Azure Bar & Grill at Elements of Byron is one of my favourite hideaways to retreat to when I’m seeking to escape the craziness of downtown Byron, and where I can allow my tastebuds to run wild and free!
Executive Chef Simon Jones took charge of the pans at Elements two and a half ago, and has well and truly settled into the rhythm of working with local suppliers to create produce driven menus with some proper international authentic flavour profiles. The balance of flavours and textures that Simon and his team create are sooooooo sublime that I found myself happily giggling with glee throughout most of my recent lunch date with Dave.
Before moving to Australia three years ago, Simon worked on super yachts for some mega famous folks. You’d need to ply him with a bottle of top shelf whisky and pin him down though before he’ll reveal the names of his former bosses, or any of the details for that matter …… though …… I’m imagining decadent cocktail parties in secret seculded coves ……. in the middle of the Mediterranean somewhere …… with a boat full of Hollywood A-list celebs …… a picture perfect sunset ……. DJ playing some banging tunes from the top deck …….. guests drinking champagne and extravagant canapés ……. whilst being kindly reminded to please remove their high heels whilst on deck …… anyway where was I??? Oh yeah, Simon’s pedigree is ….. well pretty spectacular to be honest. Before super yachting, Simon worked in London with non other than the legend Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir (who Simon affectionally refers to as “the best chef alive”) and with Marco ….. yes THE Marco Pierre White at his L’Escargot in London (where at just 28 years of age Simon was head chef!). Along with a stint at the Peninsula Beverly Hills LA, which is where no doubt Simon’s food caught the attention of some of his future Hollywood mega star employers! Simon also did some time in the kitchen at Nobu in London (Simon’s time here has provided some of the inspo behind the Sushi section on the new menu which you will hear more about later!).
(Tuna & Avocado Rolls from the new Sushi Menu)
Simon is a rare breed in my view. Not only is this guy off the richter scale talented …… like proper next level talented, he is a really freck’n super lovely guy and is incredibly humble too (trust me there are not many chefs good or bad that are humble, so it’s a really refreshing change from the norm!). Whenever I sit down with Simon to chat, you can tell that this guy is deeply and genuinely connected to food and all that it encompasses. And why landing here in Byron with an abundance of local produce and exceptional artisan producers feeds so much of his inspiration for his menus across the Elements of Byron Resort.
Dave and I settled into a long boozy lunch a couple of weeks back at Azure to celebrate our one year anniversary. We arrived hungry, thirsty and super eager to have our senses enticed and boy oh boy did Simon, the sommelier Ben and Silvu our waiter exceed all our very high expectations!
(Local Bread and Butter with house-made Ash Salt)
We started with a Pacific Ale and some plump and briny Sydney Rock Oysters $4 each, which where freshly shucked and served with a classic (and beautifully executed I might add) Mignonette Dressing ……. oh yeah, and lucky for me, Dave doesn’t really like oysters …….. so I might have happily had more than a lions share of these juicy and salty bivalves! Yeah I know, tough gig …… but luckily, I’m happy to take one for the team when it comes to oysters!
Simon has recently added a Sushi section to the Azure Bar & Grill menu, drawing on his time at Nobu in London. We devoured a plate of expertly seasoned and beautifully presented ……fresh as Tuna (fresh and local of course!) Avocado Roll with Sesame and Japanese Mayonnaise served with Wasabi and Aged Soy. It takes a chef with experience and an ego-less confidence to serve such a seemingly simple dish, where produce is king, with the right amount of restraint and upmost respect for the produce, to allow it to really and truly shine. This confidence and restraint shines bright throughout the entire menu at Azure Bar & Grill, but shines particularly bright with neon lights throughout this new Sushi menu. Presenting guests with the dilemma of just how much Sushi can one person really eat!
One of the things I love most about my job, is sitting down with other chef’s and learning more about their food journey and what gets them excited. After one of our many chats with Simon during our meal, he told us that, “you can expect to see much more Sushi on the menu”, “I’m pretty excited about the idea of expanding the Sushi menu, and have been playing with some ideas”, “that we will be sharing with our Azure Bar & Grill guests real soon!”. So yep, expect to be seeing plenty more mouthwatering Sushi on the Azure menu!
Now enough about a shared love of Sushi …….. because …… we simply must talk about Seared Scallops w XO Sauce and Soft Herbs $26, I think it would be completely fair to say that this dish left me utterly spell bound, like really! I know I’ve said it before ……. but ………there is an art to presenting a dish that “looks” relatively simple BUT completely blows your mind and is anything but simple! The XO Sauce that Simon has created could possibly be the answer to world peace! Yeah I know, big call …… but I truly believe that great food makes people exceptionally happy …… so why not!
