REVIEW: Bannisters by the Sea at Mollymook, NSW, Australia
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I should be writing from Vienna, staying in some hotel within the Ringstrasse like the Hotel Bristol, or the Ritz Carlton or the Kempinski, but due to the dreaded COVID-19, I’m not allowed to go to there. Instead, I am stuck in Australia, forced to lock my passport away and go to a domestic destination drive-to holiday, in winter. I can’t describe the agony of entitlement.
Ideally, we would have headed north to the warmer climate of Queensland. But with many state borders closed back in June 2020 here in Australia, that was not possible. We thought of going to Melbourne, but that is even colder than Sydney and as it would happen, was suffering its own second wave of COVID-19 infection, so I am glad we didn’t go there, with their renewed Level 3 no-fun restrictions on social gatherings, restaurants, cafes and pubs.
Instead, we ventured to the south coast and the beautiful Mollymook at Banisters by the Sea, as opposed to Banisters Pavilions, which a very helpful reservations staff member talked me out of. I explained that my husband was starting a new job, and this was our weeks vacation of doing what we never have time for – cocooned in a warm room to bury ourselves in the pages of books and going for long walks by the seaside.
She talked me out of the Pavilions by saying that it only had suburban street views, whereas she had a suite available with beach/sea views at Banisters by the sea. Surprisingly, I traded size for quality, forgoing a 100+ square metre suite at the pavilions for a 50 sqm suite where I can hear the sea.
Booking & Price
I had surfed around the internet looking for places, and initially we were tempted to go north to Port Stephens, where Bannisters also have an outpost. Careful review of information on both locations, the more serious food culture, and the proximity of friends, made us head down the south coast, even though the cost was a little more.
The price for this suite is greater than we would normally be prepared to pay, but given we would have been paying close to this kind of price for a centrally located room in Vienna, and had saved the expense of 10 days accommodation in Bali for our cancelled May trip, it was a price we were willing to pay.
Stay: 22 to 26 June 2020
Room: Luxury Suite, Rm 7 (with double spa & large deck area)
Size: 50 sqm (~540 sqf)
Per Night Average: AU$489
Address: 191 Mitchell Parade, Mollymook NSW 2539
Phone: +61 02 4454 7400
The hotel had only just re-opened after closure due to COVID-19. They were still coming to terms with the changes that the pandemic had heralded, but already had physical distancing procedures in place in their reception area. Only two guests were allowed into reception at a time, and there was a perspex barrier installed to separate staff from guests.
Location & Arrival
Bannisters by the Sea is located on a headland to the north of Mollymook Beach. It’s about a 3 hour drive from Sydney, make that 4 hours if you stop for a spot of lunch at somewhere like Otis in Kiama.
The hotel sits on Bannisters headland to the north of the Mollymook village, which in the early 20th century used to house a silica crushing facility and a loading jetty.
‘From the outside the lodge looks like one of those typically 1970s surfside motels, but once you get beyond the concrete driveway, it’s a different story.’Bannisters Point Lodge review, Sydney Morning Herald 2003
The site is spectacular and back then in 2003:
‘. . .construction (is) underway on a wet edge swimming pool, due for completion in December . . .’
Rick Stein attached his name and reputation to the hotel with the opening of his restaurant in 2009.
Bannisters by the Sea, and Rick Stein have become synonymous, but the hotel is owned in conjunction with Peter Cosgrove (not the ex Governor General) a businessman associated with outdoor advertising and media companies including Here There and Everywhere (HT&E), formerly APN News & Media.
Bannisters by the Sea is the cornerstone of a three hotel empire including two in Mollymook – Bannisters by the Sea, and Bannisters Pavillions, or Bannisters NOT by the sea, as I like to think of it, and Bannisters at Port Stevens.
Was fast, friendly, and efficient, with the staff explaining the new COVID-19 related protocols from behind the perspex sneeze guard, including the provision of breakfast on a tray instead of the usual restaurant buffet. Staff wanted to know what kind of stay we intended – out & about, or cocooning. Cocooning was our priority, although we did have some restaurant outings in mind. Helpful suggestions were offered, and our choices complimented.
