Especially during holidays the question surfaces. Where do you recommend for dinner? Asked not only by locals but also by visitors, it is a question with which I always have difficulty, on several levels. First of all, the delicate matter of consistency, or rather its lamentable lack, means that I may gush over a recent restaurant experience and urge friends along, only to be told afterwards that it had definitely failed to live up to the hype. This inconsistency is, besides, a function of the fact we live in a largely touristy, seasonally- determined area – although why Noosa is never guilty of this I will never comprehend.
Then there is the potent matter of subjectivity : I may love a place to pieces but that is just my personal response, linked possibly, probably, to the mood I was in and the company I was keeping. Finally, specifics would really assist me in handing out advice – advice, I reiterate, based on one woman’s opinion. In other words, are you looking for somewhere romantic and intimate or somewhere hip, noisy and popular? With or without a view? Dealing in a particular cuisine, perhaps – Japanese or French or vegetarian or family-friendly, please-all-palates? There may indeed be a lack of reassuring conformity in the restaurant experience up here but what there also is is a catholic range of places to eat – and a big range at that; we are not poorly served in this regard.
I spent 2011 dining out at a wide cross-section of these places – and others in other parts of the state and the country – far too numerous to comment on. Quite by coincidence, however, the last handful included a respectable representation of those I would file under the heading of Location, the sub- headings being Country, Town and Seaside.
Wilson’s by the Creek is the restaurant back of Coorabell, part of the pampering Peppers group and attached to its hinterland retreat. It is too easily overlooked because there it is utterly off all beaten tracks; it is also, in its quiet, hidden-away manner, quite stunning, both in environs and in food. Chef Adam Hall took over less than a year ago and his signature dish of coffee-smoked duck is a thing of beauty. Especially when consumed out on the wooden deck of the glorious building with manicured lawn before you and rainforest enveloping you and the absolute stillness of being, it feels, in the middle of nowhere. Adam might, for a special, enfold fresh tuna and salmon in spring roll wrappers, bake then slice and send it all out in a sublime broth of kaffir lime with squiggles of tenderest squid. It’s clever, inventive, fresh and exciting food here, a triumph of technique.
In Byron Bay, cafe one one one has had a huge year: dramatic renovations transforming this popular caff into the sort of space, arching ceilings and open kitchen, you find in the Big Smoke. And now available most nights for dinner, for the type of rustic European food for which it has since opening five years ago garnered a loyal local following. Mushrooms – field and exotic– arrive in a little jar amidst a tumble of toasts, the fungi steeped in thyme and garlic. Supple scotch fillet a generous whack of impeccably cooked flesh
on a silverbeet bed; spatchcock glazed in honey. Walnut meringues and hand-made dark chocolate to finish. Gorgeous, gutsy food. On top of all that chef/co-owner Jade Campbell-Scott has just written a cookbook of the cafe’s recipes, available via their website.
For a seaside location the Byron Beach Cafe might just be unmatchable. A sunset prosecco out on the deck; the soft tendrils of subtly spicy squid tongue-dissolving; swordfish mounted on top of kipflers and spinach; baked peach halves scattered with crunchy, nutty streusel. You can feel quite hideously privileged, sitting up there above the waves, in a place which, moreover, for the second year in a row, has just been awarded Silver for best tourism restaurant and catering at the NSW Tourism Awards.