Hands-on … Chris Pellen, the owner of Milk and Honey Pizza in Mullumbimby.
Photo: Heath Missen
From Bangalow pork with crackling to Roquefort cheesecake, Lucy Clark selects the 10 best food features around Byron Bay for the Sydney Morning Herald.
There are four growers’ markets in the Byron Shire, each with its own special personality. The one thing they have in common is an embarrassment of riches from local farmers and producers. Highlights include Coopers Shoot Tomatoes (the way tomatoes used to taste and smell); Heart Breads’ woodfired sourdough breads and gorgeous pastries; Bangalow potatoes; and cheeses from the Bangalow Cheese Co and Tweed Valley Whey. If you go to the dinky New Brighton market on Tuesday mornings, or the laid-back Mullum market on Friday mornings, have breakfast cooked by Roberto Costanzo. He has worked in Sicily and at The River Cafe in London and brings rustic Italian pleasure to the northern rivers.
Farmers Markets: Byron Bay, Thursday, 8am-11am, Butler Reserve. Mullumbimby, Friday 8-11am, Mullumbimby Showground. Bangalow, Saturday, 8-11am, behind the Bangalow Hotel. New Brighton, Tuesday, 8am-11am, River Street, New Brighton.
THE TOP SHOP, BYRON BAY
A corner store-turned-takeaway on a sunny corner just out of town in Byron Bay. Surrounded by homes on the southern elevation above the township, the Top Shop has become a casual hang-out for locals who come to lounge on the grass in the sunshine and drink the best coffee in town, with Single Origin Roasters beans. Better get a sublime, crunchy-topped raspberry muffin to go with that – it’s just what you need after a morning swim. At lunchtime you can’t go past the sensational American Burger.
The Top Shop, corner Massinger and Carlyle streets, 6685 6495. Open daily, 6.30am-4pm.
CALAMARI BY THE RIVER, BRUNSWICK HEADS
On a beautiful summer’s evening there is nothing better than grabbing a patch of grass by the lazy old Brunswick River at Brunswick Heads. Then take a walk through the bush and along the river to Torakina Beach and back to your grassy spot for Starfish’s “world famous calamari”, as the sign says. It has good reason to be famous – these beautifully seasoned, crumbed curlicues of calamari are incredibly tender. They come served with hot chips or excellent salads. Or pick up a Middle Eastern platter around the corner at Yami. The baba ganoush is sublimely smoky; the tiny falafel balls, perfect.
Starfish, 20 Mullumbimbi Street, Brunswick Heads, 6685 1388. Open daily, 11am-8pm. Yami, 1 Park Street, Brunswick Heads, 6685 0186. Open Monday-Friday, 7.30am-3pm, Saturday and Sunday, 7.30am-4pm.
RED GINGER, BYRON BAY AND BANGALOW
This haven of all things Asian is a welcoming place to sit and sip on green tea thoughtfully supplied in a gorgeous insulated Chinese teapot and scoff a plate of the dumplings and buns from the steamer on the counter. Red Ginger has oriental homewares, fine ceramics, cute bits and bobs, every bottled and jarred Asian ingredient you could hope to find and the best range of exotic ice-cream alongside their frozen food. Try shui mai – golden mushroom dumpling with crab, pork and bamboo shoot – and prawn and snowpea dumplings. Red Ginger also has an outpost in Bangalow, 10 minutes away.
Red Ginger, 2/111 Jonson Street, Byron Bay, 6680 9779. Monday-Friday, 9am-6pm, Saturday, 9.30am-5.30pm, Sunday, 10am-5pm. 38 Station Street, Bangalow, 6687 2808. Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm, Saturday, 8.30am-4.30pm, Sunday, 9am-4pm.
TOWN CAFE AND RESTAURANT, BANGALOW
Sydney couple Katrina and Karl Kanetani have brought their serious restaurant credentials to Bangalow – she from Pier, he from Quay – into the old Ate and Satiate site. The cafe, called Downtown, remains downstairs while upstairs there’s the fine-dining option called, naturally, Uptown. Casual lunchtime is always packed – diners come for the excellent Bangalow ham baguettes, pastas and generous salads. Dinnertime presents a five-course degustation menu for $75 (recommended wines are $45 a person), which on a typical night includes elegantly prepared small courses such as scallops with cauliflower, buckwheat and mustard; snapper with ginger, shallot and choko; and Papillon Roquefort cheesecake with celery and walnut salad.
