By David Naylor
I spent two nights at Bannisters by the Sea, right on the point at Mollymook. A spring sea breeze kept the days mild. The sun shone but it was a gentle light. The sea was moody, as south coast seas are.
Some people like that — people who love and understand the south coast of NSW. I’m one of them.
I have a lifetime of south coast memories. Camping at Gerroa as a boy. Living on the beach at Towradgi. Holidays at Narooma and Bateman’s Bay. And dividing my time, for the past 30 years, between Sydney and a beach house on Jervis Bay.
We are different from the sun junkies who seek year-round heat up north. We appreciate the change of seasons, the warmth of summer, the open fires of winter, the gentle light and cooler nights of autumn and spring, seas that aren’t always mirror blue.
I like the north coast too, for different reasons, and I love my family and friends who live there. I’m amused by their fear of the mythical frozen lands to the south of Sydney, and I have news for them: You would love Bannisters. You can melt there in summer as much you melt in the north.
So, Bannisters was a joy for me. I felt right at home in my corner clifftop suite, looking down at the not-quite angry sea attack the headland rocks.
The Rick Stein connection
I arrived on a Sunday afternoon, in time for the live music in the bar overlooking the infinity pool, lawn, scrub and ocean. The local singer played a number of instruments, but mainly guitar. I liked his sound. There was a buzz in the bar, almost a crowd, and that’s something you don’t often get in my part of Sydney, where Sunday night dies. Bannisters is just an hour’s drive from my Jervis Bay beach house. I’ll be there for more Sunday evenings: Beer and music in the bar, followed by dinner at the resort’s famous Rick Stein seafood restaurant, aptly named Rick Stein at Bannisters.
Bannisters and Rick Stein go together. He has a house down the road, looking out across the ocean. You can rent it through Bannisters when he’s not there. And he’s often elsewhere, either at his permanent home in Cornwall, or in Asia and other exotic places discovering the amazing dishes and cooking styles that influence his menu.
That night in the restaurant, I ordered Oysters Charentaise, an entree that the menu describes as a ‘seemingly odd combination’ of fresh oysters and spicy sausages. You eat an oyster, take a bite of sausage, then wash it down with a cold white. Now, as I write, I am craving a repeat. Maybe I’ll go out and buy some oysters and spicy snags right now. Thank you, Mr Stein.
My main was the Indonesian seafood curry with kingfish, ling, squid and king prawns, served with green beans, coconut salad and rice. I usually make an unfashionable point of not writing about what I have for dinner. It has to be brilliant. Say no more.
Rick Stein at Bannisters is a dining experience worth having and sharing. The wonderful food, service and ambience will set you back an average $28 for an entree and $40 for a main.
Even if he does say so himself, Rick Stein’s description of his own restaurant is spot on when he describes the fare as “fresh fish simply cooked… a lick of butter sauce here, a dab of mayonnaise, or a little chilli or a splash of olive oil… seafood as it should be with some great chilled white wines and lovely, friendly staff.”
Do something, do nothing
My spa suite had a separate bedroom with a super comfortable queen bed. I kept a door open so the sound of the sea could lull me to sleep.
In the morning, I woke myself up with a spa in my own turbo tub looking out across the living area and balcony to the horizon beyond. I then strolled over to the restaurant for a fine cooked breakfast eaten out on the terrace, looking down on the Moroccan-themed landscaping at lawn-level that turns into an outdoors pop-up champagne bar during the summer months.
Later, I read a book for hours on my balcony and listened to the birds in the trees all around me. I could have done that all day. It’s a rare indulgence usually denied by a busy life. But I resisted total indolence and eventually dragged myself down to Mollymook Beach. I could have swum. The sun was warm enough, but I was happy to just walk and feel the sea breeze.
Way out beyond the breakers, whales would have been passing on their annual passage south. They head north in autumn-winter, south in spring. if whale-watching is your thing, this is one place you can do it, between May and November. If whales don’t thrill you, there are plenty of other fun things to do on this stretch of coast.
Personally, I find much of the pleasure in staying at a place like Bannisters comes from doing very little. It’s good to know the activities are available if you somehow get a burst of inexplicable physical energy that you need to expend with golf, scuba diving, snorkelling, fishing, surfing, kayaking or bushwalking. There are also sunset cruises, wineries, shopping, cafes and restaurants to enjoy.
Rick Stein at Bannisters is closed on Monday nights, so that evening, I settled into the pool bar for a few drinks and one of their lovely light meals. I had pizza. Good pizza. Definitely not light. But if you don’t have pizza, then your choices are all light, as meals should be in an upmarket bar.
The Colette Dinnigan connection
After breakfast on my last morning at Bannisters, I enjoyed a leisurely tour of the rooms and facilities. It was fantastic in the literal sense of the word, as I mentally fantasised about how I would enjoy each of the fabulous accommodation options on offer, if money were no object.
First stop was the Pinnacle, a huge and spacious super-luxurious apartment with uninterrupted ocean views. I imagined myself as CEO of a company, staying here for a board meeting or conference around the big table, which could also double as a dining table.
There is an adjoining lounge area where we would retire for drinks at the end of the day. My fellow board members, of course, would have to stay in the lesser but nonetheless unrestrained luxury of the smaller suites below.
I was then shown the gorgeous Collette Dinnigan suites, with interiors created by the famous fashion designer turning her talents for the first time to interior design. There is a fresh sunlit holiday flavour to everything, lots of space and light, original art work, comfortable flop furniture, and a sense of style that is subtle and welcoming.
Of course, there is a wide variety of other accommodation options at Bannisters, starting at $255 a night in the low season to $1475 a night for The Pinnacle in peak season.
Just down the road
Bannisters Pavilion is a second property just down the hill. It was still being constructed when I was there, but completion was expected in December. I was shown one lovely suite that had been finished and fitted out for display, but my interest was drawn to the rooftop swimming pool that juts out over the entrance below, complete with see-through bottom.
Bannisters Pavilion is close to the beach, and guests are free to enjoy all the extra facilities available nearby at the sister site, including the day spa, where full-day and half-day packages are available for all the massaging, wraps, facials and general pampering you can stand.
One last stop
My time was up. I hit the road back to Sydney, but seven minutes later, I stopped at Milton. It’s one of those towns you get on the NSW coast, a collision of craft, coffee, sourdough, organics and hippy-chic gifts, in a similar mould to Bangalow, Berry and Kangaroo Valley, and definitely worth stopping for. I browsed, bought a door mat shaped like a kombi van and enjoyed good coffee.
Back in Sydney, I am already planning my next visit to the Mollymook-MIlton region. The coast is calling me, and soon I will take the road south again to Bannisters, following the lure of the moody sea.