Discovering Australia's hidden gems

Posts tagged ‘food’

Yum Cha Conversion at Orient Express Eatery

Yum Cha Conversion at Orient Express Eatery

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I admit it, I used to be anti yum cha. I could not understand other’s cultish devotion to the phenomenon. Being presented with an array of unidentifiable morsels and having to make an instant choice, without knowing what you’ve just committed to eating, never appealed to me.

Not that I’m a fussy eater, just the opposite. But I do enjoy deliberating over a menu for a while to weigh up my options.

The other problem was the propensity to unwittingly rack up the dollars whilst gleefully stacking up the plates.

But all this now has changed – I’ve found yum cha heaven!

The Orient Express Eatery in Byron Bay does yum cha like no other. There’s no wandering cart of interesting but unknown foodstuffs; instead you have a detailed menu, with every dish the same very reasonable price.

Most of the serving sizes are larger than average. Depending on which items you choose, four dishes between two people usually results in a doggy bag, which­­­ they are always happy to provide. This means you can have your fill of yum cha for less than $16 per head. The value for money is extraordinary.

And so is the service. I’m now a regular patron and without fail the service is outstanding. Attentive, prompt, efficient and friendly. Special touches like the complimentary fermented vegetables to start are also a winner.


Complimentary fermented vegetables

Favourite dishes include: egg crepe parcel of fried rice (gargantuan proportion), vegetarian spring rolls, crispy shrimp­ pancake, steamed rice noodles with Sichuan spiced pork mince sauce, and the delicious sesame and honey glazed stuffed crumbed prawns. And the feast would not be complete without a delightful pot of Buddha’s Tears, one of the many exotic teas on the menu.

pork mince

Rice noodles with spicy Sichuan pork mince sauce

honey crumb prawns

Sesame and honey glazed stuffed crumbed prawns

fried rice

Egg crepe parcel of fried rice

The décor is divine. If dining inside you may find yourself ensconced in sheer, red organza curtains, surrounded by ornate oriental ornaments bathed in a soft glow. Alfresco dining is also available, with heaters provided during winter.


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No matter what time of year, you can walk through the doors of Orient Express Eatery and be transported to an exotic culinary yum cha experience for less than the price of a burger and fries.

The Orient Express Eatery is open 7 nights 5.30pm–9.30pm and provides the yum cha experience Fri-Sun 12.00pm – 5.00pm.

You’ll find them at 1/2 Fletcher St, Byron Bay

 For bookings/enquiries:(02) 6680 8808



The Best Exotic Indian in Billinudgel!


The Best Exotic Indian in Billinudgel!

If you build it they will come. And come they do, to Billinudgel for a delightful Indian taste sensation.

The sign at the door of Billi’s Indian urges patrons to “please book in advance”, and I can see why.

Word of mouth by raving fans has built a large, loyal customer base since the restaurant moved into town just three years ago.

And the reputation is well deserved.

The place was buzzing with a pleasant, upbeat vibe, even though I dined mid-week.


Happy, hungry locals filled a cosy indoor space with a fireplace, and the heated outdoor deck was taken over by a large party.


It was a full house, but staff were friendly and the service prompt. They were also doing a brisk take-away business.

Billi’s is easy on the wallet. The menu boasts a tempting selection of value for money curries: vegetable $12.90, chicken/lamb/beef $13.90, and seafood $17.00. A good excuse to try an extra dish or two.

All meals are freshly cooked, with vegan and gluten free options available.


My food arrived hot and steaming in authentic Indian karahi bowls. Sweet, fluffy coconut rice and a decorative basket filled with mushroom and garlic naan were delightfully different accompaniments to the meal.

The highlight of the night however was my mango chicken. The first mouthful gave me an unexpected jolt of joy. As succulent as a juicy, ripe mango, it invoked feelings of summery freshness and childlike fun. Its luscious sweet creaminess almost qualifying it as a dessert item.

