BYRON: Gourmet Traveller’s Food Lover’s Guide to the Byron Bay Region

GREAT FOOD + GREAT DESTINATIONS = UNFORGETTABLE HOLIDAYS.

It's the very best equation in our book, and few do it better than Gourmet Traveller which always delivers new inspiration for us on where to eat, drink and travel.  January's issue served up a food lovers guide to Byron Bay which includes some well-established favourites as well as lots of the exciting new eating and drinking experiences to be had in our coastal, beach paradise. 
 
They highlight the ambitious new focus on Latin American cuisine from the celebrated foodies behind Fleet, Three Blue Ducks and Harvest Newrybar as well as the diversity of fresh and exotic produce like sapotes, tomatilloes and epazote, now available on a regular basis at the many Byron markets.  It's hard to know which came first.  This new wave of chef-talent or local farmers' interest in trying their hand at growing new crops as well as exploiting some of the amazing native food plants which form the basis of Harvest's eclectic menus.  
 
Of course great food is one thing and then there are great drinks.  As well as Gourmet Traveller's and The Bower's list of hottest new restaurants and bars in Byron, we've also whipped up a cocktail lovers' guide to Byron.  All you need now is the best place to stay, and for us of course that's The Bower, whether it's in one of The Bower Suites which are all cool urban Manhattan style meets the laid back beach lifestyle of Byron Bay, Bower House with its lush landscaping, elegant furnishings and expansive living areas for family and friends, The Bower Cottage where the nod to the original 100 year old dwelling ends at the front door when it opens out into sophisticated, five-bedroom pure luxury accommodation, or The Bower Barn, the ultimate couples retreat, and with a glass-roofed bathroom that has amassed an IG following in its own right!  And then there's the insta-famous Bower-guests-only round mineral swimming pool which sits in the middle of a 5-star oasis with towering palms and luxury day beds just waiting for you to immerse yourself in the quiet calm of another-sun-soaked Byron day.  Another 'best' right there.
 
Come do your own taste testing and see what all the fuss is about.  
 

EAT AND DRINK

La Casita
A popular chips, chilli and chimichangas joint in a fishing-and-caravans town is taken over by two of the Australian food world's brightest young stars: Astrid McCormack and Josh Lewis. Tasty things ensue. What was Gringos is now La Casita, the casual Mexican offshoot of two-star wine bar Fleet. Everything you like about Fleet is here, only mostly outside, looser, cheaper and Mexican in inspiration. Expect a hip drinks list and savvy service culture from McCormack, a smart cocktail selection from Fleet partner Robert Mudge and, from Lewis, the likes of a ceviche of local snapper studded with fresh coriander seeds, shellfish oil and avocado, and tostadas topped with chunks of Ballina prawn tossed with chintextle, a nutty, spicy salsa that could be the XO of Oaxaca.
Cnr Fawcett and Tweed sts, Brunswick Heads, (02) 6685 1955


Chupacabra

The backblocks of a shopping centre in the Byron Bay suburb of Suffolk Park might seem an odd setting for an eatery inspired by the cuisines of coastal Mexico, but incongruity is part of Chupacabra's charm. What could from the outside appear to be just another fajita place opened on the strength of no more research than a sun, surf and sensimilla Kombi trip to Puerto Escondido or Cancún, turns out to conceal quiet wonders. It's casual enough for local stoners and families to pop in for huevos rancheros and guacamole, or breakfast nachos on the weekend, but nuanced enough to round out that offer with suckling pig or grilled watermelon and pepita tacos. Chef Evan White and manager Amelia Stokes are passionate about their subject and are excellent hosts – never more so than when dishing up excellent whole grilled local fish to share in a DIY-taco situation with hot tortillas and a wealth of salsas and salads.
12a/3 Clifford St, Suffolk Park, 0448 077 401, chupacabra.com.au

Locura

The Ducks are on a roll. The six-person chef collective opened a branch of its signature Three Blue Ducks café-restaurant at the W hotel in Brisbane last year, while the branch they opened in 2014 at The Farm, the 32-hectare complex on the outskirts of Byron, is almost a postcode in itself. Now they've have moved into town (four of the guys live in the neighbourhood), taking over what was once La La Land. If your key impressions of La La's (as it's called by the hordes barrelling down Lawson Street after midnight) are more oriented towards nightclubbing than farm-to-table dining, don't fret: the name means something like "the madness" and it remains a place to lose yourself in the small hours of the morning. The Ducks have added a short menu of dishes inspired by their adventures in Latin America – tacos, corn, salsa – but for now they're working with a bar kitchen and only serving food till 8.30pm. Expect bigger things as they expand the kitchen; Tim Philips, of Sydney's Bulletin Place, is making over the cocktail list in the meantime.
6 Lawson St, Byron Bay, (02) 6675 9140, locura.com.au

Raes on Wategos

If you were looking for somewhere to point the blame-finger for the wave of fancification that has overtaken Byron in the past 20 or so years, this hotel-eatery could be the place to start. Antony Catalano, former Domain chief executive (and presumably someone with a keen eye for a property deal), bought Vincent Rae's last stake in the business in 2014 and set about bringing the place into the present day. This has involved Tamsin Johnson's design update, the hiring of general manager Francesca Webster from Halcyon House and, most recently, the recruitment of former Attica chef Jason Barratt to the kitchen. And whether it's the saltbush-spiked agnolotti, the vegan take on the roast pineapple dessert, zesty with lime and a spoonful of coconut yoghurt, or the chilli snowpea-sprouts that Barratt serves with his outstanding avocado toast at breakfast, the food is the best it has been in years.
6-8 Marine Pde, Byron Bay, (02) 6685 5366, raes.com.au

