Bannisters opened the doors to its third luxury boutique hotel in NSW late last year and, fortunately for Novocastrians, it’s only a short drive away.
Another bonus is that a restaurant overseen by renowned chef Rick Stein himself is now within reach. If you are partial to seafood, make a booking. But more about the food later.
On the outside, the new Bannisters looks very much like the former Salamander Shores, but with a coat of white paint. Inside is where the real money has been spent and if the room we stayed in for the night is any indication of the general standard, it was money well spent.
Ours was a corner luxury suite, and surprisingly big. And by big, I mean huge. There were two bathrooms, a living room, a separate bedroom and two sliding doors opening out to a lengthy, private balcony. The blue waters of Nelson Bay can be seen through majestic gums that catch the late afternoon sunlight to perfection.
One of the bathrooms had a large bath and plantation shutters that opened to the living room which had a large couch, desk and room to swing 10 cats. The decor was understated coastal Hamptons – it didn’t feel pretentious, forced or in any way by the book. Light oak timber added warmth and as for the sea breeze pushing through the sliding doors – superb.
Oh, and the mini bar allows for a champagne bottle to stand up, even with a bottle stopper. And that’s rare.
The bedroom has a king bed, a wall-mounted television (as does the living room), access to the balcony and a large en suite.
The hotel is in entirety is also surprisingly large. Looks can be deceiving. There are 78 rooms; four luxury suites; a penthouse; 50 rooms with picture-frame water views and forest and bushland outlooks. On the top level, rooftop views take in the entire bay across to Tomaree.
The double-height lobby opens onto a stunning infinity pool and Terrace Bar where families and children are welcome for lunch or snacks. In fact, there are quite a few young ones playing board games or colouring in. There’s table service for drinks and plenty of comfortable couches to recline on.
As for Rick Stein’s at Bannisters, the dining space itself is huge with high ceilings and a large bar at the centre. There is booth and table seating, water views and the vibe is refined yet relaxed. Again, children were seen colouring in at tables.
The menu is everything you’d expect from Rick Stein and more.
As an entree we ordered warm shellfish with parsley, chilli, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice; sashimi of Tasmanian salmon, Terrigal kingfish, Coffs Harbour snapper and yellowfin tuna; handmade burrata with serrano ham and pea fricassee; and marinated yellowfin tuna with passionfruit, chilli, lime and coriander.
Impeccably presented with expertly balanced flavours, the seafood remained the hero of each dish. The salty freshness of each variety was evident and each was cooked just so. Waitstaff were happy to discuss the origins of the various items on our plates and to suggest wines – without being overbearing.
We finished up with the classic fish pie and Singapore chilli blue swimmer crab, which staff recommended be eaten by hand with a crab “cracker” and fork. A warm towel was thankfully part of the deal. It wasn’t pretty watching my companion eat the plate full of crab (images of Homer Simpson at all-you-can-eat seafood buffet the Frying Dutchman sprang to mind) but I am assured it was delicious and worth the mess.
We regretfully skipped dessert.
It’s not cheap to dine there but one expects to pay for quality.
It’s still early days at the Soldiers Point newcomer and staff were at pains to point out that the adjoining pub, for example, was getting an overhaul sooner rather than later and that parking would be improved. Valet parking is available if you don’t nab a spot close to your room. If this is a work in progress, I can’t wait to see the finished product.
The writer was a guest of Bannisters Port Stephens
The new Taste of Port Stephens package includes:
– Two nights' accommodation at Bannisters Port Stephens
– A two-course meal at Rick Stein at Bannisters restaurant (from a selected menu)
– A beer, wine or mocktail for two at The Terrace Bar
– Complimentary continental breakfast at the restaurant each morning
– Terms and conditions apply. Phone (02) 4919 3800.