Monday, 27 July 2009

More on Byron

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been in Byron Bay recently. Sunshine, water views, long walks, blobbing around reading, blues bands in the pub, a couple of fancypants meals, and no computers. Excellent. I had a hot stone massage, which was lovely, but I resisted the temptation to get my chakras rebalanced, auras rotated, meridians rewired, inner fairy photographed and all that.

We had a small apartment to stay in, and we knew it was the right place for us immediately we arrived. The entry way looked like this! Byron Central Apartments are, well, central. And the place was comfortable without being ridiculously luxurious, and the management were lovely. We had a late flight out on Thursday and they let us use a spare room for the day. Our "studio loft apartment" had a small but complete kitchen equipped with a coffee plunger. It was good to have this - we could make coffee and have a cereal and fruit breakfast without having to get dressed and showered to go out.

And now I'm home, and sadly the kitchen had not magically tidied and restocked itself while I was away. Half the pantry supplies were still in boxes in the bar. And after our indulgent week, we both want to eat a bit more fibre and vegetables and fruit and all that sort of healthy stuff. A market trip on Saturday morning helped. And I defrosted the tomatoes that I roasted before we left, to make a roast tomato and red lentil soup, so that's a good start.

Some of the things we did in Byron... included a walk to the famous lighthouse, which was lovely, but featured a bit more uphill and stairs than my calves were prepared for. The icecream seller at the top of the hill is onto a good thing: I really felt as if I'd earned it! And we blobbed around our "studio loft apartment" sleeping late and reading books. We also walked out to the Arts & Industry Estate, which is an odd sort of place - art galleries and craft shops interspersed in the more usual light industry. We got to sample Byron Gourmet pies at the factory, and buy jewelry from the Hammer and Hand collective, and flourless pistachio and orange cake at Luscious. And we are considering buying some engraved glass art to renovate our front entry way.

We spent several evenings at "The Rails", aka the Railway Friendly Bar. It's a pub next door to the station with a bit of a train theme, and live music most nights. We saw four different blues acts there, and ate several meals. If the seats had been more comfortable I would have been happier - sadly, over-tall wooden benches made it a bit uncomfortable for a long haul. The food wasn't bad - I had a large chicken salad with cranberries and rocket and almonds, a decent burger, and a rather good rare tuna pasta dish which would have been terrific in different weather. Tossing hot pasta with cold salad ingredients to get a lukewarm dish is nice in summer, but it was a bit too cool for the winter evening. Yes, it does get cold overnight in Byron. I was forced to buy a nice warm shawl and some red velour trousers just to cope. Forced, I tell you!

We had a lovely lunch at Fishheads, which in an odd freak of planning overlooks the carpark adjacent to the beach. It's the closest you can get to the water without buying takeaway and sitting on the beach. I'd class it as casual fine dining. It's BYO and they have takeaway at the city end of the building, but the restaurant is quite nicely decked out, with wicker chairs and Aboriginal art on the walls. I had a delicious mixed seafood pasta dish ($29) with chilli, garlic and preserved lemon. The seafood was top notch, fresh and buttery, though it was rather light on the chilli. And I followed it with a rather swish chamomile poached pineapple with macadamia icecream and honeycomb toffee shards ($13).

Orient Express sounds like a cheap takeaway in a mall, but it absolutely isn't. It serves mixed Asian and Asian-inspired dishes, in a setting with a big buddha, red walls and funky wooden furniture that like the menu is an eclectic assortment of Indonesian, Japanese, Chinese and more. We had peking duck pancakes ($16.90) and Vietnamese crabcakes on sugar cane sticks ($12.90) for entrees, and a gado gado salad ($8.90) and "tuna two ways" (illustrated, $28.90) for mains. The tuna was fantastic - the sashimi in the salad was good, but the char grill rare fish was out of this world. I would have loved to try a dessert - pannacotta with red date and goji berry compote, perhaps, or the classic black rice pudding, but I was too full.

We also went to the Balcony, and had a spiffy cheese plate. And O-sushi, which was very good indeed despite its unpromising location. Next to a supermarket in the strip mall, you'd expect some ordinary sushi chain, but this was top class. We had a mixed sashimi and salad plate and some fried chicken dumplings. And sake and genmai cha. I loved the sesame dressing on the salad, and the fish was exceptionally good. And one night we went off to the Buddha bar for a Dr Sketchy's anti-art night! I practiced my appalling life drawing skills on the burlesque models, and we ate the very reasonable pub grub.

We had a great time, and we want to go back. There are several reputedly good restaurants that I missed out on (Olivo, Whynot, Dish) and it's just a very relaxing place. I'd like to do some beach walking, and try another of the many different styles of massage and spa, and sample the organic doughnuts and the Earth & Sea pizza. Byron is not a high pressure, high activity kind of place, as long as you avoid the schoolies and the music festivals. The Splendour in the Grass crowd was just starting to arrive as we left, and I'm told it gets very hectic and crowded as the town population quadruples overnight. We got an upgrade on our transfer service on the way home - all the minibusses were booked so we had to have the limo. The low end limo with no bar, but big comfy seats for the 3/4 hour drive to Coolangatta airport was no hardship.

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