Ethel

La Casita isn't Team Fleet's only other Brunswick Heads offering – for breakfast, lunch and just about everything else there's Ethel Food Store, a café-cum-traiteur that does sandwiches and pastries, and pours Reuben Hills coffee, Good Happy kombucha and Baladin softs. Stock up on Martelli pasta, passata and Bunya Red Farm capers ("the best around," according to Astrid McCormack), or leave the hard yards to them and pick up a fish pie, ready to go straight in the oven, or a salad of raw broccoli, raisins and currants dressed with cashew-nut cream.
Shop 2/19 Booyun St, Brunswick Heads, (02) 6685 1343, ethelfoodstore.com.au
 

Barrio

Great coffee. All-day great food, eat in and to go. Outdoor dining. The culinary force of nature that is Francisco Smoje, working his Latin-inflected elemental magic on the grill with hunks of meat, vegetables and superb seafood. You won't eat a better-cooked eggplant.
1 Porter St, Byron Bay, barriobyronbay.com.au

Moonshine Coffee

Barely any food. Barely any seats. Barely more than a (very tastefully appointed) shed. Barely a half-hour drive on winding roads from Byron proper to the town of Federal. And yet the house-roasted coffee will definitely be the best you have in the region, and might be the best you have all year, anywhere. Make the detour.
3 Albert St, Federal, (02) 6688 4718, moonshinecoffee.com.au


Harvest

Ally Waddell likes to cook. Peter Hardwick likes to forage for native, feral and otherwise underutilised food plants, pickle things and make vinegars. Moira Waterfall likes to pour people unusual and delicious booze. Together they're making beautiful music, upping the tempo at this sprawling landmark eatery. Lately they've started experimenting with extending their Wednesday Wild Harvest menu, in which Waddell showcases Hardwick's finds and philtres, throughout the week. That could translate to blackened garlic scapes with crème fraîche and a charred-kelp vinegar, a ceviche of cobia with sea purslane, finger lime and sea velvet, or a bowl of native passionfruit, simply sliced and salted.
18-22 Old Pacific Hwy, Newrybar Village, (02) 6687 2644, harvestnewrybar.com.au

Shelter

If you happened to be a kid in the 1980s visiting Lennox Head, a small town north of Ballina, to have a splash around in the tea tree-stained Lake Ainsworth, you'd be overjoyed if you got some Redskins and a Bubble O'Bill along the way. Today's children are made of sterner stuff. They make a beeline for this dunefront shack and load up on raw fish with horseradish and pickled rhubarb scattered with buckwheat and coastal succulents. And why not? Shelter over-delivers: the butter is cultured, the fish line-caught, the wines by the glass extending to Si Vintners sem-chardonnay, Ochota Barrels rosé and Jauma Disco Special grenache-shiraz served chilled.
41 Pacific Pde, Lennox Head, (02) 6687 7757, shelterlennox.com.au

Di Vino

Sometimes you don't want to eat fish or chips or coastal succulents or neo-Oaxacan share plates. You want spaghetti, damn it, and maybe a glass of wine. And for those times, this newcomer – already a hit with the locals – has you covered. One of the owners is Roman, the chef is Ligurian, and the menu is pleasingly clipped to essentials such as a classic rigatoni all'Amatriciana and fried stuffed olives alla Ascolana. Wine, meanwhile, leans natural, with bottles from cult Italian producers such as Elisabetta Foradori and Giulio Armani offered alongside those from Australian fellow believers such as James Erskine, Bryan Martin, and Owen Latta.
2 Fletcher St, Byron Bay, (02) 6680 8424, divinobyron.com


Pipit

Set to open early this year, this new independent venture from Noma alumnus and former Halcyon House chef Ben Devlin and his partner, Yen Trinh, promises something similar to the originality of ideas and focus on local seafood and green things that won Devlin stars and a great many fans at Paper Daisy. That could mean albacore taken on a spicy adventure, turned into a marine 'nduja and served with green-garlic garum and steamed bread, perhaps, or the sweeter pleasures of black sapote pudding with macadamia miso.
8 Coronation Ave, Pottsville, pipitrestaurant.com
 
Tucker
Here are the magic words: open seven days, including most public holidays, serving Blackboard coffee, roasted by the owners. The juice is cold-pressed, the toast is Bread Social, the beers are Balter, and the crowds are local. "Stoked on our local suppliers," reads the note on the menu. And then some. 
480 Casuarina Way, Casuarina, tuckercasuarina.com

Fleet

Beg, borrow or bribe your way into a reservation. Do whatever you have to do. Fleet has quietly become one of the best loved restaurants in Australia, which is pretty impressive when you consider it seats 14, in a town of 1,700. Josh Lewis does all the cooking almost single-handedly, making his own bottarga to sass-up coal-roasted hasselback-style celeriac, say, or caramelising preserved lemons to provide a dazzling foil for ephemeral curls of local squid. Astrid McCormack rocks the counter service as one of the most deft and charismatic sommelier-maîtres d' in the land, and Rob Mudge ties it all together with cocktails that are as crisp as they are powerful. Beware: Fleet is dangerously habit-forming.
2/16 The Terrace, Brunswick Heads, (02) 6685 1363, fleet-restaurant.com.au
 


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