>  Destinations   >  Australia   >  Ballina restaurants not to miss and why

It doesn’t matter whether you are dining in Ballina or beyond, when you’re after a good meal there is one sure way to find it. Look for a place with a queue out the door. You might have to be patient to get a table but it’s true what they say. Good things do come to those who wait. So it was at The Belle General, a funky cafe at East Ballina opened by sisters Sarah Baldwin and Kyla Plummer and their cousin Jacqui McCoach less than six months ago. Good news obviously travels fast as the Belle was doing a roaring trade when we arrived at 9.30am on Saturday morning.  

Coffee at The Belle General
Belle General menu
Specials at The Belle General

Specials were written on brown paper and put up beside the counter where customers waited patiently to place their orders. I loved the community vibe of this place. Everyone stopped by each other’s tables to catch up on the latest gossip while kids peeked out of their prams. A couple of patient dogs sat under their owner’s outside tables, sniffing the air in the hope they might be given a piece of bacon. Good call, doggies. Like most of the things on the menu, the bacon at The Belle General is 100% local and seriously good. 

Hanging out with the locals

We asked the girl behind the counter for recommendations and they were spot on. We couldn’t help but wonder if she was psychic as both suggestions were two of our favourite things: French toast and Mexican. My husband opted for one of the specials, quinoa French toast with seasonal fruit, cinnamon yoghurt and maple syrup and I had the mighty breakfast burrito. We don’t have any food allergies or dietary concerns but if you do, this place is heaven on a plate. Almost everything is gluten free and dietary issues are catered for with a smile.  

French toast at The Belle General
Breakfast burrito

I’m not a big French toast fan but the Belle’s was tempting. I loved the quality of the produce and the beautiful presentation. My husband dived into his meal so quickly that I was lucky to get a photo. It must have been good because even though he isn’t usually a big fruit eater he devoured the lot. I can’t get enough Mexican so the burrito was perfect for me. I liked the fact that the beans were mild but came with hot sauce on the side so you could spice them up. Same goes for the diced tomato, purple onion and parsley salsa. Unlike me, not everyone likes raw onion but it added real zing to the dish.  

Shelly Beach is just across the road from The Belle General

After breakfast we went for a walk on Shelly Beach then headed for the hills to visit Summerland House Farm. Located on 172 acres on the scenic Alstonville plateau, the farm has sweeping views of the hinterland and sells the region’s award winning produce. If you are travelling with kids, the playground and waterplay area offers plenty of free fun. Mini-golf and tractor rides are also available at a nominal charge. When you are exploring the Ballina Coast and hinterland, you quickly discover that one of the most impressive things about it is the food. We had heard great things about the Summerland House Farm cafe where everything is made on-site. Unfortunately we were both still too full from breakfast but the high tea set up looked beautiful. We bought some local coffee and a bag of macadamias that were grown right there on the farm. Summerland House Farm’s combination of quality activities, well maintained gardens and friendly ‘feel-good’ service makes it well worth a visit, particularly if you are travelling with children.  

High tea setting at Summerland House Farm
Inside the Eltham Valley pantry

Our last stop of the day initially had us wondering if we were on a wild goose chase. According to our map the Eltham Valley Pantry was only a few minutes away but there was nothing around except cows. This wasn’t the kind of place you’d expect to find an award winning dining spot but we turned a corner and there it was, a pretty restored farmhouse-turned-cafe. Only one thing gave away its iconic status: a large carpark shaded by pecan trees. This was relatively empty when we arrived but after dining here, I can imagine it is often packed. Eltham Valley Pantry may be in the country but it’s actually not that far away. The cafe is half way between Lismore and Byron Bay so whether you’re staying in Ballina or Byron, it is a good option for breakfast or lunch.  

Outside on the veranda

We sat on the veranda overlooking the pecan orchard with a glass of wine and perused the menu. It is priced differently for weekdays and weekends, with dishes costing a dollar or two less during the week. I’ve never seen this before but it makes sense.  With its beautiful country atmosphere and bucolic charm, Eltham Valley Pantry is no doubt a favourite destination for weekend drives but would likely be slow midweek. Whatever time you decide to go, this pretty cafe is well worth a visit. My salad was comprised of slices of pumpkin arranged on a plate and topped with rocket, dates, pecans and quality feta cheese. Raspberry vinaigrette cut through the sweetness of the feta and was the perfect accompaniment.  

Roast pumpkin salad at the Eltham Valley Pantry
Prawn & chorizo spaghetti

Once again, my husband chose the special. This time it was spaghetti served with plump prawns, sliced chorizo, purple onion and perfectly cooked greens. Simple but delicious. As was the case with my salad, the flavour and quality of the produce shone through. Ballina and its surrounding hinterland is fast earning a reputation as a significant regional dining destination. This may have been our first visit but it certainly won’t be the last.  

Disclosure: The writer was a guest of the Legendary Pacific Coast.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.