After retiring from a very long teaching career, my new career is: travelling, blogging and writing from the beautiful northern end of the NSW coast.
You can follow my journey at maureendurney.com/
Life is Good!
Published September 20th 2016
A Long Way Up, But Worth The Climb
Recently a few friends and I decided to head into town to watch the Tweed Valley Banana Festival. We planned to get there early enough to get a good spot to watch the parade, and find a parking spot, figuring it might be a bit crowded downtown. But when we drove into the Council carpark we were surprised at how many empty spaces there were. The next surprise was the traffic; why were there so many cars cruising up and down the street - weren't the streets supposed to be closed? It was about then that we did a quick calculation. Well, it wasn't really quick. We first had to walk up to where the festival sign was - the one with the date of the street closures on it, then we had to try really hard to work out what the date was that day. It's amazing how hard that was for four recent retirees. And somewhere amid all the calculations we discovered we were actually a week early. Somehow, this was starting to become a pattern in my life, but that's another story (you could read my article about the Crystal Creek Cafe to know how that goes).
This is the Banana Festival we were expecting to see...
Oh well, not to waste a beautiful day, we went in search of sustenance, well, at least a coffee. With no shortage of fantastic cafes in town, we headed off down Main Street. As we approached the sign advertising The Balcony Restaurant, I casually asked if anyone had been there, but none of us had. Luckily there was a board on the footpath advertising menu items, including milkshakes, so I was able to convince the others that it might be time to check this place out (based on my addiction to milkshakes). The items on the board were reasonably priced, including vegetarian options, which made the decision a bit easier.
The Balcony Restaurant is opposite the Court House, and accessed by a long, steep staircase. We all decided we needed the exercise, so up we went. I was instantly impressed by what I saw. I had imagined a dark room lacking in ambience, but I was pleasantly surprised. The room was large with nicely laid out tables, and had a very peaceful, welcoming feel to it. There was a flood of natural light coming in from the open area on the 'balcony' - hence the name, no doubt - which provided a feeling of warmth and welcome. The decorative items strategically placed around the room created a very calming effect. On one side there was a small shelf that held bamboo-like plants and a Buddha statue, and on the other side, a decorative candle. With tables directly in front, it wasn't hard to picture a peaceful Friday night dinner, with the cares of the working week melting away with every mouthful (and/or sip), and every flicker from the candles on the opposite wall. Just saying..., for those of you still in the work routine.
A peaceful ambience awaits at the top of the stairs
We had arrived around lunchtime and yet we were the only ones there, which was a little concerning. I usually judge cafes by the number of people who patronise them, assuming that if a lot of people dine there, it must be good. But, we were up for a challenge, so we plunged right in at the deep end and chose a table on the balcony. After all, it was a beautiful day - the sun was shining, and all was (almost) right with the world, given our deficits in the time-management area.
While most of the seating is inside, there's a great view if you venture onto the balcony
There were a number of interesting choices on the menu so it wasn't too easy to choose, but we managed. The lovely young waitress couldn't have been more helpful, to the point of running downstairs to the supermarket to buy malt, just for my chocolate milkshake with double malt. Now you don't get that kind of service every day.
So many choices - definitely need another visit to try more of these
But the best part was the view. Had we not been a week early for the Banana Festival, we would have had a perfect view of the whole parade as it wound its way along Main Street. Sitting above the world, as it seemed we were, brought back memories of when I was a child, looking out my grandparents second-floor front window at the Sydney street below. Well, maybe there was a lot more traffic in Sydney than here in Murwillumbah, but it had the same old feeling of having a bird's eye view of life as it passed by.
The view of the parade would have been great... if we'd been on time
By the time we had finished our lunches, the cafe had started filling up. There were families, and couples, who considered the trek up the long staircase worth it for the great dining experience, and the view. Because the restaurant is in a prime position within the Northern Rivers region, it comes as no surprise that as much as possible, the culinary delights are created using fresh produce from local farmers and suppliers. With the plight of Australian farmers in the limelight lately, it's good to know our local farmers are being supported at the local level. Besides, if you know the local area, you'd also know the quality of what's grown around here.
It's a long way to the top..., if you want to see the view
Being a licensed premises, and BYO, The Balcony has 'stronger' beverages than your average milkshake, but being amidst a group of non-drinkers, none of us could comment on these in terms of variety or price. If you're worried they mightn't have your favourite wine, you could always bring your own (there is a corkage fee).
If wine isn't your thing, you could order a fresh fruit juice, made right there in the kitchen. It really doesn't get better than this for me, with the choice of a milkshake when I need decadence to feed the soul, and fresh juice when I need a healthy option for the body.
And now for a really healthy option
Lunch and dinnermenus can be found on The Balcony website, as well as details about opening times. It might be worth noting they are closed on Sundays and Mondays. But for the rest of the week, you can climb those stairs and have a wine or two, or try a great milkshake (I can certainly vouch for the chocolate, double malt variety) while you decide on what to order for lunch or dinner. While the menu has a range of dietary specific items, dietary requirements can be catered for because meals are cooked fresh, and to order.
There's something homely about the pots and exposed beams
To sum up the experience of our impromptu dining experience on that fateful day, I'd say the climb to the top of those steep stairs was worth it. Being vegetarians, we were all impressed by the number of vegetarian options available. And for the gluten free among us, they were catered for as well. Do yourself a favour and check out The Balcony Restaurant soon. If you're coming from out of town, it might be worth phoning first to make sure the opening times coincide with your needs, just to be sure. According to the website they usually aren't open for lunch on Saturdays, but they were the day we discovered The Balcony.