I’ve eaten some special meals in my time – though perhaps not as many as you might think, given how much time I spend writing about food.
There was my first degustation menu, at the now defunct Jacques Reymond Restaurant. Then there was the time I first experienced molecular gastronomy (though the theatrical aspects proved to be more memorable than the tastes). Another was when a friend shouted me a meal at The Flower Drum in Melbourne’s Chinatown, at a time when wagyu beef was new. More recently, I savoured dinner at Fleet, and was amazed by the foraged menu at Harvest.
I can now add another special meal to my list – lunch at Rae’s. It was a long lunch and it was delightful, both in terms of the food and atmosphere.
Rae’s is set back from Wategos Beach in Byron Bay, but is separated only by a stretch of grass and the walking path. It felt very odd to be at Wategos in shoes that were unsuitable for walking, and clothes not suitable for swimming – the two usual activities that take me to this part of the world.
You don’t need to dress up for lunch at Rae’s but popping on something a bit more special adds to the anticipation and atmosphere. Rae’s, built in the 1970s as a residence then turned into a cafe and nightclub before being bought by Vincent Rae, has an old-world charm but is far from old-fashioned. The fresh whites and blues are reminiscent of Greece, and the sea view through pandanus reminds me of Darwin. The seats are comfortable, the live music, courtesy of Luke and Sebastian, is subtly sublime. The breeze is fresh.
I wasn’t planning on having a cocktail but, on having a professional glance through the menu, I was captivated by one that combines some of my favourite flavours – rum, Frangelico, cinnamon and orange. The bartender extraordinaire, Possam, has a theme for each season’s cocktail menu and currently it’s music festivals. Mine is named Mawazine Magic, after a festival in Morocco.
One option for food is a seafood degustation menu, available with matching wines. I decide to take the more unusual path of matching my entrée to my cocktail – so I selected the salmon ceviche (ie marinated raw in citrus), served with orange, fennel and dried cherry. Delicious.
I must still have had orange in mind when I settled on the duck for main, even though there was no à la orange in sight. Instead, this duck leg was served with heirloom beetroot (one yellow and one cut in cross-sections to reveal why it is dubbed ‘target beetroot’), goat curd, and crispy fried sage. My dining companion was lucky that there were generous numbers of candied pecans added to the dish, or I would have kept quiet about how amazingly good they were in order to avoid sharing. I think I may have raved about how much I enjoyed every mouthful of this dish when head chef, Guy Skinner-Hutchison, popped out to say hello.
My lunch at Rae’s was a long one. We ordered dessert as the kitchen was closing at 4pm. The chocolate crème brulee reminded me of the Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia in Turkey, but far tastier.
For some, lunch at Rae’s is routine – my dining partner and I decided our new ambition is to be like the couple lunching near us who waved away the offer of a menu saying: ‘I think we know it all by now.’ For most of us regular folk though, lunch at Rae’s is special. But does it need to be once-in-a-lifetime kind of special?
At an average of $40, Rae’s main courses are only $10–15 more than most local pub meals. My two-and-a-half-course lunch plus cocktail, which included more than three hours of enjoyment, cost just under $100 – and I can honestly say that I didn’t need to eat a thing for dinner that night!
My overall memory of the afternoon is of the light-filled balcony dining area, the views of Wategos and delicious tastes. Once the memory of the flavours starts to fade, I’ll be back.
www.raes.com.au or phone 6685 5366