Ryce: Asian, sea breeze, ocean views, balcony, cocktails!

Ryce restaurant upstairs near the beach in Jonson St, in the newly renovated Hog’s Breath site.

Story and photos S&S Haslam

Refreshingly, the new Ryce restaurant near the beach in Jonson St, in the newly renovated Hog’s Breath site between The Balcony and The Beach Hotel, has an attitude of inclusivity, while still managing to serve top-notch food and wine.

‘We really want to appeal to everyone, and allow them to create their own experience’, says front-of-house and general manager Michael Gavaghan. ‘If you’re coming straight from the beach for a wine or beer and some $5 snacks, or if you want to have some sophisticated cocktails and then choose from our banquet menu accompanied by a top-shelf wine; you can choose.

‘We think this flexibility is important for Byron, where some people are very price-conscious and some people really want a top-end experience’.

The key to creating your own experience is for the staff to go with it, and having checked the place out for dinner last week the staff are great. It’s no surprise to hear that the right personality is the key factor for Michael when hiring staff. ‘If people are willing to learn and work hard I’m happy to train them’, he says, ‘but you can’t teach people to be pleasant and nice’.

The Ryce verandah is a great people-watching spot, free from car noise and close enough to see the beach, and the cocktails are beautifully made and presented.

Elsewhere in Byron $16 can buy you a pretty standard cocktail, served like slush in a glass, whereas for $2 more at Ryce you can get a bespoke creation; I was amazed by number of ingredients and careful thought and presentation. Damian Allen, bar manager, has created a fun cocktail list that like the food menu showcases ingredients of the East.

The cocktails have beautiful and amusing Asian names. For example the Gansu Dew is a subtle fruity cocktail named after a famous waterfall (vodka, melon liqueur, honey dew, pineapple, coconut water, cinnamon syrup and Thai basil), but the Badang’s Wish cocktail (Woodford Reserve, eucalyptus syrup, apricot brandy, Fermet Branca Menta and Laphroaig Spray), is somewhat stronger, and is named for an old fable about a boy who has a wish to be strong.

The food is again very carefully constructed and of a very high standard; even the $5 and $6 small flavours have a number of simple ingredients beautifully combined. On opening night we ordered betel leaf with pickled oyster and shiitake mushrooms with Vietnamese mint and crispy garlic; taco of tuna, kaffir lime, black sesame, ginger, chilli; and the housemade bao (Asian bun) was definitely cute served looking like an artful burger.

Other small dishes go for $11 and $18. You’ll find well balanced, engaging flavours, a spectrum of texture and structure that does the right thing in these diminutive treats.

There is a ‘raw’ section of the menu: the kingfish green nahm jim, melon and coconut

lime was a flavourful attention grabber that had me nearly licking the plate. There are also ‘large’ menu options including a yellow curry with warm and generous flavours, a fresh and lively green tea noodle dish, and I intend to return just to find out what one ingredient, ’crying tiger’, is!

Dessert delivers again on theme, flavour and texture – the strawberry sorbet had a creamy quality, served with lemongrass marshmallow and the white chocolate on the dish were small peaks of mousse, all served with crunchy crumbs and micro mint – all of these elements for $12. There is also a ‘banquet’ option if you want to pull all of the menu together.

The kitchen is headlined by chef Adam Marino, whose knives have danced at Brisbane’s Longtime and The Spirit House on the Sunshine Coast – Ryce aims to pay homage to traditional Asian cuisine but with a twist, indulging you with the complex and modern flavours expressed in modern pan-Asian cooking.

Passionate about creating a venue separate from the rest, owner Max Panettiere (founder of Brisbane’s bespoke apartment complex Nero) has been a regular visitor to Byron and fell in love with the location, and the specific site for the restaurant, two years ago. Now he feels inspired by the opportunity to change up the local standard in pan-Asian cuisine.

‘We didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves to just one cuisine. Our Contemporary Pan-Asian menu is inspired by the flavours across southeast Asia, and in turn has championed our eclectic décor’, said Panettiere.

Already he has wrought a transformation of the old Hog’s Breath Cafe into a fresh space of casual elegance where the aromas are welcoming and the vibe is sensitively upbeat. The restaurant has a bar at one end that extends onto the balcony where you can catch a sea breeze and a glance of the ocean.

One great thing about the restaurant is the wine list. Sure you can just have a beer, but on a night out in Byron I often want wine, and if I’m driving home just one glass of really good wine. There’s a good range of wines by the glass here, but if you want a gin there are 21 to choose from; for those that want to there are seven different rosés. Perfect for summer. If you feel like a sparkling at their NYE banquet again your choices range from a $49 bottle to a vintage French champagne for $550.

Ryce is already a good place to choose your own experience, but expect it to keep evolving as the rest of the furniture arrives, and as the menu continues to expand. ‘We wanted to make sure that every dish was right before we expanded the menu,’ says Michael.  This certainly is somewhere I’ll be happy to keep visiting.

More info: Ryce, 9/4 Jonson St, Byron Bay Ph 6680 9183

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