BANNISTERS: Mollymook’s Motel with the Mostest

Kate Ayrton finds something fishy and fabulous on Australia’s scenic South Coast.

Bannisters guests generally fall into two categories: those who have been and those who have not. The first are a devoted lot who return on a regular basis to graze at Rick Stein’s famous table while taking in the fresh seaside air and stunning ocean views. The second simply don’t know what they’re missing. Many people think of Bannisters as just a motel, but following a succession of upgrades and refurbishments with no expense spared, Bannisters is way more than just a motel. It’s an oasis of cool, comfort and charm; perfect for a relaxed weekend getaway for stressed out urbanites – if you can get a reservation!

Perched on a rocky outcrop in the seaside town of Mollymook on the NSW South Coast, Bannisters is an easy 3-hour scenic drive from Sydney and offers a range of 4.5 star accommodation rooms, all beautifully appointed with the requisite mod cons. Each room has it’s own private balcony with a relaxed yet modern beachy feel overlooking either the infinity pool or the ocean. But the main drawcard is the restaurant: Rick Stein at Bannisters. This iconic British chef with four restaurants in Padstow on the Cornish Coast has his fingers in lots of pies, be it hotels, cooking schools, delis, patisseries, gift shops or fishmongers. His love of the sea and hospitality has made him a legend in the UK, and now fortunately for us here in Australia.

Stein has had a soft spot for the South Coast since he first visited in the sixties. (Apparently it was an oyster that did it!) But the lure of a good woman also helps and so when he fell in love with an Aussie girl who shared his passion for the sea, the decision to open up a restaurant here in 2009 was an easy one. But keeping his seafood empire running is no easy task, so he splits his time between Padstow, London, Sydney and Mollymook, dropping in for special events and to check up on the place when he can. To meet the man himself try to time your getaway with one of Bannister’s popular long table lunches or dinners – this year’s guest speakers include Colette Dinnigan, Catriona Rowntree, Layne Beachley and Kirk Pengilly, and two events with Rick Stein.

After a refreshing dip in the sapphire blue swimming pool and a colourful cocktail at the hip pool bar, we retreated to our luxurious Penthouse suite for a long hot soak in the enormous oval tub big enough for three before heading out to dinner. The restaurant was packed even on a Sunday night and the room was buzzing. Deciding what to eat was the biggest challenge, but with some expert guidance from the friendly and knowledgeable staff, we happily feasted on Rick’s famous Bannisters Fish Pie, his signature fish and chips, and his Indonesian Seafood Curry with Ling, Barramundi, Squid and King Prawns while drinking in the local scene over a crisp little bottle of Richland Pinot Grigio from nearby Griffith. The meal lived up to all the hype and the service was top notch.

Our tummies blissfully full we padded back up the stairs to our commodious suite, more like an apartment, and threw open the sliding doors. The night was perfect – the warm air was still, the Southern Cross was blinking into view, and on the horizon a beautiful harvest full moon was slowly rising. Like naughty kids on a sleepover, we stripped the bed and took our duvet and pillows out to the large daybed on the terrace and slept al fresco under the moonlight listening to the sound of the surf. Hands down, best sleep ever! And the sunrise was equally magnificent. Wow factor? High.

While there is no shortage of fun things to do in the area from sailing, golf and whale watching to visiting local wineries, markets and artist studios, many prefer to just chill out on the property with a good book by the pool or take a leisurely walk along the soft sands of nearby Narrawallee and Mollymook beaches. For a bit of R&R, slip into the on-site boutique day spa. Fitted out with a large hammam steam room and rain showers, the spa has four indoor treatment rooms and one large outdoor area ideal for couples with a range of enticing treatments to choose from including a ‘Tibetan Healing Ritual’ complete with singing bowls. My relaxation massage was just what the doctor ordered before the long drive back home. By the time we reached Sydney, it was as if I had woken from the most wonderful dream.

Rates: Rooms start at AU$250 p/night mid-week and go up to $1475 p/night for The Pinnacle suite (peak season), including breakfast. Bannisters now also have three local beach houses for holiday rental, including Rick Stein’s beach house, aka ‘Rick’s Place’. To find out more visit www.bannisters.com.au /
191 Mitchell Parade, Mollymook, NSW / Ph: (02) 4455 3044

For more information on what to see and do on the South Coast go to www.visitnsw.com or read our GUIDE here.

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