By Freya Ensbey.
There are many regions of our country that by simple title,
bring to mind the personality which proceeds it; like the Hunter Valley,
affluent with vineyards and producing the iconic Semillon, or the coast of
Tasmania, harvesting some of the country’s most requested seafood.
However, there is a region which has stimulated our senses
and demanded our attention in more recent years, elevating the bar and
showcasing itself as a culinary destination in its own right. The Northern
Rivers of New South Wales is an area unparalleled with diversity, from the hairline
emerald terrain of the Tweed Valley which transpires into the turquoise shores
of Byron Bay, the Northern Rivers has fast created a romance between locals and
landscape, conceiving a relationship for the abundance supplied.
The now extinct volcanic activity of the region has gifted
the area with some of the most fertile soil in the world, making for ideal
growing conditions for healthy plants as well as raising grass-fed assisted
livestock with high nutritional value, seen in the hormone free pork which has
put the sleepy town of Bangalow on the supply map.
It is for this reason the region has lured in a select collective
of distinguished Chefs whom have bolstered the area, their restaurants a shrine
to the available produce, creating an admirable movement harnessing the paddock
to plate philosophy and inspiring a culinary culture which has put the area on
any honest gourmand’s radar.
Kicking off our regional tour in the western hinterland of
Byron Bay, is sought after restaurant, Harvest
Newrybar. This renovated Queenslander farmhouse, was re-opened in 2007,
having made many transitions over the years to arrive at the stylish, hive of
activity it is today, incorporating a gourmet delicatessen, a servicing edible
organic garden and an artisan bakery, using a 107-year-old Scotch oven.
Having worked in Michelin starred London restaurants along
with celebrity chef Colin Fassnidge, Harvest’s Head Chef Bret Cameron, brings
with him years of experience which contributes to the restaurant’s philosophies
of local, organic produce being met with high sophistication.
Cameron’s genuine passion for quality produce prepared in a
manner that preserves its purity, along with an inherent love of real food,
makes for the ideal marriage between Harvests vision and Cameron’s integrity.
Cameron has since formed another unique partnership, teaming
up with forager and wild food researcher, Peter Hardwick, to create a menu full
of local curiosities, entwining the paddock to plate philosophy into every dish
that is created.
"Peter Hardwick is such a legend. The amount of knowledge he
has is incredible. We need to get it out there for everyone to share,” says
Each Wednesday, Cameron and Hardwick present a selection of
findings and flavours on a plate after a day of foraging and developing
(including pickling and fermenting) at the Wild Harvest Sessions, allowing
guests to experience the holistic process and provide ideas or feedback; the
winning dishes then make it onto the restaurant’s seasonal menu.
Current Menu Highlights:
Byron Creek Farm chicken, buttermilk, zucchini, mushroom and
Kangaroo and yam with Davidson’s plum, warrigal greens and
Nectarine, Riberry and strawberry gum.
Traveling east into Byron Bay, tucked away in the unassuming
area of the industrial estate along Banksia Drive, is the visionary company, 100 Mile Table, a dynamic catering
company with their finger right on the pulse of what produce is seasonally
abundant with each transitioning month.
Head Chef and owner, Sarah Swan has crafted a stellar
career, stretching from The Bayswater Brasserie and Bather’s Pavilion in Sydney
to serving the Rockpool Group for over a decade, both in the kitchen and within
the marketing and media department.
A strong desire to escape the rat race six years ago saw
Swan make the move north to the region of Byron Bay, where she began catering
from her home.
"Byron was a great choice and had been on my mind for years.
It’s my favourite Aussie holiday spot, the perfect mix of countryside and coast,”
Swan soon joined forces with Jeremy Burn, bringing to
fruition the 100 Mile Table. With years of experience in the hospitality
industry, Burn has worked for the Hipgroup in Auckland which owns and operates
10 of Auckland’s most awarded cafés and restaurants, all specialising in
creating menus based around the provenance, sustainability, seasonality and
locality of the area’s produce.
Serving the breakfast crowd of Byron Bay from Monday through
to Fridays, the 100 Mile Table’s specialty is their unforgettable lunches.
Using picturesque locations as their pop up restaurant, the 100 Mile Table
creates beautifully catered events for up to 250 people.
"The food at 100 Mile Table is simple - we like to say it is
excellent produce cooked beautifully - we let the ingredients speak for
themselves and we really are unfussy in our approach.
"There would be few
regions like [the Northern Rivers] in Australia - from sub-tropical fruits and
vegetables and all the exotics to natives like lemon myrtle and finger limes.
There are fantastic organic chickens, some of the best pork I have ever eaten,
local brewers in beer, gin, rum and even wine makers. There is little we have
to look further afield for,” says Swan.
As the name suggests, the 100 Mile Table’s philosophy is to
practice an innate respect for the source of the produce, acknowledging the
importance of how far it has had to travel along with the wellbeing and
treatment of the animals and crops.
"Neil Perry taught me the importance of provenance and
knowing your growers - I brought that with me to Byron Bay and it’s an easy
philosophy to put into practice here,” Swan says.
