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Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are
Way back before food-writing, let alone blogging, was a thing, the French layer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin was jotting down witty gastronomic one-liners with ease. If he’s to believed, it means that in 2018 I was a deep-fried pickled hemp seed infused with cricket honey.
Or something like that!
Maybe it’s just that I threw myself in the deep-end of a locavore food business, but far out I ate some amazing things in 2018!
As we chilled out a little over the festive season, I had a chance to look back at some of our food adventures from the year that was. It was 365-days packed with big and bold flavours, new inspirations and some old-favourites revisited.
Can I narrow it down to a few highlights to share, things that might help you when planning a trip to our beautiful region? Probably not, so maybe just some cheeky groupings that give me a little more leeway!
It was certainly a year of new ingredients. I loved seeing the evolution of hemp from hippy-outlier to mainstream-inclusion. Well, it Byron it seems mainstream at least! Baraka launched their hemp seed hummus and it is outstanding. You’ll find Baraka at a few of the local markets and it is well worth searching out. My tip: whack some on some sourdough, top with some za’atar roasted vegies and a poached egg. That’s breakfast sorted.
Hemp also featured on the sweeter end of the scale, with Teven Valley Farm’s hemp ice cream. I love ice cream. I mean seriously love, somewhat obsessively, and I’d have to say, this is one of the best flavours I’ve ever had. Track it down – or talk to us and we’ll help you find it.
Classic banh mi
New openings caught my eye. In particular, Pink Lotus in Mullum has hit the ground running, bringing Vietnamese flavours and flair to town. Not much beats a good banh mi, and theirs is not just good, it’s great. We’re lucky in this region to have some fantastic options for authentic Asian cuisine, and Pink Lotus is a welcome addition to the fold.
On a side note, while the much-loved Duk has been in residence for a while now, it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves in 2019 after a change of hands. I hope it goes from strength to strength – and that they keep the Szechuan eggplant on the menu because it was one of my absolute highlights for the year.
Old favourites called us back time and time again.
Not much needs to be said about the brilliance of Stockpot Kitchen in Bangalow. The crack chicken and BBQ meat might enjoy a cult following, but to me, it is their quirky menu offerings of fried rice and the eggplant burger that really shine. They’re another with change afoot for 2019, with a move to new premises in Lismore. Watch this space.
Breakfast platter of champions
Luscious, hidden away in the Arts and Industry Estate, was a go-to for breakfast, lunch and – at least on Friday nights – dinner over the year. You can’t make a bad choice on their menu, and their breakfast platter was one of my favourites for 2018.
Speaking of breakfast, at the risk of kicking off an avalanche of controversy, my pick for the best smashed avo in the region this year was Flock in Lismore. I love café food and I know it isn’t very sophisticated of me, but there you go. Flock do everything café exceptionally well. That’s why it is always popular, and always worth visiting.
Donut goodness at Sample Festival
Other café hits for the year were Butcher Baker’s hickory bacon banana custard doughnut, served up at Sample, and Our Corner Kitchen’s classic ham sambo. Sometimes I like a sugar rush, but sometimes the simple things do the trick.
New ingredients were also a theme in 2018. I caught the insect bug – see what I did there? – and tried the crickets and energy bars from local outfit, Grilo. The powder went into smoothies while the energy bars fuelled a few long rides through the region. It’s the future people and you can find it here!
While I’m talking bugs, the single ingredient that blew my mind this year was Native Bee honey. I’m not sure how this has eluded me until now, but one taste had me hooked. Safe to say I looked for any way I could to work it into our launch menu. It is sublime.
Yes, I’m obviously biased, but some of my favourite mouthfuls from the year came from the producers we work with at Table. Others that spring to mind include Barefoot Farm’s brownie, Esperanza’s Christmas ham and without doubt, the chickeny-chicken goodness of anything from Brooklet Springs.
But is there a particular dish that stands out as my highlight for 2018? Of course there is, but I’m building up to it!
Oops, ate all the bread – but here’s a slice of Milk and Honey pizza instead!
Contenders included a pickled eggplant special at Barrio and the brown rice porridge sourdough with smoked butter at Milk and Honey.
But the dish that will stay in my mind for a long time to come was from the omnipresent Fleet. It was a perfect combination of three ingredients: poached oysters, sheep’s milk yoghurt and shaved macadamias. Phenomenal. Every accolade has already been bandied about for this tiny restaurant, but they deserve it all for that dish alone. That’s one you’ll need to plan well ahead to try – bookings for the 14-seater are rarer than rain at the moment – but it is well worth it.
Thinking back over the year, what strikes me as blindingly obvious is just what an incredible foodie-paradise the Byron Bay region is. It only takes a casual glance through Gourmet Traveller, Delicious, Broadsheet or Gourmand & Gourmet to see that. For those of us lucky enough to live here, we get all the time in the world to wander and sample, but for those of you visiting or holidaying, the abundance is mind-boggling.
So don’t stress about it!
Just get out there and enjoy real people making real food at real places.