Coast to coast

Hik­ing Tas­ma­nia’s Three Capes Track, By­ron Bay’s lat­est and great­est, and where to hit up in Seat­tle.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - Travel -

Re­lax. By­ron is still By­ron. True, house prices have headed well north of a mil­lion bucks, a cot­tage in­dus­try has sprung up around Chris Hemsworth, and the den­sity of shops that sell floaty linen and gussied-up camp­ing gear is greater here than any­where else in the south­ern hemi­sphere. But new Ben­zes and Beam­ers rolling through town carry surf­boards and NO COAL SEAM GAS stick­ers. And the good news for vis­i­tors is that this in­flux of money has lifted stan­dards, espe­cially where food, drink and ho­tels are con­cerned.

At the top end of the busi­ness, there’s ex­cel­lent ser­vice, beds draped in French linen from Hale Mer­can­tile and well-crafted lists of drinks tak­ing in ev­ery­thing from the outré aro­matic blends made by Jared Dixon at Jilly Wines in nearby Clunes to cool things from Si­cily, the Loire, Bas­ket Range and wher­ever in­ter­est­ing wine is made. And the big change in good food is that there’s more of it in more places, and it’s bet­ter and more lo­cal than ever.

Lo­cal, that is, but Mex­i­can. At least some of the time. This part of the world has long been en­am­oured of vari­a­tions on the theme of lime, chilli and av­o­cado, and there’s never been any short­age of places to or­der frozen Mar­gar­i­tas and a plate of veg­e­tar­ian na­chos. But now, in an ex­cit­ing plot twist, three of the best re­garded food op­er­a­tors in the re­gion – Astrid McCor­mack and Josh Lewis from Fleet in Brunswick Heads, Mark LaBrooy and Dar­ren Robert­son, aka the Three Blue Ducks from The Farm at Ewings­dale, and the team be­hind Har­vest at Newry­bar – have opened or are plan­ning Latin Amer­i­can side ven­tures. The qual­ity of tequila and mez­cal avail­able in the North­ern Rivers has im­proved dra­mat­i­cally, while the likes of sapotes, tomatil­los and fresh epa­zote are seen at farm­ers’ mar­kets with grow­ing fre­quency.

Com­bine all that good­ness with a wave of new chef­tal­ent, a re­newed in­ter­est from lo­cal farm­ers in grow­ing na­tive food plants, lush places to stay, the leafy beauty of the hin­ter­land, some great cof­fee and spec­tac­u­lar beaches and By­ron Bay looks more than ever like the coast with the most. Here’s the lat­est of the best.

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 8.30. 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 blamefin­ger 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 salt­bush­spiked 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-cum­trai­teur 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 grenacheshi­raz 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 som­me­lier­maîtres 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 STAY

Raes on Wat­e­gos

Is there a bet­ter lo­cated place to stay in the Bay? Or any­where on the east coast of Aus­tralia? To the unini­ti­ated, Wat­e­gos is a small surf beach around the heads from By­ron Bay it­self. To the ini­ti­ated it’s sim­ply heaven, a place you can’t wait to get back to. Raes is a seven-room ho­tel that opens al­most di­rectly onto the sand. It doesn’t want for per­son­al­ity, but its re­cent ren­o­va­tion has peeled back the lay­ers to the es­sen­tials – hip, com­fort­able rooms, oblig­ing ser­vice, an ex­quis­ite lo­ca­tion – while adding ap­peal­ing new touches such as uni­forms by Mel­bourne de­signer Lucy Folk and a cel­lar bar that opens onto the drive. 6-8 Marine Pde, By­ron Bay, (02) 6685 5366, raes.com.au

28 De­grees

Few places in the North­ern Rivers com­bine an ul­tra-cen­tral lo­ca­tion with pri­vacy, gor­geous aes­thet­ics and com­fort as seam­lessly as this beau­ti­fully de­signed guest­house. Low-key where you want it, but care­fully fur­nished with ev­ery­thing needed for a re­ju­ve­nat­ing stay, 28 De­grees ought to be the blue­print for beach­house liv­ing. The mini­bar is loaded with Big River milk, farm­ers’ mar­ket fruit, co­conut wa­ter, Baram­bah Or­gan­ics yo­ghurt and muesli from Bal­lina café

The Belle Gen­eral. The only thing bet­ter than owner Deb Garske’s eye for detail is her rhubarb com­pote. 12 Marvell St, By­ron Bay, (02) 6685 7775, 28by­ron­bay.com.au

Hal­cyon House

The dan­ger with Hal­cyon House, of course, is that it’s so very tempt­ing not to leave. Where de­sign ho­tels are fre­quently chilly, and fur­nished with eater­ies serv­ing food that priv­i­leges aes­thet­ics over taste, this for­mer surf ho­tel ticks all the boxes in style. Anna Spiro’s de­sign is plush with­out ever be­ing mumsy, while man­ager Mauro Riso in­stils in his staff a man­ner that is savvy with­out be­ing showy. It’s the kind of place where Austen, Maugham, Zweig and Mur­doch rub shoul­ders hap­pily on book­shelves with Collins, Koontz, Courte­nay and Lud­lum. The prop­erty also has a kitchen that’s all about fresh­ness of flavour and a quiet thought­ful­ness that runs from sunny break­fasts to el­e­gant din­ing to poolside snacks to room ser­vice. Give our re­gards to El­liott, the res­i­dent wa­ter mon­i­tor. 21 Cy­press Cres, Cabarita

Beach, (02) 6676 1444, hal­cy­on­house.com.au

Surfers at The Pass, By­ron Bay

From left: Chu­pacabra; ba­con-and-egg roll with basil may­on­naise, green tomato rel­ish and Boon Luck Farm greens at Ethel; Di Vino’s co-own­ers(from left) Felix McKen­zie, Joe McMa­hon, Achille Martino and head chef Bruno Conti; Cape By­ron Lighthouse. PRE­VI­OUSPAGES Left: king­fish wings with soured cream and caviar at Raes Cel­larBar. Right: The Pass at By­ron Bay; sal­ads and chick­pea and sweet-po­tato patty at Ethel.

Clock­wise from right: Raes on Wat­e­gos; Fish­er­man’s Look­out at The Pass; Astrid McCor­mack, of Fleet, La Ca­sita and Ethel; adobo al­monds, tostadas with burnt jalapeño and salsa roja, lima bean salad, and oc­to­pus ce­viche at Locura.

Above: Dishes at Har­vest, in­clud­ing (clock­wise from top left) pig­face fruit, grilled gar­lic buds with charred kelp, ce­viche served two ways with coastal plants, and kan­ga­roo tartare with coastal sun­rise, pep­per­berry, and cured egg yolk. Op­po­site, clock­wise from top left: Wat­e­gos Beach; Tucker; chef Ben Devlin, of Pipit; blue-eye trevalla with blood orange, fen­nel and sea greens, and Brus­sels sprouts with cul­tured cream at Shel­ter.

From top: a pri­vate plunge pool at 28 De­grees; surf’s up; in­side 28 De­grees. Op­po­site: a pent­house atRaes on Wat­e­gos.

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