Billi’s website has an easy ordering system for takeaway, and they offer home delivery to Billinudgel, Brunswick Heads, and Ocean Shores; an alluring option for a relaxing night in PJs, with a DVD and some great Indian food.

So, the secret’s out! Billi’s Indian is a hidden gem that northern residents have been keeping to themselves. Now it’s time to discover that a quick trip up the freeway leads to a deliciously inexpensive night out. But don’t forget to book!

Open Tues – Sunday, 5pm-9pm

8 Wilfred St. Billinudgel

(02) 6680 3352

(c) copyright 2015


High art and scones in the Tweed Valley

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High art and scones in the Tweed Valley

Margaret Olley, one of Australia’s most prestigious artists, has had her life and work commemorated through the re-creation of her Paddington terrace house at the Tweed Regional Art Gallery.

The Margaret Olley Art Centre (MOAC) is the latest addition to the gallery, who were gifted $1 million by the late artist’s trust estate, with additional funding received from the federal, state, and local governments, as well as independent organisations.


This delightful gallery is available free to the public and showcases a range of exhibitions from local artists, HSC students (Art Express), travelling exhibitions, and a permanent collection.

A private collection of Margaret Olley’s paintings are currently on display until 14th September 2014, while the re-creation of the artist’s home studio will be a permanent exhibition.



Margaret loved to collect items for her still life paintings and leave them in her home permanently. The rooms on display are filled with over 20,000 items that Olley collected over the years for use as subject matter and which still remain today.


She had a long and successful career painting still life and interiors, and continued to paint up until the day she died, passing away at the age of 88 at her home-studio on 26th July 2011.


[Self portrait]

Her life philosophies were reflected in her art, which has been described as   “…celebrating the familiar and the domestic, telling us that simple is better than complicated, that quiet is better than noisy, that what is close at hand is better than that which has to be sought.” [Phillip Bacon, 2011]


The gallery itself is an artistic masterpiece. Designed by Brisbane architect Bud Brannigan, it was officially opened in the picturesque Tweed Valley in 2004.



Brannigan used clever techniques to maximise the scenic location without distracting from the artistic beauty inside.


There are many floor to ceiling windows which give glimpses of rolling hills and valleys dotted with contented grazing cows.


The outdoor café boasts panoramic views of the magical hills of Murwillumbah, located in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, Australia.



And if you like your caffeine with a view, you won’t be disappointed here.


The building also provides outstanding views of Mount Warning, an iconic landmark in this area and a place of cultural and spiritual significance for the Bundjalung Aboriginal people.


This gallery also boosts the most artistic car park I have ever seen!

Viewing exquisite art can be hard work, so we decided to take a lunch break and finish off the gallery in the afternoon. With Mount Warning literally in our sights, we headed on down to a favourite hidden gem of ours – Mavis’s Kitchen.


Mavis’s Kitchen is a quaint restaurant/guesthouse nestled at the base of mystical Mount Warning.


Mount Warning is also traditionally known as Wollumbin, which means ‘cloud catcher’. Here we see it living up to its name! On a clear day, the summit has stunning panoramic views over the entire Tweed valley.



Wollumbin is the central vent, and all that remains of an extinct volcano.  Its proximity to Byron Bay, the most easterly point in Australia, means that it is the first place to catch the morning sun’s rays on the Australian mainland.  Watching the dawn rise from the summit is a popular tourist attraction, however some may choose to honour the cultural traditions of the Bundjalung people who request that the mountain not be climbed.



These delightful gardens made a perfect setting for lunch and we choose a table set amongst the citrus orchards.

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This restaurant also has its own on-site organic garden where a large portion of the produce for the meals is sourced. 


The food and the views were so good that lunch extended to afternoon tea, and I found myself having my second batch of scones for the day! Well, I had to compare and contrast with the Tweed Gallery scones … Mavis wins hands down, it was like eating fluffy white clouds. 🙂


Back to the gallery for round two, and a more thorough inspection of Margaret Olley’s re-created home studio. This morning we did a one hour tour of the entire gallery which was outstanding. You never know what you’re going to get with volunteer tour guides, but our guide today was exceptional and provided a very informative, interesting, and thorough tour.

