Rick Stein is a champion of seafood. With multiple eateries centred on the Cornish seaside town of Padstow and focused on flavours from the sea, he established Rick Stein at Bannisters in Mollymook in 2009, based on memories of eating south coast oysters in the sixties.
Anyone who has stayed at that Bannisters or visited the restaurant will know that seafood features heavily on the menu, as well as his other beloved cuisine – Indian. Visions of a sweaty Rick over a stove in Mumbai come to mind, perhaps not perfect, but he’s passionate, honest and authentic about the food. It’s real and it counts.
The recently opened Bannisters at Soldiers Point has many similarities to its sister site at Mollymook – from its private idyllic waterside locale, to the infinity pool and beyond. And, of course, the Rick Stein restaurant.
There are matches between the menus too, some dishes are identical, some have a local twist and others are new. Designed with head chef Mitchell Turner, it’s a menu to delight and pay homage to the seafood wonderland we have off the coast.
The restaurant space is contemporary but classic, chic but relaxed. The floor-to-ceiling windows mean all tables overlook the lawn and towards the water.
A trio of local rock oysters is on offer and I’m curious to see if there really is that much difference in the flavour between Oyster Cove, Karuah and Salamander Bay. There is. It ranges from creamy to a strong mineral aftertaste, to briny and even a subtle sweetness. With a glass of Chandon, it’s summery and lovely.
Move from cold to cooked seafood with the warm shellfish bowl. Brimming with prawns, crab, mussels, oysters, clams and scallops, get ready to get messy. It all swims in a big pool of parsley, chilli, garlic, olive oil and lemon.
A striking black cuttlefish risotto has vibrant strips of green parsley and a halo of yellow oil to bring it to life. The chunks of cuttlefish are tender but with bite, as is the rice, and the dish is surprisingly cheesy with plenty hidden in the silky sauce.
I ate at Mollymook a few years ago, and decided to revisit the dish I had sampled then: the classic fish pie. It’s decidedly English and full of briny morsels that surprise with every scoop. I discover fish pieces (snapper and mahi mahi), salmon, mussels, prawn, a scallop and mushrooms hidden in the creamy fish veloute sauce. A crunchy breadcrumb and parmesan topping adds that different texture. It’s warming and the individual flavours hold their own.
If you want to experience a little spice, be sure to try the Madras curry with swordfish from Mooloolaba. The curry is strong with tomato and tamarind and is rich and full of flavour. The two pieces of fish manage to stay flaky and moist, not dry as swordfish can become if overcooked. Served with fluffy pilau rice, hot naan and sweet mango chutney, it packs some punch on the heat scale, but not too much. Fried curry leaves add colour and crunch.
It looked like the Bermagui beer battered ling with thick cut chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce was the favourite of the day, with plate after plate coming out of the kitchen. I’ve got my eye on that and the Nelson Bay rock lobster for next visit, or maybe even just a bucket of prawns coupled with a chilled white.
There’s no trickery or arrogance here – the staff are knowledgeable and the menu is straightforward. Service was spot-on and it makes for a special experience.
- What: Rick Stein at Bannisters. 147 Soldiers Point Rd, Soldiers Point.
- Contact: 4919 3800. bannisters.com.au
- Hours: Lunch on weekends, dinner 7 days.
- Head chef: Mitchell Turner
- Owners: Rick and Sarah Stein
- Take note: No BYO, bookings online.
- Bottom line: Entrees $19-$39, mains $32 to $28 per 100g for lobster.
- Must try: Warm shellfish, Madras curry.