It’s Day 2 of our road trip and we leave Port Macquarie early in hope to make it to Byron Bay for lunch. The journey is trying; the majority of the highway is single-laned, so over-taking the car in front who doesn’t know how to drive remotely close to the speed limit needs to be calculated carefully. You need to commit to the ‘over-take’ as soon as the second lane presents itself. It’s then petal to the metal (think Fast and the Furious minus the NOS) to ensure you leave ample room when the road suddenly merges back in to one lane. After a few hours, you have it down to a fine art. So much so you could even write a blog about it!
On to more important things… After checking in to Aabi’s at Byron on Ruskin Street, we are given a brief tour of the premises and are shown to our room. Ben and I are super pleased with our choice; Aabi’s is a relatively new boutique-like guest house with a refreshing Balinese theme. We estimate there to be 6 rooms, ours is quite spacious and modern. Best of all, no children are allowed. I can already feel myself starting to relax until I hear my tummy rumble which sounds eerily similar to Chewbacca.
Poolside - Aabi's at Byron Bay
We walk in to town in desperate search of food. As I’d done some pre-planning the night before, we make a semi-educated decision and head to WhyNot! cafe. We took what felt like only seconds to order despite the variety of dishes on the menu and we were very happy with what was placed down on our table. I ordered the Cajun chicken burger which was served with guacamole, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and aioli on a Turkish bread roll. The chicken was moist and well-seasoned with Cajun spice. I especially enjoyed the aioli and was scraping every last bit of it off the plate. Yum!
Cajun Chicken Burger at WhyNot!
Ben selected the Tofu Burger grilled marinated tofu, carrot, beetroot, cucumber, sprouts and tomato also on Turkish bread. It is usually served with mayonnaise, however our lovely waitperson mentioned it was most likely made with egg, so Ben went without. That didn’t stop him from enjoying his meal though.
Tofu Burger at WhyNot!
The only down-side to WhyNot! was when we came back for breakfast on New Year’s Day and were charged $7 (+15% for Public Holiday surcharge) for one very small piece of sourdough bread. What made matters worse was after we’d waited such a long time, my poor toast boasted a giant oily patch in the middle of it. Like an egg had been placed there and taken off. Unfortunately as much as we’d enjoyed lunch here, we didn’t go back after our not-so-fantastic breakfast experience.
For our first dinner in the gorgeous Byron Bay, where Ben and I seemed to be the only people lacking any resemblance of a tan, we chose to dine at Asia Joe’s on ‘Eat Street’ (Bay Lane). We start with the Vegetarian Plate which had Vegetable Curry Puffs and Spring Rolls as well as Salt and Pepper Tofu. Each was lightly fried, so the pasty was crisp and extremely moorish. Must. Leave. Room. For. Mains.
Vegetarian Plate at Asia Joe's
I order the Chicken Laksa and the soup is to die for! It does take a bit of rummaging around in my bowl to find some of the chicken, but it’s there. Amongst the mix of rice and hokkien noodles, each vegetable is vibrant in colour and oh so fresh.
Chicken Laksa at Asia Joe's
Ben went with the China Style Stir Fry Bowl. It smells divine! The flavours are simple; Hoisin, garlic and ginger but I like that. A lot. It doesn’t take away from the any of the other ingredients, so you can enjoy each of the beautifully prepared vegetables which almost looks like a rainbow in a bowl.
China Style Stir Fry Bowl at Asia Joe's
We’re so happy with our food at Asia Joe’s that we go back for a second night. It’s New Year’s Eve and the streets are packed, mostly with rowdy teenagers, so we’re happy to escape the craziness of Main Beach. This time I order the Chicken Pad Thai which has been rated as Asia Joe’s top 5 best-selling main courses. I don’t know about you but that was enough to convince me and it did in fact live up to all expectations. The serving was more than generous, the chicken was cooked perfectly and the tamarind peanut sauce was spot on.
Chicken Pad Thai at Asia Joe's
Ben decides on the Thai Style Stir Fry Bowl with a tasty soy bean, tamarind and sweat chilli sauce combo. He did mention he enjoyed this much more than the China Style Stir Fry, and as I take a few bites of my Pad Thai and place down my fork to take a sip of water, his meal has miraculously disappeared.
Asia Joe’s is open 7 days and they’re serving lunch from Noon – 3pm and dinner from 5:30pm until late. Check them out on http://asiajoes.com/
Thai Style Stir Fry Bowl at Asia Joe's
While we’re talking dinner, we checked out a few other local haunts during our stay including one of my favourites, St Elmo Dining Room and Bar. I was a little reserved; could Byron Bay be home to a trendy tapas and wine bar? There was only one way to find out. And it all started with a delightful cocktail by the name of Sweet Charlotte which consisted of Tanqueray Gin, Licor 43, lemon and passionfruit.
The Bar at St Elmo
Sweet Charlotte cocktail at St Elmo
Ben opts for the Vegetarian Catalan Flat Bread with caramelised onion, roast peppers spinach and grilled zucchini. It is also usually topped with Manchego for all those cheese lovers out there. It looks a little pizza-esque, the flavours are fantastic and really complement one another. The caramlised onions were superb.
