Byron Bay’s culinary landscape has exploded in recent years, and the launch of The Smoking Camel (by the team behind Light Years) only heightens the hype. Designed by Week Days Design and helmed by executive chef Robbie Oijvall and head chef Joachim Borenius, The Smoking Camel boasts a bold Middle Eastern-inspired ambiance and a playful menu combining Levantine flavors from Lebanon, Turkey, and Israel.
Mezze options feature traditional dips, BBQ plates include baharat beef shish and shawarma spiced chicken, and salads showcase watermelon and shanklish combinations. Desserts like ‘desert mess’ and saffron rice pudding add a sweet finish. The drinks list, curated by Sean Duncan, offers unique cocktails, and a focus on Lebanese wines from the Bekaa Valley.
The 55-seat venue’s transformation from the original Light Years exudes opulence with gilded interiors, curved archways, and gold camel cutouts, creating a nostalgic yet vibrant atmosphere reminiscent of Middle Eastern metropolises. Here, T Australia sat down with Borenius to talk about his pathway to the venue, home cooking, and his recipe for prawns with café de Cairo and curry leaves.
On becoming a chef…
I started cooking when I was tall enough to reach up to the kitchen counter at home, even if I was standing on a stool. We cooked a lot together as a family and we had some fantastic fun together with food growing up in a family of six. But I didn’t start my professional path as a chef until I had completed my military service as a tank gunner and a couple of years of mechanical engineering. Cooking was always my passion, so it was just a question of time.
On maintaining drive…
[I’m] driven most days by a passion for food, a desire to work with a younger generation of hospitality talent that I love sharing knowledge and experiences with, and some days by just plain old stubbornness.
On unwinding after service…
Unwinding is usually with my wife, chatting about our days at work, watching some Netflix or spinning some vinyls. I have gathered a rather decent collection over the years!
On The Smoking Camel…
I’m so excited to be cooking with fire again. It’s such an inspiring medium to try and tame and channel. And also to sink my teeth creatively and professionally into middle eastern food. A cuisine I’ve prior really just used for comfort and not seen myself being overly creative with… But the flavours are bold and powerful, so I feel right at home.
On the venues that excite him at the moment…
Ollie Wong serves up a very unique offering at Bar Heather which is located in the Jonson Lane precinct. This is a great little foodie hub which includes Light Years Asian Diner and Pixie Food and Wine.
The Smoking Camel’s neighbour, Moonlight Hibachi Bar, is another must when you’re in town. They serve up contemporary Japanese fusing traditional cooking methods with modern and unique flavour combinations. Highly recommend pulling up a seat at the bar so you can watch the action unfold.
Finally, Eltham Hotel is a firm favourite and I’m very intrigued to see where Alanna Sapwell is steering this countryside institution with her fresh ideas. I’m a massive sucker for a proper Australian pub and this place hits all the right notes!
Prawns with Café de Cairo and Curry Leaves
Ingredients for Prawns
4 large prawns, butterflied
4 tsp café de Cairo butter
Curry leaf (quickly fried in some oil in the frying pan and drained on kitchen towel)
Ingredients for Café de Cairo
500 gr unsalted butter
½ tsp fenugreek powder
1.5 tsp cumin powder
½ tsp cardamon powder
½ tsp black mustard seeds
½ tsp tumeric powder
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
½ tsp ground black pepper
100 ml white soy
Heat your butter in a saucepan on a medium heat until the butter begins to foam and turn slightly brown in colour.
Remove from the heat and whisk in your spices. then slowly add the light soy whisky frequently. Continue to whisk occasionally as the butter cools down to ensure the flavours mix through evenly.
Set aside at room temperature. After use, refrigerate any remainder for next time.
Using a pair of sharp kitchen scissors, split the upside-down prawn all the way from bottom to head, but only cut through the shell. Lay the prawn flat on a cutting board and split it lengthwise but be careful not to cut through the top side shell.
Remove the black string from the stomach that goes through the tail. give them a light rinse to remove any stomach residue and pat dry.
Season the flesh side of the prawn with some sea salt flakes and drizzle with some olive oil.
Add the prawn shell side down to a medium hot BBQ , hibachi or a frying pan and cook until the meat starts turning from opaque to white. Flip the prawn over for about 10 seconds to give the meat side some colour.
Take off the heat and onto a serving plate, add a generous amount of the butter to the prawns and garnish with some curry leaves that has been quickly fried in some oil and a wedge of lemon.