Food, inspiration, art and style – all to the backdrop of the roaring ocean; that’s what to expect at Halcyon House’s restaurant Paper Daisy, just shy of the QLD border on Australia’s east coast.
Halcyon House was once little more than a shabby surfers’ motel on the doorstep of Cabarita Beach 20 minutes south of the Queensland border. Only 4 beaches short of Coolangatta and the Gold Coast, this was the perfect spot to hole up and wait for the swell.
Now, however, since 2015, this beautifully transformed boutique hotel has something completely different to offer.
As we pulled up to its little car park, we were immediately taken back to the immaculate Parker Hotel in Palm Springs, California, with its now-famous lobby wall.
On the beach side (apart from the beach itself of course) shades of Palm Springs are here too, this time the Ace Motel with the styling of the pool and balconies. A mix of funky yet sophisticated – a really tough line to pull off – is the name of the game here.
That feeling of easy ’50s beachside motels, California days, Florida Keys… it’s all here, beautifully restored to its former glory and beyond. Certainly the halcyon days of this hotel.
Owners (and sisters) Siobhan and Elisha Bickle have done a superb job maintaining the classic ‘50s aesthetic of the place without any of the chintz. And at the same time keeping your interest the whole time you’re here. Halcyon House is one of those places where the more you look, the more you see.
To cement this concept, the two ladies have made each of the 21 rooms here different, so every time you stay at Halcyon House, you never know what to expect.
Paper Daisy Restaurant
Part of the hotel – and still very much in keeping with the beachside Palm Springs style – is the award-winning restaurant Paper Daisy.
The intent here is right in line with the hotel: to stand out from the crowd. And from the moment you walk in, you can tell it’s working.
The restaurant is adjacent to the pool and bar – a large room with walls covered in interesting pictures, shelves cleverly decorated with objects too eclectic to be accidental.
Perfect colour themes, elegant yet quirky lighting and refined touches of flare that sit beautifully with the restaurant’s proximity to the beach… it’s a superbly designed space.
And plenty of pineapples of course!
As for the approachable menu, you know you’re in for some surprises even as you struggle to choose from the generous range of delicious sounding dishes.
For lunch, you can choose between 2 to 3 courses and all mains come with sides. You also get an amuse bouche (though see our notes at the bottom on this) and a selection of amazing bread with unusual kefir butter, and macadamia and wattle seed spread.
For entrée, Mrs Romance had the prawns, which were delicious. Served in a crisp rice crumb and sweet chilli sauce similar to the stuff you get with Vietnamese summer rolls. The rest of the dish was a little underwhelming though.
I ordered the coal-baked fish (we think it was coral snapper, but the waitress was in a bit of a hurry to leave – see our notes below). The fish was beautiful. The coal flavour added incredible depth to the meat.
Unfortunately, as with Mrs Romance’s prawns, the rest of the dish was disappointing. The parsley puree was ok but not mind-blowing and the pomelo that came with it was ok. The fish also looked like it’d been dropped on the way to the plate as part of it was broken and mushed up. I still ate it though!
Mrs Romance’s paperbark fish (again, we weren’t told what fish it was) was beautifully presented. The meat was tender and the shallots on top were crisp and delicious.
My poached chicken was so soft and tender. I have no idea how the kitchen did it. The sunflower seed mash/butter was good, as were the chunky shitake mushrooms and crispy grilled artichoke hearts.
Although the flavours were there, the old adage of eating with your eyes left me wanting a bit more. The dish was a bit 50 Shades of Beige.
The sides we chose – the radicchio, orange and caramelised walnut – did have all the colour though, unfortunately it was a bit too sweet for me.
However, the peas with cashew butter was an excellent dish.
We were trying to decide on what to have from the somewhat unremarkable dessert menu when Mrs Romance spotted an ice cream go by. It was a lemon meringue ice cream from the pool bar menu and much better than anything on the restaurant menu.
Our wait staff were more than happy to serve this instead, which I really appreciated. Different menus can cause a lack of flexibility in some places, but not here. The only silly thing was they gave us huge dessert spoons too big for the ice cream cone. Sundae spoons, small bar spoons or even teaspoons would have been better.
Over all, the meal was very tasty, and the location, the decoration and the layout of the venue is all enough to make any special meal all the more special.
A couple of side notes
I must say though, there were some issues. The amuse bouche at the start of the meal was very strange and a little pointless. An entire raw radish with a (forgivably tasty) oyster emulsion is surprisingly hard to eat – even with a knife and fork. The kitchen hadn’t even removed the roots.
Perhaps we were missing something – but it was a poor start to a great meal.
The other thing we missed was service. The room didn’t seem particularly full the day we were there, but it took a ridiculously long time to get anyone’s attention.
I don’t usually comment on service as it’s so situational, so time sensitive and a very subjective creature, but our waitress on the day was clearly either off her game or completely under-trained.
This all said, I don’t want you to think this place is no good. It really is. There’s a lot of hype around Halcyon House and Paper Daisy – most of which I think is very much deserved. We can only comment on our own experience, most of which was extremely positive.
Halcyon House and Paper Daisy are certainly places you come for special occasions. And I do believe that coming here for your special day will make it all the more memorable.
The styling, location and general ambience of Halcyon House is a delight. You feel like you’re on a film set – somewhere between Mad Men, a Bond film and perhaps a biopic of Frank Sinatra.
Paper Daisy at Halcyon House
Good for: special birthdays and anniversaries, romantic meals and catch-ups with dear friends
Open: Breakfast 7am-9am – Lunch 12pm-3pm – Dinner 6pm-10pm
21 Cypress Crescent
If you’ve enjoyed this post, you’ll love the other things we’ve written about this part of Australia and Byron Bay:
7 best things to eat in Byron Bay.
Top things to do in Byron Bay.
Don’t forget to sign up to our weekly newsletter that I send out every Friday. In it is a rundown of the week’s posts plus news on what’s going on with us.
We also give you exclusive notice on any competitions we’re running or freebies we’re giving away. Click here to receive our newsletter and also our free ebook on travel.
Where do you go for special occasions? What’s the most beautifully styled restaurant you’ve been to recently? Tell us in the comments!
Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
Ooh this brought back memories for me! But you didn’t love the radicchio salad? That was my favourite dish!
Ah yes, that’s right, you went here last year, didn’t you, Lorraine? I do wonder if we just managed to hit a bad day for these guys. The salad – your salad was just too sweet. I was expecting the radicchio’s bitterness to cut through, but it didn’t. I’d be keen to come back one day and see if we have a different experience. I mean, it’s odd that we had such a different experience to you and a lot of other people. Or maybe I’ll just come round yours and you can make me your version of the salad! 😉