102.9 Hot Tomato’s Sean Flanagan joins the team for a first-class Ocean Road Magazine trip to Byron Bay.
I knew something tasty was cooking when Ocean Road editor-in-chief, renowned big wave expert and photographer extraordinaire, Brian Usher, invited me to dine at Hellenika. I just didn’t know how good it would be.
Over an entrée that made my tastebuds want to retire at their greatest moment – John Farnham style – Brian asked me to write for Ocean Road Magazine.
“What do I have to do?” I probed, all the while thinking: “If I can just keep him talking I can claim the lion’s share of this top tucker.”
“We need you to stay in a beautiful four-bedroom unit in Byron Bay, right in the middle of town, dine at a few top-notch restaurants and write about it,” says Brian with a perfect poker face.
The Wolf of Wall Street
He’s bluffing, I thought. Nobody gets assignments like that anymore. The 80’s are done and dusted. It was the only decade ever cancelled due to mass-exhaustion. He must be pulling my leg. He’s gone crackers. He thinks he’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
Sensing my disbelief, Brian drove his tanks over the border: “I’m bloody serious. We go in a couple of weeks’ time” … and just as he says it, Hugh Jackman walks in.
Well, of course he does. Hugh bloody Jackman. Every woman in the room, including my wife, was suddenly applying lip gloss.
Not wanting a beauty of an offer like Brian’s to be forgotten because a Hollwood hunk grenade just went off, I asked Hellenika’s maitre d’ to make sure Hugh didn’t bother us while I locked this deal down. Which she duly didn’t do. That refusal forms my only complaint about this absolute ripper of a restaurant.
One of the many reasons I love the Gold Coast is we have first-class eateries like Hellenika where everybody leaves handsome Academy Awards hosts alone to enjoy a quiet family meal.
Sidenote: Hugh Jackman really is THAT good looking. Watching a room full of women simultaneously ovulate is quite something. There was at least a dozen eggs left on chairs as people vacated their tables.
After a meal that made me happy I was born, Brian shoved a piece of paper and half a dozen viable human eggs into my hand. The paper had a Byron Bay address and a date scribbled on it.
Crikey, I thought, The Wolf is fair dinkum about the offer. As we drove home my wife, Lisa, looked like she had something on her mind, so I deftly changed the subject before she began: “I think I just joined Ocean Road Magazine.”
“I’m leaving you for Hugh Jackman,” she said flatly.
Wolverine’s biggest battle
I knew it. Jackman’s that good looking and pleasant. It’s the pleasantness that annoys me the most. Even I wanted to have his baby, but this? This just won’t stand.
The burning question quickly became – could a luxury Byron Bay holiday stop Jackman’s inevitable annexation of my lovely lady-friend? Could The Wolf of Wall Street help me beat the Wolverine?
“Brian wants us to spend a couple of nights in a place smack bang in the middle of Byron, it’s called Byron Marvel.”
“Hugh Jackman’s a marvel. I marvel at Hugh Jackman,” Lisa mumbled wistfully.
Is she curling her hair around her finger? Crikey, this is worse than I thought!
“It has undercover parking, a courtyard verandah … it’s a short walk to the cafes, awesome restaurants and the Railway Hotel.”
“Did you see his arms? Oh my god! Hugh Jackman’s arms, I thought his sleeves were going to explode. Isn’t he just the peachiest?”
Ok, Lisa didn’t actually use the word ‘peachiest’. That was just me lashing out. However, I was stunned my offering made no impression because undercover parking means you don’t have to unload everything when you first arrive. Love it.
Stepping up to The Marvel
In accordance with the prophecy, we drove 50 minutes down the Ocean Road to Byron Bay, on the scribbled-down day. It summoned fond memories of when I first stepped off the train in Byron in 1984 falling immediately and deeply in love with the place and a German backpacker called Helena.
Straight away I could hear music. That’s because in those days the railway station was the pub. The legendary Railway Hotel.
I’d been in Byron for 10 seconds and I already had a beer, a Berliner and a dirty big smile on my dial. The music still happens there every night you just can’t arrive there by train anymore.
I was chuffed when we discovered our accommodation was only 75 metres from the spot where I’d first set foot in Byron. I was my very own Christopher Columbus, discovering my old-world moment.
As accommodation goes Byron Marvel actually is a marvel. Everything you need is very close by. We didn’t use the car once after we arrived in Byron. And when I say everything is close I mean very, very close. Not real estate ad-close. I mean genuinely nearby.
The other thing you notice about Byron Marvel, is how you get into the joint. Have you ever walked along a road and seen a door between two shops that leads up a set of stairs and wondered what’s up there? Well, this one leads to The Marvel.
You pass through your own security door, up a flight of stairs and Marvel opens out into a beautifully appointed, four-bedroom unit with a spacious sunny verandah and a really great feel. There’s a sign in the kitchen that says ‘don’t feed the hippies’ which had us giggling and immediately set a fun tone.
We were two families with five kids between us and everybody had more than enough room. It’s a comfy, stylish, cracker of a holiday unit that plonks you right in the thick of things. One right on the chin for the Wolverine: great cafes are right at your door – it’s like inner-city living in a coastal town.
