By Vivienne Pearson
The Byron at Byron (I always have to remember to add the The) is best known for being a resort for visitors and holidaymakers. But it is also for locals. ‘The beautiful surrounds instantly relax you, whether you are visiting or whether you live four doors down the road,’ says new executive chef Matthew Kemp.
Matt started at the resort (on the road between Byron and Broken Head) in October 2017 and has been getting to know the vibe and gradually tweaking the menu. ‘I don’t change the whole menu at once; it’s too stressful for the kitchen staff,’ says Matt, who is also not a fan of shouting as a kitchen-management technique. He is working alongside longtime head chef Gavin Hughes, who still is the main driver of the resort’s strong connection with the Byron Bay Farmers Market.
New local produce is added all the time; Matt’s chance encounter with a local resulted in Suffolk Park honeycomb sourced from ‘over the back fence’ – with a strong possibility the bees are visiting flowers in the resort’s own backyard rainforest. Served in little morsel-sized balls alongside serrano ham (a dry-cured Spanish ham), bitter leaves and pickled cherries, the dish is a perfect reflection of the menu – different, delicious and produce focused. When I asked Matt how the honeycomb is prepared, he laughs. ‘When nature gives you stuff that good, I don’t mess with it.’
This reflects the philosophy of a longtime friend, the recently deceased chef Darren Simpson, who modestly said of himself: ‘I’m not a great chef but I’m a bloody good shopper.’
Of course, Matt is a top-class Michelin-trained chef with 30 years of experience, so when he lets the flavours of an heirloom tomato and peach salad ‘speak for themselves’, there is an art to this. The different tomatoes provided a riot of red-greens, served with pistachios and a wonderful local stracciatella cheese (a creamier version of mozzarella).
Matt trained at The Square in London, then moved to Banc in Sydney before running his own venture, Balzac. He most recently completed a 20,000km ‘half-lap’ of Australia, kids in tow, before arriving in Pottsville, where he had bought previously knowing he would make the move at some stage.
Before Sydney, he was a UK Essex boy. ‘I worked with so many Aussies and Kiwis in London restaurants that I had to come check it out,’ he says.
He has experienced surprising reconnections, running into people from his ‘former lives’ in this part of the world, including with a butcher he worked with in Sydney – Paul Newsom from Jack Sprats – who provides the sirloin on the bone, which has been aged for two months, giving what Matt describes as an almost ‘blue cheese’ flavour.
Whether you come for this special steak, a special occasion or simply to soak up the rainforested atmosphere over a drink during daily Happy Hour, you are welcome any time.
The Byron at Byron Resort and Spa, 77–97 Broken Head Road, Byron Bay. Ph: 6639 2111, www.thebyronatbyron.com.au. Lunch, all-day dining and dinner.
Happy Hour daily 4.30–6pm.