(Seared Scallops with the most spectacular XO Sauce ever!)
There is a saying that “you can’t make friends with salad”, mmmmmm well whomever came up with this saying …. clearly never had a salad created by Simon Jones! The Grilled Local Squid $25, with hand crushed pesto (yes ….. pesto really does taste soooooooo much better when you crush it by hand!), semi dried tomatoes and olives! The ‘olives’ in this dish were used to make the most perfectly balanced tapenade I’ve had in a very very long time, ably accompanied by freshly toasted pine nuts, young basil leaves and light and zesty dressing setting up the palette for the grand finale of flavour ie THE squid!! The squid is local and is the absolute rock star (as it frankly should be) of this vibrant and colourful dish. We were happily presented with perfectly char-grilled pieces of the most divinely tender squid, that I’ve had outside of the most idyllic of Greek Island holidays! The squid was treated to a squeeze of fresh lemon juice ……. just ….. at the right moment ie exactly when the squid comes off the grill and is ready and willing to soak up an extra hit of flavour (having the knowledge and passion to add flavours at exactly the right time is completely evident throughout every single dish I’ve eaten at Azure, this I think, comes down to Simon’s leadership and his staffs’ passion for the menu he has created). Exceptional food really is like watching a prima ballerina at the height of her career ….. breath taking and magical ….. a moment in time when you catch yourself grinning from ear to ear and not saying a single word …. a moment in time ….. when time stands still …. and you know full well that this really is indeed a magic moment in time! Yep ….. in a nutshell that is exactly how I felt when eating this stunning celebration of local squid!
(Grilled Local Squid)
(Wild Boar Ragu w Pappardelle)
It will come as no surprise to regular readers of my reviews that I am a massive fan of “ordering food for the table” and sharing the collection of dishes with others at the table. Why? Well ……. primarily because I love sharing …… and self-servingly selfishly ……… because I soooooooo easily get “order envy” and I simply must try as many dishes as I possibly can! So on our recent visit we ordered for mains the Breaded Veal Chop Milanese $39 w fresh tomato sugo, straciatella and rocket. Plus the Wild Boar Ragu $31 w Pappardelle and Pecorino, Kingfish Sashimi $24 w yuzu buttermilk, ginger and finger lime. A somewhat eclectic flavour party I know, but it somehow completely worked! The Kingfish Sashimi acted as a delightful little palette cleanser, with the delicate balance of flavours provided by the buttermilk and ginger, finished by the citrus party poppers of finger lime pearls and a gentle hit of chilli to complete the show. Veal Milanese and Wild Boar Ragu are two of my favourite dishes, so this is one of the many occasions when my “ordering food for the table” totally paid off! Veal chops can be tricky to cook perfectly, but the team at Azure nailed it! The Milanese crumbs had a perfect balance of bread crumbs to herbs to cheese ratio and served their double duty of protecting the veal chop and keeping it super juicy, which was then topped with a lively young house-made sugo, locally made “stracciatella” from the boys at Byron Bay Mozzarella and hey presto you’re in Milano bella! The very first time I had Wild Boar Ragu was in a hill side Italian village, complete with cobblestone lined lanes and a family run restaurant at the bottom of the hill. The menu here was “of the day”, reflecting what was seasonal and locally sourced. The smells (and excited chatter!) coming out of the kitchen were thoroughly mesmerising (you could just picture the ageing Nonna and her family furiously working away to cook the classic family recipes just as her Nonna had taught her, old school recipe sharing ….. not often written down …… just shared through the “doing”). I’m going to admit, I was hesitant to order the boar, but I thought to myself “if not here in the Italian countryside then where Terase?”, and far out am I glad I did, because it opened my eyes in so many ways. Particularly to just how spectacular eating seasonally and locally can really be, something the rest of the world has been doing for centuries and we here in Australia have only relatively recently started to pursue. The Wild Boar Ragu w Pappardelle at Azure Bar & Grill, well and truly took me back to that little restaurant in the Italian hillside with every single mouthful. The Ragu was classically, bold, balanced and subtle all at the same time and the ribbons of Pappardelle where silky and perfectly al-dente, topped with an aged Pecorino I mean really ……….. what more does one need or want?
AZURE BAR & GRILL : Open 7 Days a Week : Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Bookings Recommended : 02 6639 1565
144 Bayshore Drive, Byron Bay NSW Australia
Until next time! Eat Local. Eat Well.