Close to comfort
So, back to the car on the way home from Hellenika and my battle for Lisa’s heart and mind: "When we get there on the Friday we’re roasting a leg of lamb on the barbie out on the deck, the bottlo is 100 metres away and Brian reckons the pantry is incredible.
“That’s because the pantry is a supermarket about 150 metres away. We don’t even need to shop before we go to Byron. We can just pick up what we need from Woollies as we need it. Seriously, the distance between Hugh Jackman’s bedroom and kitchen is further.”
Mentioning Hugh Jackman’s bedroom was a massive error, Lisa actually started clucking.
Back to battles I was winning: Byron Marvel really is the kind of accommodation where you can just drop everything and go because it’s all there. It’s my favourite kind of place to stay. It makes everything else you want to do in Byron really convenient and easy.
I could see the dreamy expression on Lisa’s face reflected in her tinted passenger window: “He should have won the Oscar for Les Miz. He bloody deserved it.”
I hung tough and kept throwing punches: "We’re having breakie at The Balcony, lunch is the superb dumplings of Red Ginger fame and dinner's at Cicchetti Italian restaurant.”
It was a flurry of punches that all landed on the Wolverine’s chiselled jaw. Lisa blurted “Red Ginger dumplings? You’re kidding me!”
Dumplings to die for
These delicious, delicate, hand-made, Red Ginger dumplings would prove to be a potent Byron Bay weapon of mass–seduction. They are a delight, as is the shop itself. Red Ginger took me back to the Hong Kong I grew up in. You pass under a Communist-issue bicycle that hangs over the door which serves as a threshold to the Orient.
The Red Ginger experience is about sampling the most delicious bits of yum cha while simultaneously shopping for Far Eastern delicacies. Red Ginger stocks the kinds of pleasing Asian treasures that first came to the west by ship on the trade-winds – authentic ingredients, refined teapots, happy shoes, organic green teas, even teas that promise to minimise hangovers if you drink them before you party.
I love a beverage that makes a wild claim. I’m partial to both, myself. However, a staff member warned me that the hangover-preventing tea makes her feels so good she drinks more wine than she might otherwise want. The Orient truly is inscrutable and magic.
I thought the dumplings would do the trick … and they did. If I was going to take the Wolverine down, however, it would be by attrition. I would need to keep landing quality blows like Red Ginger dumplings and the comfy, convenience of Byron Marvel and happily Byron Bay kept delivering.
We had the loft bedroom which has a big flat screen TV and serves as a great second living space for the kids. We even nipped over to the Railway Hotel a couple of times and saw some great music for nothing.
When you drive to Byron Marvel, and you should, come into Byron on the Bangalow Road. It’s a much more beautiful drive than the northern-most entry to Byron but more importantly it’s far less congested and the view north from Hayter’s Hill towards Byron Bay and the surrounding mountains will make you feel different if you just let it.
So too, by the way, will dining at Cicchetti Italian Restaurant: my over-arching impression of the food and service there was one of great respect – Cicchetti definitely respect the process. They cook with equal measures of skill and passion and the result is a delicate, deft, deeply satisfying meal in quality surrounds.
Like all great Italian restaurants they deal easily with families but Cicchetti easily manages to retain that grown-up dining feel. Hearing the chef’s specials being read out was like honeymoon pillow talk. Cop that, Hugh Jackman – it was definitely what I would call romantic food.
The desserts were so good, knowing they are only 100 kilometres from my home is genuine torture.
As I tucked into them I thought when I go back to the Goldie I’m going to crave this. By Wednesday my resolve will crack, I’ll drive down here and woof in. Then I found out Cicchetti is opening a restaurant on the Gold Coast at Via Roma, Isle of Capri. So, there is a God … and he is an Italian God.
Beauty at The Balcony
When you are in Byron a meal at The Balcony is a must, if you ask me. Truly, no great visit to Byron is complete without it – particularly a romantic dinner – but The Balcony is open all day. We tucked into a hearty breakfast and great coffee. The rustic, romantic, atmosphere has you hovering above the hustle and bustle of Byron and you can feel the ghosts of many great gatherings. It’s a lovely vibe.
The Balcony robbed what little wind was left in Hugh Jackman’s sails. We took the northern-most exit on our way out of Byron and stopped in briefly at The Farm. It has got to be one of Australia’s fastest-growing businesses. It’s a farm and food experience plus it’s the home of a restaurant so popular they are applying for council permission to double the number of people they can serve.
Fun at The Farm
The Farm has just cleverly built four new outdoor spit roast bays to cope with the number of families who turn up with a blanket to have a picnic. What a brilliant idea. It gives the place a genuine, old-world, traveller’s rest feel.
We took a lovely stroll, bought a little something for our dog minders at the gift shop and a coffee for the trip. Then completely refreshed, we tootled back up the Ocean Road to reality.
Would I go back to stay at The Marvel in Byron Bay? Faster than a fat kid flops on a fractured piñata!
Breakout Box – contact details for Byron Marvel and restaurants
4/3 Marvel Street, Byron Bay, NSW
Contact: Sonya Hill, Property Manager, Raine & Horne
P: 02 6685 6588
E : mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
108 Jonson Street, Byron Bay, NSW
P: 02 6685 6677
111 Jonson St, Byron Bay, NSW
P: 02 66809779
Cnr Lawson and Johnson streets, Byron Bay, NSW
P: 02 6680 9666