Catalan Flat Bread (Coca con Vegetales) at St Elmo
I choose the marinated Chicken Skewers which are char-grilled topped with a silky labneh and served with a herb salad and chilli pickled cucumber. The chicken melts in my mouth and for someone who refuses to eat anything that is pickled; these were some amazing pickled cucumbers which matched the rest of the dish extremely well. We also share a bowl of Patatas Bravas; My must-have tapas dish! Beautifully fried Kipfler potatoes tossed in a spicy and aromatic tomato sauce. Need I say more?
Banderilas de Pollo at St Elmo
Patatas Bravas at St Elmo
St Elmo was definitely one of my favourite stops at Byron Bay. We both walked out feeling content, not too full and still chatting away in excitement at how much we enjoyed our meal which was also Ben’s first tapas experience. To find out more about this hot-spot, check out http://stelmodining.com/
We tried to keep out lunches pretty low-key and I’m a big fan of ‘cheap and cheerful eating’. Byron Bay is home to a great variety of hidden gems that fall right under that banner.
Orgasmic Food, back on ‘Eat Street’ was fantastic for a quick pit-stop to refuel. It isn’t the cheapest place in Byron, but the Mediterranean inspired eatery definitely has customers returning and as it is close walking distance to Main Beach, it’s a great idea to grab some takeaway and have a picnic on the sand. During our first visit here I order the mixed dip plate with falafel.
Mixed Dip bowl with Falafel at Orgasmic Food
Ben ordered the Falafel Pita Pocket but due to the fact he basically inhaled his food like a Hoover, I wasn’t able to take a happy snap. Luckily on our second visit he ordered the Falafel Pocket again, and me the Marinated Beef Pocket. We both enjoyed the filling, but it may have been better in a wrap rather than Pita bread. The bread to filling ration was a little off for my liking. However, great for a casual bite to eat.
Marinated Beef Pocket at Orgasmic Food
I think our #1 lunch spot had to be The Cardomom Pod. It’s only a small place with limited seating, however takeaway is cheap ($10 for a large container) so I don’t feel it was an issue. What they do have a great selection of hot vegetarian dishes as well as gourmet salads and Lassi which seems to be a popular choice. From the outset I had my eyes set on the vegetarian ‘Kofta’ balls so I ordered a small serving with rice. They reminded me of giant-sized meatballs with a slightly different consistency and the tomato-based sauce was good, with a hint of spice.
Vegetarian Kofta Balls with Rice from The Cardomom Pod
Ben and I couldn’t believe our eyes when we spotted dairy-free Ice Cream on the menu. It’s the one thing I miss the most being lactose intolerant so we didn’t hesitate in ordering a bowl of choc-chip cookie dough, vanilla and chocolate ice-cream. All my wonderful memories of the iced treat came flooding back as I persevered despite the ice cream headache and emptied the bowl in record time. Not surprising chocolate was the best flavour, hands down!
Trio of dairy-free Ice Cream at The Cardomom Pod
Other than the Public Holiday when the cafe was closed, we went to DIP for breakfast everyday. What a discovery! With friendly staff, an extensive menu and mouth-watering meals, it’s no wonder we didn’t have to look elsewhere. DIP is open daily from 7am – 3pm and although we didn’t get to try the lunch menu, it too looked impressive as did their daily specials which I studied whenever I had a moment. We tried a few different items off the menu; the homemade spicy baked beans with sourdough and well as toast with DIP Cafe jam, but the photos I’ve chosen below are of our favourite dishes at DIP. And you’ll see why…
Sourdough wth sides of Smashed Browns and homemade Baked Beans
Ben discovered his perfect breakfast. Sourdough toast with a side of homemade baked beans and smashed browns. The baked beans were spicy but not over-powering and the smashed browns were lightly fried, crisp and fluffy kipfler potatoes. They were much tastier (and sophisticated) than hash browns in my opinion and not at all oily. I really enjoyed my free-range eggs. I chose to have them fried, but you could also have them poached or scrambled. The bacon wasn’t fatty as you can see by the photo and cooked just the way I like it, crispy but not burnt, and there was plenty of it!
Fried Free-range Eggs with Sourdough and a side of Bacon at DIP
Coffee at DIP
I loved the buttermilk pancakes here and the servings were nothing short of colossal. I don’t use that word often but there is really no other way to describe them. The stack of three pillow-like pancakes were covered in glorious Malibu strawberries surrounded in a beautifully sweet maple syrup. I was sad that I couldn’t finish the entire plate, but Ben and I both agreed that I’d put in a solid effort.
Buttermilk Pancakes with Malibu Strawberries and Maple Syrup at DIP
DIP also have dairy-free muffins which they bake daily. We picked up an Apple and Berry muffin for the road which was absolutely packed with fruit and was great as a snack, you know, to hold us over until our next meal.
Dairy-free Apple & Berry Muffin from DIP
You can find the DIP Breakfast Menu on http://www.wix.com/jp07eh/the-dip-cafe. Unfortunately it looks like the site is still being built, so check back regularly.
I wanted to included just a few snapshots that would round-up our trip to Byron Bay. On our last night, Ben and I decided to do the scenic walk to the Cape Byron Lighthouse which is most easterly point of Australia’s mainland. It was a humid afternoon and after what felt like climbing never-ending, very narrow (and tiring) stairs and hills the dramatic views at the top were definitely worth it.
Little Wategos Beach, Byron Bay
The Cape Byron Lighthouse
Six days in Byron Bay just flew by and before we knew it, we were back in the trusty Pulsar to begin our 10 hour journey back to Sydney. I am looking forward to visiting again soon so we can return to our favourite places but also check out some new scenes.