Town Cafe and Restaurant, 33 Byron Street, 6687 1010. Breakfast and lunch, daily; dinner, Thursday-Saturday.
ROADSIDE STALLS, COOPERS SHOOT AND NEWRYBAR
Have a purseload of gold coins handy for a tour of the roadside stalls in Coopers Shoot and Newrybar, where farmers sell whatever is in season picked that morning. Start at the corner of Piccadilly Hill Road and Coopers Shoot Road, where you might find bananas or tomatoes or eggs. About two kilometres up Piccadilly Hill Road on the right is a drive-in stall where you can buy enormous bunches of herbs, kale, spinach and other green vegetables and limes. Keep going and turn right on to Broken Head Road, where stalls sell avocados, citrus and, in one case, coffee roasted that day. Turn right to the Pacific Highway and head towards Bangalow – on the left at Lawlers Lane is a spud stall where you can buy beautiful, freshly dug Dutch Cream potatoes. On the road between Bangalow and Byron you’ll find a blueberry and peach farm on the left and a mixed produce holding – with superb watermelon – on the other. Slot those coins into the honesty boxes for the hard-working farmers and remember, as the sign on one stall says: “Stealing is bad karma.”
MAVIS’S KITCHEN, MOUNT WARNING
The view from Mount Warning is spectacular but be warned, the 8.8-kilometre return trip is hard going. It’s a good thing, then, that situated at the base of the ancient volcanic remnant is Mavis’s Kitchen, a welcoming restaurant in an old Queenslander where you can survey the peak you just conquered. Or not. The chefs pride themselves on slow food cooked with flair, using ingredients grown organically in their own lovely grounds or produce grown nearby. Typical dishes are roast loin of Bangalow pork with apple sauce and crackling, snapper-and-vegetable pie, free-range duck liver pate with red-onion marmalade and an excellent lemon tart. If you don’t make it back down the hill in time for lunch, stop by for a Devonshire tea. It’s an old-fashioned pleasure.
Mavis’s Kitchen, 64 Mount Warning Road, Mount Warning, 6679 5664. Lunch, Wednesday-Sunday, from 11am; dinner, Friday and Saturday, from 5.30pm.
HARVEST CAFE, NEWRYBAR
The word “cafe” is no longer adequate for everything they do at this Newrybar stalwart housed in a gracious cottage on the Old Pacific Highway. This year, owners Kassia and Tristan Grier reopened the 100-year-old bakery at the back of the restaurant (crusty breads on offer Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays) and they are extending to accommodate a delicatessen. Head chef Joseph Griffin was recently joined by Shannon Smerdon, formerly of Sydney’s Longrain, and together they oversee a seasonal menu offering the likes of crispy Bangalow duck leg on taro cake with steamed farmers’ market greens and Davidson plum sauce. Breakfasts are popular and there’s a bonus for parents – a special kids’ breakfast menu with matching prices.
Harvest Cafe, 18 Old Pacific Highway, 6687 2644. Breakfast and lunch, daily; dinner, Thursday-Saturday.
MILK AND HONEY, MULLUMBIMBY
Mullumbimby is a lovely sleepy town but it’s always busy at Milk and Honey, which serves the hands-down best pizza in the region. Wood-fired and with simple-but-perfect topping combinations, they have classic thin, almost charred crispy bases with that inimitable fired flavour. Toppings change according to seasonal ingredients.
Milk and Honey, Station Street, Mullumbimby, 6684 1422. Open Tuesday-Saturday, from 5pm.
SEAFOOD AND BEER BY THE BEACH, BYRON BAY
All the locals know Freckle, who runs the Bay Seafood Market in Byron Bay. He’ll tell you what fish has been caught locally that day? If you’re not going to cook, grab oysters and cooked prawns and head to the stretch of lawn along the main beach or to one of the tables on the grass at the enclave of Wategos Beach. On your way, grab a six-pack of the locally brewed and delicious Stone and Wood Pacific Ale. Find a shady spot under a pandanus tree, check out that sweet surf break, and you’ll be instantly reminded that the simple things in life are often the best.
Bay Seafood Market, corner Fletcher and Lawson streets, Byron Bay, 6685 5660. Open Monday-Saturday, 10am-6pm, Sunday, 10am-5.30pm.