For a simple and easy but equally as indulgent recipe, try
Sarah Swan’s roasted
clams with parsley, garlic and spring onion, the perfect dish for your own
long lunch at home.
Current Menu Highlights:
Ceviche of local fish with pickled fennel, pomegranate and
Chamomile roasted sweet potato with toasted pepitas and
8 Hour roast lamb with Persian flowers.
Byron Bay is inherently deep with soul; a restorative locale
now synonymous to a celebrity status, with havens like that of Elements of Byron Resort and Spa,
which have elevated the region to its prestigious benchmark along with
Elements’ resident Graze
Restaurant, inviting guests to unwind and indulge poolside, set in an
effortlessly elegant, open air dining space.
The arrival of Simon Jones as Executive Chef of Elements has
contributed to Byron Bay’s impeccable culinary scene, having been from a
previous, gastronomic background.
Jones’ career began under the precise eye of Raymond Blanc
in England’s Oxfordshire, with later roles as Chef at The Peninsula Hotel in
Beverly Hills and as Head Chef at Marco Pierre White’s renowned Michelin
starred L’Escargot in London.
"I looked at Elements of Byron and saw the huge potential.
"It’s independent and the owners are seriously invested in
it. Without a heavy hotel corporate structure, we have the chance to set our
own unique culinary course,” says Jones.
The Graze Restaurant offers what is best described as really
casual fine dining, harnessing the area’s best in season produce and presenting
it for the diner in the most natural form as possible.
"It’s super fresh,
lively food. The produce available here is exceptional, so it makes sense to
handle it as little as possible,” says Jones.
Elements of Byron has recently turned their focus to
sustainability, with a full resort re-launch set for October, they will unveil
a completely solar powered Eco Education Centre. With its own rainwater harvesting
system and 500 m2 of market gardens, the eco centre is designed to provide
fresh produce to Graze Restaurant and enable guests to experience food
production from the very beginning of planting to the finished plated product
of a dish.
Jones has shared with us a taste of Graze Restaurant to
stimulate our appetite, with his Catch
of the Day recipe.
Current Menu Highlights:
Roasted whole local day boat fish, lime, chilli and green
‘Yooralla’ 1.2 kg dry aged rib of beef cooked pink with
grilled bone marrow, beef fat crumb dressed in a béarnaise and peppercorn
Set against a spectacular rainforest backdrop brimming with
birds and wildlife, The Byron at Byron Restaurant showcases and champions the
food producers of the Byron Bay and Northern Rivers region, orchestrated by
celebrated head Chef Gavin Hughes, who brings to the Bay a vision of creativity
and ingenuity to reinvent the way his kitchen uses local produce.
With a prestigious career to his name, having worked at
Michelin-starred Inverlochy Castle, Devonshire Gardens and Airds Hotel, Hughes
decided to relocate with his family to the Northern Rivers seven years ago,
taking residence in the surrounding southern suburb of Lennox Head.
Hughes has become a true advocate for the produce of the
region, even being awarded an honorary member of the Byron Farmer’s Market.
Every Thursday, with resort guests and Byron Bay locals in tow, he visits the
market to find the freshest seasonal ingredients to create an interactive
weekly Farmer’s Market Dinner, open for all to enjoy at the resort that same
"My love affair with the local produce continues to grow
each and every day. As I get to know the seasons better, I find myself watching
the local stalls in increasing anticipation for my favourite crops as they
ripen to perfection. The wealth of local ingredients is truly amazing, what
Chef wouldn’t love being spoilt for this kind of choice?” says Hughes.
Hughes’ local food focus has also extended to a regular
program on the ABC radio, sharing with listeners his favourite recipes
featuring seasonal ingredients sourced in the district.
The Byron at Byron Restaurant creates a constantly evolving,
seasonal menu, working closely with and regularly showcasing the produce from
some of their most used suppliers like Ballina Prawns, Burrawong Free Range
Chicken, Bangalow Pork and Rangers Valley Beef from the nearby Northern
Current Menu Highlights:
Northern Rivers Salumi selection platter.
Parmesan and herb crumbed free range pork cutlet shaved
cabbage, potato puree and Billinudgel brown sauce.
Native organic salt bush lamb for two with roast Winter
vegetables, bush dukkah and native mint.
Travel a further 30 minutes North along the Pacific Highway
to arrive at Cabarita’s hidden gem, Halcyon House. A towering white building
invites guests through arched doorways into a plantation-esque space, fitted
with luxe coastal stylings and oozing a relaxed yet sophisticated beach holiday
charm, carrying right through to the resident restaurant, Paper Daisy.
Having grown up in the Byron Bay area until the age of 18,
Paper Daisy’s Head Chef Ben Devlin brings with him a wealth of local knowledge.
Previously heading Esquire, one of Brisbane’s finest restaurants, the prospect
of working with locally sourced produce from the Northern Rivers lured the
award-winning Chef back to his home town.
