HIGHLIGHT Sitting with a glass of Pinot Gris on the balcony, watching the rolling surf.
LOWLIGHT The coffee is so-so for a place of its calibre.
Halcyon House, Cabarita Beach, NSW
The NSW Tweed Coast has long been the poor cousin to hip southern neighbour Byron Bay, and the flashy Gold Coast to the north, but now it's having its moment in the sun. Positioned midway between the two, Cabarita Beach, is a sleepy beachside town thrust in the spotlight thanks to the opening of the super chic Halcyon House, just 20 minutes from Coolangatta Airport. There are no high-rises here and, in fact, the feel is decidedly '70s beachside village vibe.
Halcyon House somehow manages to be both quintessential Australian, and beachy Mediterranean cool at the same time with its crisp blue and white decor, Amalfi Coast guesthouse feel, and an on-site restaurant worth staying in for.
Designed by Anna Spiro, the Euro-flavoured Halcyon House is a slice of Positano transported to Cabarita Beach. The Bickle dynasty (of Fortitude Valley nightclub and restaurant fame) has applied its Midas touch to the former down-at-heel '60s surfside motel. It now boasts a whitewashed-and-blue palette extending from the restaurant, Paper Daisy, to the beachfront pool, 21 individually styled guest rooms and beyond to the chic staff uniforms, and charming blue bicycles lined up at the entrance. As you look out through the restaurant's bi-fold windows you'll most definitely know you're in Australia, however, with a vista of pandanus palms, rolling surf and scrub turkeys foraging in the lush foliage.
My ocean superior room (206) is on the top floor of the low-rise hotel and is decorated in Spiro's signature blue and white hues with a quilted bed head, rich fabric-upholstered walls, brass lamps, hand-picked antiques and original art. From the balcony, with its blue and white tiles and Cotswold furniture, are terrific views over the pool to the long stretch of surf beach. The white bathroom features fluffy towels, brass fittings, English tapware, marble vanities, gorgeous hand-made floor tiles and Evo toiletries with their comical commentaries. There's a pillow menu, turndown service (where house-made treats or quirky cherry ripe bars are left on your pillow), and complimentary mini bar (excluding alcohol).
With Brisbane Good Food Guide 2014 Young Chef of the Year Ben Devlin manning the stoves, and impeccable service by a talented young team headed up by Italian general manager Mauro De Riso, Halcyon House's Paper Daisy is this year's 'it' regional restaurant. Everyone from ladies who lunch, foodies and socialites are scrambling for a table. We're told keen Sydneysiders have flown in just for lunch, and who can blame them with a setting and food as good as it gets on the cruisy north coast. Former Esquire (Brisbane) head chef Devlin reigns over the open kitchen at one end of the eclectic restaurant with its comfy banquettes, blue and white Parisian chairs, and whimsical 'wall of ladies' (artwork) curated by Spiro. Doors and windows open to catch the coastal breeze and in cooler months a central fireplace keeps everything cosy. Signature dishes include paperbark-grilled cod with seaweed and pippies with lemon myrtle, butter and warrigal greens. Breakfast, however, is my favourite, featuring freshly-squeezed juice of the day, house-made fruit tarts, iced passionfruit cups with yoghurt, and a selection of a la carte dishes.
Once you check into Halcyon House, you may not venture further than the blue and white striped sun loungers by the pool – given the excellent food and wine offerings on-site. However Fleet at nearby Brunswick Heads is a terrific wine bar, while the Farm at Byron Bay is a great spot for lunch (or a yoga class). In the other direction, check out the wonderful Margaret Olley Centre at the Tweed Regional Gallery or join Australian Pro Surfer, Joel Parkinson for a private surfing lesson followed by an intimate and relaxed poolside lunch at Paper Daisy.
Halcyon House has got the mix spot on – terrific food, Pinterest worthy decor (seriously this is an Instagrammer's dream), attentive, warm service and a wonderful beachfront location. What's not to love?
21 Cypress Cres, Cabarita Beach NSW. Rooms from $550 a night including a la carte breakfast for two. Phone 02 6676 1444, see www.halcyonhouse.com.au.
The writer was a guest of Halcyon House.