There’s no shortage of excellent restaurants and bars in Byron Bay. The coastal town is bursting with local talent, and has recently lured some of Australia’s best chefs and restaurateurs – including Bondi Icebergs’ Maurice Terzini, who opened Belongil Beach Italian Food in 2021, as well as Joachim Borenius (ex-Mjolner Sydney) who, until recently, was head chef at modern Asian diner Light Years. Now Borenius is helming the team’s latest venture: The Smoking Camel, a vibrant Middle Eastern-inspired bar and restaurant in the old Light Years space.
Last year, co-owners Robbie Oijvall, Kim Stephen and James Sutherland moved Light Years to a much larger home in the new Jonson Lane precinct and began renovating the Lawson Street site. Seven months later, and it’s almost unrecognisable. Follow the bright neon-yellow light to the entrance: a doorframe cut out like a traditional curved ogee arch. Step inside the space, decorated in bold colours and playful patterns, and you’ll feel like you’ve arrived at the ultimate Arabian Nights-themed party. There’s chequerboard flooring, orange tiling and neon-lit artworks, plus a disco ball and a smoke machine to kickstart the good times – and keep them going until late.
“The only thing that’s still the same [about the space], is the bar,” Borenius tells Broadsheet. “But it’s been repainted and cladded with brass – it’s quite unique looking. It sets a really nice escapist backdrop for the food, and I am really excited to see it all come together.”
Borenius worked with Oijvall – who’s also the group’s executive chef – on the menu. Expect a modern twist on Levantine cuisine, mixing flavours from Lebanon, Turkey, Israel and beyond. Dishes are designed to share. There are mezze options, like smashed falafel drizzled in garlic yoghurt, hummus served with harissa oil and marinated chickpeas, and – to mop up all the goodness – grilled pita bread.
But the barbeque section of the menu is what Borenius is most excited about.
“I’ve cooked with fire before and it’s just one of those mediums that, as primal as it is, it’s just very inspiring and fun and flavourful to cook with. There are endless opportunities for heating, smoking and all that kind of stuff.”
In the kitchen there’s a large barbeque and grill imported from Brazil, with a big rotisserie spit mounted inside. Soon, the team will trial different produce to roast rotisserie-style over the charcoal, but for now it’s serving up barbeque king prawns with café de Cairo (a herby butter) and curry leaves; baharat-spiced beef plated with sumac onions; and shawarma-spiced chicken and pickled chillies, drizzled with toum.
As you’d expect from a self-proclaimed “party venue”, there’s an impressive drinks list. Cocktails lean into the Middle Eastern theme. Sip on a Turkish Delight made with Brookie’s gin, pomegranate, cranberry, rose and lime, or The Oasis, the house twist on a Margarita. Beers are from local brewers, and there’s a mix of new- and old-world wines, including drops from Lebanese and Turkish producers.
The team is excited to see the impact the venue has on Byron Bay’s growing food and drink scene.
“The dining scene [in Byron Bay] is ripe for the plucking,” says Borenius. “There are a few little branches on that tree where there are cuisines that aren’t entirely represented, and I have to say that Middle Eastern is one of those cuisines … so it’s going to be a great venue for that reason. And vibe-wise, too, we’ve had a lot of fun with the space … it really offers a bit of escapism.”