Devlin expresses that he was fortunate enough to find a
position and management team that matched his ambition and commitment, working
with the high standards of a sustainable restaurant model. This vision is
executed through his two imperative, pillar requirements of any dish he
creates; the first is to always strive to inspire joy for the diner and the
second being to create a good representation of the region on the plate, always
seeking to use native and wild produce from his surrounds by working closely
within the community of farmers and producers.
"We are really fortunate here to have a beautiful climate
for growing everything from sub-tropical exotic produce, warm climate
Mediterranean style produce and some colder climate root vegetables and greens.
The soil is brilliant quality, the oceans in our region are clean and have a
wide variety of species to choose from, and as a result of that, the area has
attracted a wide range of producers that are extremely passionate about
creating a fantastic product and doing it in a sustainable fashion,” says
Devlin inspires his team to control and contribute to the
menu by creating as many housemade products as possible, from cheese to garums
and vinegars, using a nose to tail philosophy and getting the most out of each
product the kitchen purchases.
Current Menu Highlights:
Scorched kangaroo with mullet roe, macadamia miso and pecan.
Paperbark grilled fish with sugarloaf cabbage, wattle seed
Lemon aspen with pomelo, roasted kelp, buttermilk and
Located within the Peppers Salt Resort and Spa, Kingscliff
is Chef Hat awarded restaurant, Season,
an elegant escape for guests to enjoy an intimate meal in style. The ethos and
apt naming of Season has always been to provide its diners with a culinary
journey through each season, using the region’s food trails created by nature
to flourish for that time of year.
Season’s Head Chef Michael Lee and his young family now call
the Northern Rivers home after an invitation by the Peppers group to join their
team at the restaurant two years ago, prompting Lee to leave his previous
position at The Star casino on the Gold Coast.
Professionally, Lee revels in the area for its abundance of
local produce available, considering himself as nothing but fortunate to work
in the area as a Chef.
"There are fantastic markets, farmers and a sense of
"From the macadamia nuts, to the finger limes, apples and
potatoes. The lamb is also excellent in Northern NSW, along with the seafood,”
Describing his work at Season as a great base to showcase
what the area has to offer, Lee changes the menu each season, educating his
team and diners to be more conscious of the produce that is available and
ensuring the delivery of the highest possible nutritional value for his guests by
using ingredients at their seasonal peak.
"My philosophy is simple! Keep it simple! Let the
ingredients speak for themselves,” he says.
Current Menu Highlights:
Dry aged Northern River’s rib eye with a MBS of 3+, served
with a side of smoked campfire potatoes, truffled porcini butter, parsley and
Finish with an interesting dessert of local farmhouse
cheeses, muscatels, poached pear, quince, carrot marmalade and lavosh.
They say the grass is always greener on the other side of
the fence, but ditching a Sydney city life to reside in the quaint suburb of
Carool, west of Tweed Heads, was an easy decision for Chef Gareth Leslie, having
grown up on a farm in the verdant fields of Northern Ireland.
Leslie was a former Chef of acclaimed health inspired
eateries Earth and Water and Gwingana Lifestyle Retreat, moving to the region
to achieve a lifelong dream of his and undertake the project of building a
restaurant with partner Peter Burr.
The pair purchased a dishevelled period farm house in the
lush surrounds of Carool, with months of pouring their heart and soul into the
restoration following, before launching the highly anticipated Potager,
A Kitchen Garden, taking little more than a year to have the fierce local
following it has today as a popular foodie destination.
A short, 20-minute scenic drive from the Gold Coast Airport,
Potager, offers a holistic dining experience, allowing guests to peruse the
prosperous gardens and plots of planted vegetables, which directly help to
service the kitchen of Potager. With savvy customers increasingly interested in
knowing the provenance of the food they are eating, Leslie says it is wonderful
to be able to tell them that any ingredient which has not been grown on site, has
still been sourced from local suppliers.
However, the seemingly easy sea change transition for the
pair did not come without its challengers, outlined when Leslie expressed that opening
a restaurant in a rural area was not an easy fete.
"You realise that some supplies are a little harder to come
by than when you are in a metro area,” says Leslie.
Fortunately, that is changing. With more quality eateries
opening in the area, together with changing dining habits demanding more
interesting dishes, produce is becoming easier to come by as demand grows.
"We still don’t have easy access to everything we can get in
city areas, but what largely makes up for it is the fact that we have wonderful
producers and retailers right on our doorstep in the Tweed Valley and
surrounding areas,” he says
With plans to increase the reliance on locally sourced
goods, the duo are part of a team working with Liz Collyer from the Tweed Shire
Council to improve the connection between restaurants and producers, allowing
for local economic growth and prosperity for the Northern Rivers food bowl.
Current Menu Highlights:
Smoked ham hock and leek terrine with pickles, mustard and
Lamb liver schnitzel, dashi glaze and caramelised apple.
In an area as abundant at the Northern Rivers, it is up to
us as diners to let our forks talk, seeking out those eatery’s influenced by
inspired Chefs who are investing their focus into the locavore movement,
ensuring a stable local economy and synergy between supplier and industry.