Doma is situated beside the General Store in a cute but unpretentious weatherboard house. Your meal is served on biodegradable paper/bamboo plates, sit at wooden picnic tables scattered across a sloping lawn, and Federal business is carried out in an outhouse. Food is mostly ‘modern’ sushi, with a few Australian items as specials, but it’s fresh and beautifully presented. Yes, you can get this quality of food in town, but there’s something utterly charming about eating such a delicious artisan lunch at a picnic table in a country garden.
Muoi’s Feast is noisily busy, so it was lucky we booked. Owner/chefs are a Vietnamese couple who serve French-Asian influenced cuisine. Our meals are classics with a twist: Duck with orange sauce, soy, five spices and broccoli; Ling fish with potato scales on a bed of carrot custard scented with mushroom. Expect a soufflé or crepes for dessert. Muoi’s food is a feast of influences, its interest rising from a blend of cultures. Don’t expect modern ‘new age’ Asian. Do expect generous servings, and a great value dining experience. The restaurant charges $2.50 corkage for BYO, and we’d advise dining early.
There are lots more restaurants we’d love to try in the Byron area, not to mention Bangalow and Brunswick Heads, as well as many which beg for a return visit. Besides food, check out the beach events from late afternoon, galleries and street art, Watego’s beach at sunrise, or a walk to the lighthouse. People watching is always fun, so grab a pavement table at one of the cafés in town during Happy Hour to try our favourite local brew – Stone & Wood Pacific Ale.
Red Ginger, 2/111 Jonson St., Byron Bay Ph: 02 6680 9779
Bay Leaf, 1 Marvell St., Byron Bay Ph 02 6685 8900
St Elmo Dining Room & Bar, Cnr Fletcher St & Lawson Lane, Byron Bay Ph 02 6680 7426
One One One, 1/111 Jonson St., Byron Bay Ph: 02 6680 7388
Muoi’s Feast, 11 Fletcher St., Byron Bay Ph: 02 6685 7557
Federal Doma Café, Albert Street, Federal Ph 02 6688 4711