Culture shift: Hotel Great Northern

Char-grilled kangaroo striploin with fig jam, wild rice, basil and rocket available at Hotel Great Northern.

A real culture shift has occurred in the restaurant at the Hotel Great Northern. The iconic old pub, situated right in the middle of the most happening part of modern Jonson Street, is typical of NSW’s modern pub scene. While still essentially serving enough pub food and schooners to keep regulars happy, a Tetsuya-trained chef is putting much more thought into the ingredients and presentation of meals and there’s a definite trend towards providing the good but friendly service to bring in more customers.

The recent renovations were a real hit with return travellers, and have created an easygoing space, with kid-friendly booths but with plenty for the adults that makes it easy to enjoy time in Byron. Love the exposed red brick with the plaster left in an irregular shape to add that all-important credibility. In addition to the booths, there are proper tables for dinner, comfortable couches to kick back in, or you can sit in the window catching the sun in the late afternoon.

There are a lot of different aspects to this venue. If you want to sit back and be waited upon with cocktails, wines and a three-course meal there is a special Twilight Dining, which is three courses and a drink for $50, giving you the opportunity to try the entire menu.

With the menu, it’s ‘simple, fresh quality food done really well’, says restaurant manager Hal Smith, whose team have created the culture shift at the pub. ‘We’d like people to feel free to come and be waited on. This might be a change for longtime locals to receive this kind of service,’ he said.

The menu has received a makeover, with the emphasis on provenance of food, making everything inhouse and changing the menu every 6–8 weeks, with chef Chris Hancock not afraid to vary the dishes to take advantage of the best local produce.

While the food still has the pub favourites such as burgers, it’s been taken up the notch that people expect. ‘We get a lot of “That’s the best burger I’ve had in years” comments,’ says Hal.

One of the standout dishes is the crispy skin pork belly with smoked maple syrup and polenta. Another is the char-grilled kangaroo striploin with fig jam, wild rice, basil and rocket (pictured). ‘One of the benefits of having a relatively open kitchen is that people can just come up and give you feedback,’ says chef Chris Hancock. ‘I know something is a favourite as people keep telling me it’s great.’

Cocktails are also getting the ‘housemade’ treatment, with all the syrups and infusions for the rums and cocktails being made in the kitchen by the chef.

When to go? The Friday and Saturday nights, right in the heart of Byron, are not unexpectedly the busiest time at the bar. Wednesday night there’s live local jazz. The kitchen Wednesday till Saturday, if it’s busy, will often be serving food until 10pm, and they’ll keep the bar open until 2 or 3am, depending on the crowd.

What’s the vibe? ‘Sunny open pub dining in the day, classy dinner environment for dinner, then to almost like a nightclub after dinner,’ says Hal.

Northern Restaurant & Bar, 35–43 Jonson St, Byron Bay. Ph 6685 6454 Kitchen hours: Lunch 12–3pm, Dinner 5–9pm (or later!) Cocktail bar open until very late.

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