This afternoon’s return visit proved to be a lot less busy, giving more opportunity to explore the works at our own pace. Several local artists had their work for sale and it was encouraging to see that many of the pieces had already been sold.


Looking at the Olley rooms was like taking a peek into the life of the artist; the replication felt very realistic, and combined with the background knowledge given to us by the tour guide, I felt I could get a sense of who Margaret Olley was, and how she must have felt living and working in this space.



It felt voyeuristic peering through the windows into the cluttered, organised chaos that was Margaret Olley’s domain.

A residence where celebrities, artists, socialites, and heads of state gathered to dine and be uplifted by their gregarious host.

And a home that cradled her to her grave, after birthing magnificent works of art which will continue to be enjoyed by present and future generations for years to come.

© July 2014


I Forgot How Much I Love Live Music – Wait! No I Didn’t …

I Forgot How Much I Love Live Music …

 Wait – No, I Didn’t!

I’m just realising (yet again) that I let my life roll by, day after day, without the required dosage of musical medicine.

Well tonight I’m getting my fix and it’s the best feel good drug ever.

We’ve driven almost 3000 kilometres, to the top tip of Australia, before seeing our first pub band. Not that our journey’s been completely void of music so far. We went to Byron Bay Blues Fest in April, and I saw an awesome didge/drum band, goes by the name of  “Wild Marmalade,” on the Gold Coast, where I danced so hard, in such a mad, barefooted, tribal frenzy, that I fractured my foot! My adventure activities list was scaled back somewhat for weeks after that, but I digress …

I’ve now made it to the end of the road. Cooktown is literally where the tarred road ends, and it feels like the ends of the Earth  – I love it!

S0 here we are at Cooktown’s Soverign Hotel. We had dinner earlier, the food was excellent and I ate gleefully, engulfed in a 1980’s time warp as Cold Chisel’s “East” played in the background. This will always remain their best album.

As the sun set onEast , the live band came into play.  “Jusfa Kicks” promised everything from the 60’s ‘til now, and they did have a great and varied repertoire.  The lead singer had a set of Eddie Vedder vocal chords and he knew it, so there was a disproportionate amount of Pearl Jam on the playlist which also kept me smiling.

This place had a classic outback Australia atmosphere, and I’d guess it was filled with around 80% locals, so we really got a feel for what it’s like in Cooktown on a Friday night. It felt like being part of a scene from an Aussie  movie, with a high percentage of Aboriginal people and lots of stereotypical characters that you’d expect to find in a small country town. The night got rowdy at times, but never aggressive, and everyone seemed to be having a good time abandoning themselves to the tunes.

After much chair dancing (and air drumming), my insuppressible movements outgrew the limitations of the chair and spilled onto the dance floor. Of course I wished I had gotten out there much earlier.

We chatted with the owner of the local Italian restaurant on the dance floor and it felt good to ‘know’ somebody. We’d befriended him earlier in our stay, after more than one visit to his little pizza paradise.  And then just as everybody was really starting to get into it – the band went home. It’s always the way …

Sitting there tonight and connecting to the rhythm with every cell of my being,  I contemplated why I’ve not yet realised my lifelong dream of fronting an all-girl AC/DC cover band. Bonny Scott perhaps? Hey, it’s never too late! Or is it …?

OK, so my AC/DC days may have past, but I’m determined to find a way to incorporate this wonder drug, this bringer of bliss, this vibration of joy, into my everyday present. I open myself to the magic of music – let me be your servant. ♥

Stay tuned …

Copyright August 2012

A Dose of Decadence at the Best Bar in Cairns

A Dose of Decadence at the Best Bar in Cairns

It’s with a heavy heart (and a heavier tummy) that I write this post.

My last hurrah at Salt House.

