The forte of the man is fish and his passion is for fish and various cooking styles, whether in South-east Asia, India, Spain or in his native England. Rick Stein is a television, culinary and book personality and was appointed the official food Ambassador for the federation of Malaysia. He can be chatty, offer embracing smiles, make interesting observations and does not mind getting into the elements to emphasise the uniqueness of a food ingredient or the beauty of a place. I reckon I am fortunate that I live at the start of the New South Wales South Coast - and only two hours drive away from my home is where I can find one of Stein's culinary ventures in the South Seas, Bannisters Restaurant is located in Mollymook at the end of the aptly named Bannisters Hall Road, adjoining the Bannisters accommodation for guests who live a hideaway and over looking the rather captivating and sometimes calm Tasman Sea.
Passing by the village of Milton, with fine restaurants like the Bacchus and the Tipsy Fig, you turn left at the first major set of lights if you are coming from the north. Then you follow your heart down the road leading to the coast. What can you expect - England in the bush, a haven of Aussie produce or an oasis of a culinary adventure? May be it is all of these. When I last visited, the skies were cloudy but it was a summery Sunday, temperature wise. I had perceptions of fine dining, serious but attentive waiters and expensive prices. I must say Bannisters has friendly and cheerful staff, who are also well trained and bother to mention to you the details and nuances of their various dishes. It is fine dining that greet you at a place that does not open every day, offers a healthy spectrum of a menu and dishes that are priced and judged in the eyes of the beholder and diner. They had just closed for a hiatus after the breakfast session on this weekend drop by, so arriving too early for the strict 1230pm opening for lunch meant hanging out down stairs at the Pool Bar. When lunch time officially arrived at the Bannisters, the crowd was mainly Anglo-Celtic, possibly British or Australian retirees.
The dining room has a view, as it is located on an upper level of the building, with Ulladulla Bay outside beckoning you to a rather relaxing outlook. Rick Stein does believe in utilising local produce - and so here you can have your choice of the South Coast oysters, Cootamundra beef, Hervey Bay scallops, Eden mussels, Tasmanian salmon or salt water barramundi. Attention to detail
in garnishings and niche ingredients can be illustrated by the use of tamarind, tarragon, brocollini, sugar snaps, Pilau rice, Parmesan and foie-gras. Mollymook, the site of Bannisters, has a rather enchanting and clean long beach, a village-like community and an atmosphere of summer crowds and winter quiet. I was not too impressed with the look, inside or outside, of the motel-like guest rooms.
The day spas were rather quiet that Sunday.
Lunch is served on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays - this can be important to know, for passer-by visitors who are not staying overnight. I plan to try their breakfast. I am told that must haves are the Indonesian seafood curry cooked with squid, king prawns and the subtle Ling fish. Standards like the lobster Thermidor , pan fried fish plus fish and shell fish soup are in the menu. I chose the Bannisters fish pie, with a rather interesting crusty top and with yummy scallops, mushrooms, prawns and three types of fish ( snapper, salmon and barramundi) inside. I wonder if you canobtain this dish back in the original Rick Stein restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall in merry old England, but perhaps not with the barramundi included.
I eyed the Madras curry at another table, served with Blue Eye Trevalla, but we did not ask how that went with the guests.
I absolutely adored and loved my entree choice of the grilled Hervey Bay scallops served on the shell - the best thing about this dish was the exquisite and light gravy juice, served with toasted hazelnut and coriander butter. Perhaps my expectations had then been raised - and after the mains, we were rather full on in the stomach as well. There is a selection of cheeses like the Saint Agur from Auvergne, the Buche Noir made with goat's milk from the Blue Mountains in New South Wales itself and the Farmhouse Cheddar from the United Kingdom. I then had to make a moderate choice of an Affagato. At the Pool Bar, I was told about the rather lively nights during the high tourist season, but I also realised how it can be so cosy on winter evenings as well for lovers and other couples.
Licensed, Bannisters offers an impressive variety of wines by the glass or bottle, with carefully made options from estates and vineyards in Europe and Australia. Parking is rather liberal on the rough and ready ground near the ocean, as those near the resident rooms themselves can be limited in space. Some people think this place can be too inaccessible, or just a place to visit only once. Others may make it a regular stop along the way on the road trip to somewhere else. It is place to de-stress. There are no heliport pads to fly in or piers for boats to navigate to, only land access - and a vehicle is essential.
Bannisters at Mollymook, NSW South Coast, is around a three hour drive south from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is about two hours by road south of Wollongong and 45 minutes north of Batemans Bay (or over two hours from Canberra).