When Jason Barratt was honeymooning at Halcyon House in 2017, it didn't cross his mind that he'd end up replacing the boutique hotel's chef, Ben Devlin, just 18 months later.
"We stayed for a week and we didn't leave the place. We turned our phones off. We turned our computers off. And we ate at Paper Daisy. I'm a big fan of Ben Devlin," says Barratt, who winds up his current short-lived stint as head chef at the revamped Raes Dining Room at Raes on Wategos, Byron Bay in mid-March. "I feel such a strong connection to this place."
After four years at Paper Daisy, Halcyon House's restaurant, Devlin is moving on to open Pipit, his first venture as an owner (together with wife Yen Trinh) in Pottsville, northern New South Wales. Devlin casually canvassed Barratt about the role when the pair worked at a drought fundraiser event late last year.
"He asked if I knew anyone who might be interested. At first, I didn't put too much thought into it but after Christmas they reached out again," Barratt says. "I definitely wasn't looking for a new job," says Barratt. But chatting to mates in the industry convinced him to make the leap.
"When opportunities like this come up you need to explore them. It just seemed like the obvious next step for me," says Barratt, whose CV includes time at Attica and Stokehouse Melbourne, and as the one-time co-owner at Richmond sandwich go-to, Hector's Deli.
When Barratt takes over the kitchen in early April, the most obvious gear-shift will be changing the current dégustation format, to what Barratt hopes will be a more approachable à la carte offering.
"It will still predominantly be seafood-focused, with fairly light dishes and lots of vegetable-based options," says Barratt. If his time at Raes is any indication, diners can expect more of the Mediterranean-ish coastal-style dishes he's finessed during his time at Byron Bay. Options may include spicy tuna with apple, lap cheong and lemon, steamed clams in a broth with fennel and fregola, and lemon aspen tart with vanilla-bean cream for dessert.
Though there'll be a selection of pasta dishes, as per the menu at Raes, Barratt says Paper Daisy definitely "won't be a pasta restaurant". But there will be plenty of bivalves.
"We're still at the brainstorming stage but there will also be a strong focus on oysters," he says. "I've spent a lot of time creating relationships with farmers and suppliers. At Raes we've got some of the best oysters in the region – and they'll be coming with me to Paper Daisy."
Barratt's move may be Byron Bay's loss, but it's Cabarita Beach's gain.
Paper Daisy, Halcyon House, 21 Cypress Cres, Cabarita Beach, NSW, halyconhouse.com.au