Concealed within the curve of Little Beach lies a refurbished boathouse overlooking a long jetty that juts out over the golden sand and blue water of Port Stephens. Here, white walls, white tables, white chairs, white plates, white serviettes ... white clouds and white sand meet blue sky and blue water. It blends into a casually serene dining experience that makes The Bathers Pavilion look like a haughty little shanty by the sea.
Split between two levels, with a restaurant up top and a bar below, Little Beach Boathouse is a hidden gem between the world-class waterways of Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay, where good food and drink is equally matched to outstanding views and easy going vibes.
The bar below is the go for spending a lazy afternoon, sometime between lunch and dinner, where bar snacks and share foods are available. Order a schooner of local beer ($7-$9.5), or a glass of Hunter Valley wine ($7-$40), while you share a plate of pork belly sliders ($18), wonton crisps ($5), and a bowl of rosemary-salted fries ($8) with mates. Or, go solo with some churros drizzled with hot chocolate sauce ($10), and an espresso martini ($16).
The restaurant above is better for a proper lunch or dinner, should you be so inclined. The white-on-white fit-out gives the dining space a clean, fresh and modern look, while retaining the old boatshed's nautical charms; a splash of old navy blue on a wall up the back, and a row of dark timber slats in the ceiling give the room a casual calmness. The wait-staff reflect the friendly, leisurely vibes of the boathouse in their bearing, but the service is as swift as ever.
While the lunch food menu doesn't drift too far from the standard meals we know and love about a small-town seaside set-up, there is a distinctly fresh Mediterranean/Asian twist to the fare. Take, for example, a half ($18.5) or dozen ($32) serve of Port Stephen's finest rock oysters. Served natural, with or without, either a yuzu vinaigrette or Japanese shiso dressing. Indeed, the yuzu dressing adds a deft touch of sweet tang to the invigorating sea-spray freshness of these bivalve molluscs.
Meanwhile, the chermoula roasted chicken breast ($33), served with roast pumpkin, Binnorie feta, beetroot puree and rocket, or, the ravioli ($27) - made fresh by local pasta masters Pasta di Porto - brings the distinct flavours of the Med to bear on the Boathouse's tasty cuisine by sea.
Order the 'bowl of shells' and receive a small heap of steamed mussels swimming in a red broth tasting of tomatoes, chilli and chopped herbs. Strands of angel hair chilli give a kick to the meaty mussel flavours soaking in a salted tomato broth flecked with pepper and freshly chopped parsley and chives. Slices of crusty bread add texture and help soak up the briny red sauce. The dish is made that much more delicious with a glass of Tallavera Vermentino ($7.5) white wine.
If you prefer the freshly caught sea-meat of cephalopods, cooked to tender al-dente perfection, you can't go past the often maligned and over-looked salt and pepper squid, here served with tangy pickled fennel, super crunchy fries and a somewhat wanting garden salad ($26). Still, the rest of the plate is a pure pleasure to ingest, as you look out beyond the azure blue of the bay.
A cold, frosty glass of Murray's Whale Ale ($7.5) completes the scene and the day is officially declared happy.
- What: Little Beach Boathouse (Restaurant)
- Where: 4 Victoria Parade, Nelson Bay
- Owner: Alicia and Luke Cameron, Charlie Culver and Ben Wade.
- Drinks: Top local beer and wine, cider, clever cocktails, spirits and soft drinks
- Hours: Tues-Sat 12pm-2pm (lunch), 5pm-9pm (dinner), Sun 11:30am-2:30pm (lunch)
- Vegetarian: Yes
- Bottom Line: $80 for two for lunch (incl. drinks)
- Wheelchair Access: Yes
- Do Try: Port Stephens rock oysters, bowl of shells