This unique alfresco bar overlooking the Cairns waterfront instantly became dear to my heart, and I have spent many a leisurely hour (or four) here most days since.

Oh, bar of my dreams, let me count the ways I love thee …

Is it your large comfortable day beds bordered by lush tropical vegetation, with a view of the majestic mountains meeting the sea?

This ultimate ‘hang out’ location is mostly open air which lets in the sights, sounds and smells of tropical North Queensland.  Feel the sun and breeze caressing your skin while you sip your impressive cocktail, a sight sensation in itself.

Is it your cocktails that enamour me so?

I must admit, I don’t generally ‘do’ cocktails, but these lovelies were a little hard to resist, and looked so at home on the edge of my tropical day bed. The Kiwi Dream cocktail remained unsurpassed so I had to steal the recipe!  Future dreamy experiences shall now ensue no matter where I’m located.

Could it be the childlike excitement you instil in me in anticipation of scouring your menu every day (yes, it’s the same menu …) for the most delicious bar food I’ve ever had. Once again, I don’t usually ‘do’ bar food, but this stuff is special. Gourmet style bar food without the hefty price tag.

I’m in a constant dilemma between wanting to try every delicious item on the menu, and not being able to go past my favourites. Fascinating how I manage to convince myself that those delightful, crispy edged sweet potato wedges are a health item and therefore quite acceptable to have every day.

The food presentation was nothing less than a work of art, and of course there’s the fun factor of enjoying it whilst leisurely sprawled on my day bed under warm tropical skies, listening to chilled tunes emanating from the centre bar.

Do I love thee for thy musical moments?

Sunday afternoon  they had live music at the foot of my day bed (aka second home). Guy, guitar and great playlist. Toe-tapping tunes every one of them.

[Insert video clip here – if only I had the WordPress upgrade …!]

A blissful way to ease out of the day and into a relaxed evening in Cairns. A melodious sunset on another fantastic day.

Is it the setting sun across the water that makes you so irresistible my dear Salt House? A tequila sunrise by my side mirror-imaging the view.

A soft, gentle light appears at dusk, bathing my day bed with a delicate afterglow. The breeze takes on a chill and I take out a light jacket, having come prepared for extended hang-out time.

The outdoor design of this bar gives it a completely different feel (literally and figuratively) to indoor establishments. Perhaps it could be compared to a deluxe beer garden, but that doesn’t seem to do it justice. To quote my partner,  “It’s an upmarket pub without being up itself!”

The casual yet classy atmosphere pervades day and night. The layout is open-plan, spacious and spotlessly clean with private little nooks for individual groups separated by water moats. Being alfresco doesn’t mean that you’re completely at the mercy of the elements. There are several large sun umbrellas that get constantly shuffled around to provide just the required amount of sun/shade. Of course when the tropical cyclone hits, this place could have its disadvantages.

The day beds were certainly prime position but all of the other furniture was also extremely comfortable and designed for lengthy, leisurely sojourns. A great place for meeting friends or simply sitting solo with your favourite book,  journal, and life contemplations.

And the perfect spot for writing up my latest blog article!

Oh, bar of lofty thoughts, how I love the cerebral gymnastics you offer.

Thursday nights are Trivia nights, which aren’t really very lofty, but certainly lots of fun. No, we didn’t retain our previous trivia glory, but did walk away with a bag of peanuts and a head full of new and interesting trivial facts.

Trivia Room with a View

The views from Salt House are divine. The expansive shimmering Coral Sea back-dropped by surrounding mountain ranges in one direction, and Cairns marina with boats bobbing on blankets of blue in the other. Stay there for long enough and feel the atmosphere change as twilight engulfs you.

So, as the sunsets on an era (the age of Salt House) I feel simultaneously sad at leaving but blessed for having discovered this wonderful place and enjoyed it to the fullest.

Fellow travellers, if you are in Cairns and would love to experience total decadence without a dent in your hip pocket, I would highly recommend a trip (or ten) to Salt House.

Copyright August 2012