From up here I can’t understand why anyone in his or her right mind would want to spend their Summer holiday in Byron Bay. It’s busy – bloody busy – and every man and his dog is stuck in traffic, desperately seeking a parking space where you don’t have to pay. And that’s just the locals.
From up here I can see the furrowed faces of frustrated drivers stuck in the conga line of traffic as it snakes around the Jonson meets Lawson Street roundabout. There are beachgoers skipping and hopping between the cars and backpackers in boardies and bikinis looking for a bargain lunch. It’s a jungle down there.
Up here on my verandah perch, in the cool ocean breeze with a crisp glass and menu in hand, I resolve that I could quite happily take refuge for the rest of the afternoon.
Welcome to the Balcony Bar and Oyster Co. the latest drinking and eating establishment to take residence on the second story of Number 3 Lawson Street. I have been coming to this address for my fill of drinks and eats since our honeymoon when the restaurant was known as Mango Jam. Even back then it was the venue to visit for escaping the madding crowds, enjoying a sunset cocktail or two and playing tourist. There have been several ownership and name changes over the years, but to me this welcoming verandah remains a sanctuary, and the latest menu and whitewashed makeover are a breath of fresh sea air.
Balcony Bar and Oyster Co. Owners Fraser Short and Executive Chef Sean Connelly have transformed this heritage space into a bar and restaurant that is breezy and relaxed; where colonial ambience meets the seaside – with a bit of the Hamptons thrown in for good measure. The whitewashed walls inside and out provide a fresh backdrop for lush tropical plants, contrasting raw timber surfaces and nautically toned soft furnishings. There is seating inside and out and regulars will be pleased to know that the lazy lounges on the west side of the Balcony verandah are still in place for those lingering afternoon drinks soaking up the sun.
Speaking of drinks, the drinks list at the Balcony is still as extensive as ever and regular cocktail sippers will be pleased to see that the Lychee Martini survived the makeover. There are some cool newcomers too; including the Dark Side Of The Melon, boasting Elderflower liqueur shaken with the unlikely partnering of watermelon, basil and a touch of pepper. There are plenty of Australian and imported wines by the glass or bottle to choose from and if beer is more your beverage of choice then it’s hard to go past the local Stone and Wood brew for a true Byron experience with three of their beers available on tap.
Like many restaurants in the Bay, Short and Connelly’s food philosophy is about supporting locally sourced and sustainable produce and the pair is keen to continue developing relations with local producers and suppliers. And why wouldn’t you when you live in one of the most bountiful food bowls in Australia? Connelly, who runs other restaurants in Sydney and Auckland, plans to visit Byron Bay twice a month to keep a finger on the food scene here and to stay in touch with his Balcony customers.
Since its change of hands and renaming at the end of last year, I have settled in at the Balcony on several occasions and I have to say that on each visit I have experienced some fantastic Summer food.
For a ‘healthy’ light starter or tapas style dish you can’t beat Connelly’s renowned Crab and Lettuce Tacos served with a chardonnay vinaigrette, salmon caviar, and fresh chilli. Despite the chilli, this is actually a cooling dish that amuses the mouth with sweet crab and salty caviar bursts. If you’re looking for something a bit more robust I can also recommend the Duck Liver Parfait served with Spanish pedro ximénez jelly and buttery brioche. For fried chicken lovers, try the famous Chicken Lollipops – southern fried chicken pieces served with a chilli and molasses dip. I’m coming back for these.
Being a Bar and Oyster Co. one should consider ordering some freshly shucked bivalves by the half or full dozen served natural or with lemon. On my last visit we enjoyed Pacific and Sydney Rock varieties served by Chef Connelly himself and if you free on Wednesday evenings the Balcony has a $1 Oyster Happy Hour from 5-6pm.
If you’re looking for a larger meal and you definitely aren’t watching your calories you absolutely must try the Duck Fat Fish and Chips served with mushy peas and a mint and gherkin mayo. Make sure you come hungry. The locally sourced fish is steamed inside a perfect shell of crisp batter and the chips are some of the most crunchy I have tried. Equally as good is the Orgy of Mushroom Gnocchi – a ricotta based gnocchi served with an array of wild mushrooms. I’ve eaten this a couple of times now. The gnocchi are like little light pillows and Connelly noted that the batch we were eating at a recent lunch was the third time lucky as it was a hot day in the kitchen and he was using a new ricotta, which took some getting used to. It’s unsure as to what happened to the first two batches! Staff lunch perhaps?
If you’re up for a meat lovers meal to share, the Free Range Lamb Shoulder with raspberry vinegar and star anise gravy is an absolute showstopper. I would recommend some Duck Fat chips to match or try a side dish from the salad menu.
Finally, if you have a sweet tooth and room for dessert try the decadently smooth Chocolate Brownie with Cornflake Crunch or the classic Peach Cobbler served with vanilla ice-cream – both delicious and comforting. Or maybe an Espresso Martini is more your dessert style. They are available for $12 every night from 9.30pm to close.
From up here I feel like the one who is on a Byron Bay holiday – not the madding crowd down there. In celebration I opt for a light lunch of Crab and Lettuce Tacos with a cheeky Lychee Martini as it is my day off and I don’t have to be anywhere. I think I’m just going to enjoy the view from up here and take refuge for a while.
The Balcony Bar and Oyster Co. is open seven days a week for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner and all things in between.
Review by Sarah McGrory – www.getforkedandfly.com
Photos – Sarah McGrory @getforkedandfly & Kirra Pendergast @byronbayfoodphotography