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Upbeat vibe at St Elmo

When you live in the area, and get to eat out a fair bit in Byron, you can get a bit fussy. So it’s really exciting to experience the upbeat vibe at St Elmo two Saturday nights, six weeks apart, and have such a cool time that my partner and I are looking for a chance to go back again.

The first was around New Years Day and Byron was really jumping. It’s always a good sign to see a crowd of diners on the footpath unable to gain entry, despite their big-city negotiating tactics, but we’d arrived just a bit before the rush. Without a reservation, we managed to squeeze up to stools at the bar. From the bar, you can just sip cocktails and consume bar snacks, but we were dressed up to make a night of it, and ordered from the full menu.

The second time we came, last week, again the restaurant was fully booked, but a late cancellation meant that we could come straight from the beach and get a table. Apparently there is a whole women’s clothing style catering for situations just like this and, speaking of women, there were quite a few tables of just women, and couples, on the nights we visited, with some grey nomads and groovers at the bar.

I love a restaurant that’s relaxed and friendly, but also modern and sophisticated enough so that you can, if you want, find something you’ve never tried before that you really like.

Here, the wine list will not let you down. It’s not full of wines that are $20 a bottle in the local bottlo; think more tempranillio and Spanish wines in a substantial ‘global’ wine list. There are some interesting moderately priced wines but if you’re thinking of spending $100 for something special you’ll be rewarded.

However, sometimes it’s good to just start with cocktails and see what you feel like next. Not only are the cocktails taken seriously at St Elmo (my barrel-aged Negroni was terrific, and the staff made me feel like it was somehow a healthy choice), but with around 15 wines available by the glass you can relax; you won’t be forced to drink some kind of unpleasant ‘house red’.

As a vegetarian with a meat-eating, gluten-free partner I often find it difficult to fully embrace the ‘share plate’ style of eating, but St Elmo, with an emphasis on modern Spanish tapas dishes and share plates, effortlessly delivered dish after dish: delicious Padron peppers (with one in ten much hotter than the rest, this made a fun game) , Batata Asado with salt-baked local sweet potatoes, and Besalada de Higo, a wonderful black fig, goats-curd, honey and hazelnut salad perfect for summer.

The Setas (roast Portobello mushrooms and local oyster mushrooms with polenta, manchego and burnt-onion puree) and the Pollito (crispy-skin baby chicken) were great, and the ceviche, apparently taken very seriously in the Croatian extended family of our fellow diners from Melbourne, got the full thumbs up.

There’s a really upbeat vibe to the place too; the music’s at a good level, you can hear your partner talking, with friendly bar and floor staff doing lots of quick ‘checking in’ in a low-key way, and plates just appearing at the right moment, and a willingness to give advice. You can see through to the kitchen, if you really want to, where the chefs looked cool and collected despite the fully booked night.

St Elmo is licensed to serve liquor without food, and while we’ve called in for an after-dinner drink before, there’s a whole dessert menu and pre-dinner experience untapped for us, as if we need an excuse to rediscover St Elmo.

Open: Mon–Sat 4pm till late, Sun 4pm till 10pm. Cnr Fletcher St and Lawson Ln, Byron Bay. Ph 6680 7426. www.stelmodining.com

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There is an upbeat vibe at St Elmo Byron Bay


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