The Italian Byron Bay, started by William and Laurie Rose about 11 years ago, is one of those ‘favourite’ restaurants that people keep coming back to. It used to be next to the Beach Hotel, but is now in its new location under the cinemas in Jonson St.
The venue has a classic feel with a simple and stylish longline bar and plenty of seating, a moody interior that opens out to the street as well as some relaxed, street side dining. I was there last Saturday night and the restaurant was full, not only with diners but also with that exciting, busy atmosphere that I’ve missed from a night out in Byron lately.
The menu showcases modern Italian fare with fresh, innovative elements. The menu includes entrees like Pork Belly with beetroot puree, Kingfish Carpaccio with blood orange, pickled fennel, chilli and basil, and mains such as; Snapper with white aubergine, broccolini and caponata; Duck Leg with house made truffle gnocchi; Pickled Lobster spaghetti with tomato confit; Pumpkin and Goats cheese Ravoli with purple cauliflower, sage and burnt butter; and a rich Rigatoni with lamb shoulder ragu and confit onions. They also have a kid’s menu.
Byron Bay’s restaurant scene is pretty competitive and fast-changing. It takes a range of skills, and probably some mental toughness, to survive. The Italian Byron Bay, is one of the longest-standing owner operated restaurants in town and is right at the heart of it is owner-chef-manager, William Ennis. He has been a chef for more than 25 years, a restaurant owner, with others, of a couple of Byron restaurants, and has now made the transition from Head Chef to being the Chef and Daily Operations Manager.
Whilst COVID has been a struggle, bookings have bounced back immediately now that visitors can come to Byron again. Looking through the Christmas bookings, Ennis spots people who are coming back for their sixth Christmas.
‘I think the biggest factor in being a success is consistency’, says Ennis. ‘plus quality, obviously, but you can normally tell when a restaurant has a new head chef, or new owner, and we’re not like that – we’ve been consistent from day one I think.’
That doesn’t mean it’s the same each time, though. ‘I used to do a big menu with loads of things, but now I have 3–4 pastas, with fresh pasta, and 3–4 main courses that constantly change, every three weeks or so.’
Making the menu has become more of a collaboration now, with longstanding staff members Jaume (now the Head Chef), and Malin (now the Restaurant Manager) becoming actual owners of the business to which they have contributed.
The Italian has been doing a collaboration with the Italian Film festival, and are planning to do more pre-cinema deals where patrons can sit at the bar and have a nibble, or have a bowl of pasta and glass of wine before the movie.
He’s no longer the head chef of a ‘favourite’ restaurants for decades of visitors, but Ennis hasn’t exactly taken his foot off the pedal. He’s still in the kitchen on these busy nights leading up to summer, and when I called he seemed to be packing a lot of the operational side of a successful restaurant into the daylight hours – trying to find staff, especially vaccinated staff, doing the payroll, being there for the plumber’s visit… all the glamour of the Byron scene.
‘Owning a restaurant is like having a “to do list” that’s never done,’ he says. ‘You’re always building a team, and that’s never finished. While I’m taking more of an interest in the financial side, the business side, over the busy time I’m very happy to jump back into the kitchen.’
The Italian Byron Bay
108 Jonson St, Byron Bay