I find it very easy to forget what we Sydney folk have on our doorsteps. Many of us are so caught up in our frantic lives, zipping here and there, spending way too much time stuck in traffic or crammed onto a commuter train. It sometimes makes me wonder what it is about this town that keeps me here as I always breathe easier when I’m beyond the city limits.
Earlier this year I went north and travelled about the sub-tropical towns and glorious beaches at the top of our state. A region I’ve vowed to return to for some further exploration. More recently we took a trip to the south coast, taking up an invitation to get a taste of what goes down at Bannisters in the small coastal hamlet of Mollymook.
With its lofty perch on a rocky headland, the boutique hotel is perfectly positioned for some whale-spotting. Should you be lucky enough to see one as it meanders by. For those that are familiar with Bannisters, you may notice that it’s looking a little differently to what you remember thanks to a $1 million refurbishment. A fresher look for its rooms, suites and penthouses; each of them a little (or a lot) different from the other.
We stayed in one of the Luxury Suites that take corner position overlooking the ocean and surrounding gardens. Cosy living area, fireplace, a Roman bath with ocean views and a separate king bedroom – all with a private wrap-around deck that’s a perfect possie to sit and dose up on vitamin D.
It’s difficult to miss the swimming pool on the north side of the lodge; a wedge of water that strangely never got used during our stay. It may have been heated but with outside temperatures now in their teens, getting wet outdoors wasn’t an option.
A variety of room types is available at the lodge and one that we were lucky enough to check out was The Pinnacle. This 243 sqm penthouse is the ultimate pad for luxury. Large open-plan living space, a library, home cinema, study, steam room, walk-through wardrobe, three showers and a sprawling ocean-view deck and private roof garden.
Do we have to leave?
Another part of the lodge that was refurbished only a few months ago is the restaurant – Rick Stein at Bannisters. A new entrance lobby now welcomes guests with a wall of books, eclectic pieces of furniture and a burst of patchwork colour from a wall of imported Turkish tiles. Gone are the stuffy tablecloths, organza room dividers and fabric-covered chairs. The new look is simple, light, casual and in-keeping to the oceanfront location. And you’ve got to love those multicoloured woven pendants that are made from recycled Mexican soft drink bottles.
Anyone that’s been to Bannisters knows that the menu is seafood centric. Rick Stein does have his name to the highly-priced restaurant, after all. Aside from a handful of vegetable side dishes, there were only two non-seafood dishes available. A rib eye from Cootamundra and a seasonal wild pine mushroom risotto.
Whilst the famed Brit chef may not be seen tossing pans in the Bannisters kitchen, his protégé Paul Goodenough can be. This guy has been cheffing since he was 16 and worked closely with Rick Stein at his Padstow bistro for several years. He came to Australia with a 6 month visit in mind. 2½ years have passed and he’s still quite at home being head chef at Bannisters.
The subtle smell of marinated olives wafted about as we sat down for lunch, sipping on a damn fine sauvignon blanc from New Zealand’s Wairau Valley. I believe it was Maude. Some warm sliced sourdough adds to the pre-lunch nibbles, but the hero for me had to be one of the butters that came with it. Nori butter. I even had seconds, because one medallion of butter is never enough.
Five prawn fritters (24) are fried in a thin layer of batter that’s comparable to an Indian besan-based batter. Perhaps it was. Soft and lightly flavoured, giving way to juicy hot flesh. An Indian kachumber salad – tomato, coriander, cucumber & onion – adds a little fresh crunch and Rick’s tomato chutney brings cooling sweetness.
A much more substantial starter is the warm shellfish (38) – a perfect contender for anyone that likes to dive in and get messy. Prawns, scallops, oysters, clams, mussels and blue swimmer crab; gloriously coated in olive oil, parsley, chilli, lemon and a copious amount of raw garlic. Deliciously fresh even though I would have smelled a treat afterwards.
A bowl of hand-cut chips (7) coated in rosemary and thyme starched-up our next plates of seafood. The most divine piece of local snapper (45) is delicately grilled and served with clams, mussels and spinach with a simple olive oil and lemon sauce. A little fresh chervil adds a faint aniseed flavour. It may come with a hefty price tag but it couldn’t have been cooked any more perfectly.
Things turned a tad Japanese with the local swordfish (39) thanks to it being marinated in a miso and soy dressing. A very light salad of pink grapefruit, frisée, bean and pea sprouts came with the inch-thick and rather undercooked swordfish. Those that have an aversion to seared fish may struggle with this one.
Dessert-wise, the offerings may not be excessively creative but the small choice is tempting enough. Some Australian and French cheeses are up for grabs, as well. Our pick from the sweets – a honey and cardamom panna cotta (14) that delightfully jiggles as it’s lowered to the table. Almond & coconut granola arcs by its side with stewed apricots taking the crown. Loved it.
Mollymook Beach may be the best bet for the closest stretch of surf and sand to the lodge, should the swimming pool not cut it for some cooling-down action. It may not have squeaky white sand, but Jones’s Beach below the lodge is a gorgeous and relatively secluded spot to take in the views; perhaps even a sunset.
The Bannisters swimming pool isn’t all about getting wet, either. The Pool Bar welcomes in-house guests early in the afternoon (visitors after 6pm) for drinks and lighter meals like stone-baked pizzas and smaller nibbles. I can confidently vouch for the Gods G&T (18) – a delicious step away from the traditional gin & tonic – shaken with lime sorbet and fresh lime. Talk about refreshing and a challenge to stop at one.
It was dinner in for this pair. A rather light salt & pepper squid (19.8) with salad, and for me, the wagyu beef burger (19.8) with Swiss cheese, gherkins and the usual burger suspects. I’m sure if I’d asked I could have ordered it less cooked than the well-done that I got. More relaxing drinks and a leisurely walk up two flights of stairs and we were home.
Well, for a little while anyway.