Gourmet Traveller

CATCHING RAES

It’s difficult to imagine a beachfront setting better than the spot enjoyed by boutique Byron Bay hotel, Raes on Wategos. The white stucco villa sits high on a knoll, overlooking lawns and an arc of sand, with rolling surf views framed by spiky pandanus and casuarinas.

“It’s not a terrible location,” laughs Jason Saxby. He joined as Raes’ head chef last March, departing Sydney’s beachside Pilu at Freshwater, neatly swapping one coastal idyll for another.

Saxby hadn’t visited Byron until the previous September, when he and wife Tammy took their three-year-old son Oli on holiday to nearby Kingscliff. They fell so hard for the hinterland they bought a block at Chillingham, quietly hatching a two-year escape plan so Oli could experience a country childhood.

The Raes vacancy required a radical adjustment of their timeline.

So far, there are zero regrets. Saxby’s flavoursome, cleverly layered, Italian-leaning dishes at Raes Dining Room are garnering plaudits, as is his smart take on coastal snacks at Raes’ laid-back Cellar Bar. Both menus are shaped by the subtropical climate and local abundance, and, like the poolside menu he’s created here, go hard on flavour.

Dealing with small producers and cooking in a tiny kitchen mean logistics are challenging. But it’s a win for diners. “It’s all ridiculously fresh,” says Saxby. “Being able to use Palisa Anderson’s (Boon Luck Farm, Tyagarah) produce an hour after it’s picked

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