All aboard Byron's Orient Express
I MUST admit a Saturday night dinner in downtown Byron Bay in sticky weather in the middle of schoolies was a slightly daunting prospect, but we lucked out with a car space right outside our destination and were warmly received at the Orient Express.
Soon we were settled in to a high table in the corner of the restaurant and had settled on some sparkling mineral water and a glass of the ubiquitous New Zealand Marlborough region sauvignon blanc for me. It was a thoughtful touch to provide a small saucer of sliced lime for the water and glasses filled with ice.
The room is warm and appealing, furnished with Chinese antiques, Buddha statuettes and soft red lighting suspended from the ceiling.
As my dining partner is a duck-o-phile we had no hesitation in ordering a duck dish for our shared entree and one of the main courses.
Two mandarin duck pancakes with batons of cucumber, shallots and hoi sin sauce made the perfect entree.
Other entrees on offer included traditional sung choi bao, Malay-style prawn laksa and fish cake salad with BBQ chilli tamarind dressing.
From the main menu we ordered crispy duck with plum caramel sauce served with steamed Asian vegetables ($34.90) and from the daily specials a wok-fried BBQ pork with basil and chilli, accompanied by a small serve of steamed jasmine rice.
The pork was a fragrant, complex and satisfying dish, with solid basil flavours and vegetables, including green beans, mushrooms, capsicum and bean shoots.
We exchanged a glance when the crispy duck arrived. The chopped pieces looked very bony and there were only a few strips of the succulent glazed breast when we were expecting more. Another disappointing element of the dish was that the steamed vegetables served underneath the duck were quite limp and suffering from the drained oil and juices from the duck. My dining companion /duck expert believed it had been deep fried rather than roasted.
Other main courses on the menu include hot pot of mirin and soy braised chicken with shitake, tofu and daikon ($19.90) and Thai green curry of local king prawns, bamboo shoots, green beans and crushed peanuts ($28.90). There are an equal number of vegetarian main courses on offer as those containing meat, fish and poultry.
We cheered up over the restaurant’s signature dessert: warm black rice and coconut egg custard pudding with coconut ice-cream and toasted sesame seeds, although ours was garnished with toasted desiccated coconut, absolutely delicious.
Other tempting desserts included white chocolate parfait with pistachio, rose water jelly and strawberry salad and coconut panna-cotta with passionfruit granita, and the service was friendly, cheerful and knowledgeable.
It was owner/chef Tippy Heng’s aim to create a teahouse eatery serving modern Asian cuisine in a beautiful environment and he has certainly achieved that.
The food is worth a return visit and the range of specialist teas includes teas made from quince, jasmine, mint, ginger and liquorice.