Byron Bay, the second most visited city in the state of New South Wales, used to be known as something of a party town. It was a particular favourite of graduating high school kids from around the state, who’d make the trip down every November for some quality beach time and easy access to herbal remedies. Although Byron has retained some of the bohemian vibe that has made it so attractive to high schoolers and backpackers alike for decades, the area has also quietly been reinventing itself as a foodie hotspot, thanks in large part to a sizable number of high flying chefs who grew up in the region and have since returned home.
The running theme behind a lot of these new eateries is Byron’s rich soil and surrounding bushland, where a creative mind can dig up a handful of underrated ingredients unique to Australia. The best way to experience this growing trend in the region is to hire a professional who knows their stuff. Jodie from Tasting Plate Tours runs a fantastic food tour of the region, which includes stops at some of Byron’s best cafes, restaurants and farms. Here are some highlights.
This is an 80-acre working farm that houses a small collection of businesses, with the goal of educating the local community about the relationship between farming, food, and healthy eating. The farm is home to free-range pigs, Scottish Highland cattle and chickens, whose produce is used at the on-site restaurants. This includes Three Blue Ducks, run by celebrity chefs Darren Robertson and Mark LaBrooy, and a bakery that bakes all produce in-house. Best of all, The Farm runs social and community events, allowing everyone from school children to nursing home residents free reign to explore the farm for themselves and speak to the working farmers about their process.
Situated on the Brook’s family 96-acre farm in Byron, Cape Byron Distillery is the side project of the youngest Brook family member, Eddie. The gin distillery sits among the Brook’s macadamia orchard and regenerated rainforest, where Eddie Brook collects Australia flora to use in his gin. Example: native finger limes. Rene Redzepi of Noma used finger limes from Byron when Noma did a short stint in Australia; he still raves about them.
The Brooks’ regenerated rainforest contains over 35,000 subtropical rainforest trees, which provide Eddie Brook with a large portion of our native botanicals to use in Cape Byron’s dry gin: everything from macadamia nuts to cinnamon myrtle, aniseed, wild ginger, wild raspberries, and Davidson plums. Of the 26 botanicals in Cape Byron gin, 18 are native to Australia and the Byron region in particular. You can now find Eddie’s gin in places like the Qantas lounges at Australian airports, as well as behind the bar at Sydney’s celebrated Bennelong Restaurant. (Apparently, Chis Hemsworth’s parents are also admirers.)
Like Eddie Brook, Harvest restaurant in the Byron region places emphasis on local ingredients. Perhaps to the extreme: everything served in the restaurant is sourced from within a 50km radius. There’s also a special foragers menu, utilizing the skills and talent of Peter Hardwick, a horticulturalist who has been researching wild food and ingredients native to Australia for the last 40 years. It’s Hardwick who discovered ingredients like lemon myrtle, aniseed myrtle, and warrigal greens. Now, he works full time at Harvest as their local forager, contributing to a special “forager’s menu” as well as weekly dinners showcasing local flavors and innovative cooking.