A multimillion-dollar revamp and a new chef have brought fresh looks and flavours to Byron Bay institution Rae's on Wategos, now known simply as Raes.
Gone are the linen tablecloths, velvet cushions and '90s vibes. Instead, Sydney-based interior stylist Tamsin Johnson has given the 50-seat alfresco dining room a breezy pastel-accented fitout (think "contemporary beach house luxe") better suited to the boutique resort's relaxed beachside location and more youthful customer base.
Meanwhile, Melburnian Jason Barratt (ex-Attica, Stokehouse, Hector's Deli) is relishing both the sea change and his debut as head chef. He's injected fresh energy into the food at Rae's, with a Mediterranean-leaning menu that he says "is all about not overcomplicating things".
Seafood takes centre stage, and there's a strong focus on ingredients sourced from the Northern Rivers region. Standout dishes include a super-fresh kingfish crudo with melon and mint, barbecued diamond clam broth with fennel and fregola and local Yamba pork loin.
"The quality and freshness of the produce up here is exceptional," says Barratt. "The subtropical climate produces some pretty amazing things, many of which I'm getting to use for the first time."
Barratt says the slower pace in Byron means that unrushed conversations with growers and suppliers often yield unexpected results. "I get growers randomly drop in with a truck full of produce to see what I might be interested in," he says. "Once you start chatting, they often end up showing you other produce, or they'll pop in the next week with something else to try."
Offering lunch and dinner seven days, the dining room is open to hotel guests and non-guests alike. Same goes for the new Cellar Bar, which offers feel-good snacks such as freshly shucked Pacific oysters, Ballina prawn katsu sandwiches, and house-made gelato, along with a seemingly free-flowing supply of vermouth cocktails and Perrier-Jouet.
During the day, it's the kind of place you can happily stroll into in your thongs after a swim at Wategos, while by night it transforms into one of Byron's chicest cocktail bars. And if this sounds like the perfect Byron blend of designer laid-back and sandy-footed luxury, you'd be absolutely spot on.
6-8 Marine Parade, Byron Bay, 02 6685 5366, raes.com.au