You have to accept that this is an adapted motel, with the Bannister’s signature ‘shabby chic’ vibe. I say ‘adapted’ as it’s not like they stripped back to the buildings bones and rebuilt. Instead, it looks like they got rid of anything they didn’t like, repaired, repainted and re-furnished.
Our Suite, which included sitting and dining area, renovated bathroom and a separate bedroom was a lot of white, with a bit of charcoal, pale wood and cane, and some aqua highlights.
That said, you could easily forgive the mismatched ceiling heights and repairs, the slight mustiness and the low ceilings. What I can’t forgive is the broken lamp, and the paint dribbles on the floor tiles in the newly renovated bathroom. I’ll leave my bête noir about hotel renovations for later.
The entrance to the room – motel like – is via the parking lot, from a verandah on this the ‘ground’ floor. I say that because the resort cascades down the headland, and what is ground for us, is a floor above the pool and bar area. Note the narrow corridor entrance – in keeping with its motel derivations
Decor is all white, with whitewashed wood and cane, and distressed pastel aqua. Black and white beach images work well. It’s quite pleasant, but you can still see its motel history.
The main bathroom opens onto the living room. Yep, I know, I asked why too. You can pull Venetian shutters across, but that doesn’t exactly act as much of a sound barrier if you know what I mean. More about the refreshed bathroom later.
That feature wall light is a bit out of place, and if you are going to do a floating wall mounted TV, then those cords need to be invisable.
The bedroom is separated by a sliding door, and it features accents of red, along with that clapboard feature wall behind the bedhead. As you can see it’s a tight but OK fit for the king bed and the sidetables.
The remote controls in sealed plastic envelopes are a masterstroke of genius for this post-COVID-19 lock-down stay in 2020. Giving you protection, making it easy to access the controls, and to wipe down with those anti-COVID wipes!
The real feature of the bedroom was these voluminous sheer drapes (with blackout curtains behind) and the amazing clifftop view beyond. The staff had promised us a magnificent room, and this view delivered!
Laying in bed, with a breeze rustling these drapes, or staring off at the sea was a highlight of our stay.
One of the sad things about the COVID-19 era is the emptying of the minibar. You now mainly get the bare necessities, and a largely empty fridge.
. . . except for actual fresh milk. No cupboard stored carton packed long life milk here.
Small but adequate, including safe and storage and hanging space, with a motley collection of hangers, ironing board, hair dryer and iron. Nothing to really comment on, but all perfectly serviceable.
At least those coat hangers weren’t ‘thief proof’, one of my pet hates.
Now, we have spoken about this before – I am NOT a fan of the bathroom with an opening to the rest of a hotel suite, even if the view is spectacular – especially when it opens onto a lounge room.
We were told that this bathroom had recently been refurbished, and there was some unfortunate evidence that was the case, which I will get into later.
I like a spa bath, but not one to share, or one with basically no pressure, and certainly not one that has coloured lights. I’ll spare you that image.
The bath-towl presentation was reminiscent of every country hotel I have ever stayed in, with the soap on top of the towels.
Below are some shots of the refurbished bathroom, featuring vertically lain subway tiles, marble benches, imitation antique basin, overhead rain shower, hexagonal marble look floor tiles, and of course that spa bath.
The shower is in front of the toilet. If it wasn’t a rain shower – then you would be in trouble. That’s probably why there is no handheld shower head.
The spa might be for two, but it was actually relatively shallow, and not really long enough to be comfortable.
The shower was spacious, although it did end in the toilet (hidden behind the door above). The design was functional, and did include a separate articulated shaving mirror, which I love. For someone who loves a bath, I was underwhelmed. It took a year to fill, was not hot, and the spa part was underpowered. The less said about the rainbow lights, the better.
COVID-19 Safe arrangements
Remember that this stay was back in June of 2020, post our first lock-down, and everyone was coming to terms with how to provide service in a COVID-19 safe way.
Banisters’ solution was to deliver a set breakfast, with few options. Mind you that continental breakfast of fruit salad, yoghurt, cold meats, cheese, baguette, croissants, honey, jam, vegemite and cold-pressed juice was delicious! Having to notify reception of our choice the day before was annoying, but understandable. As they were sorting out their service, the options included eggs, which moved the breakfast from delicious to glorious.
The other bit of genius was the plastic covers for the remotes. Firstly it made you feel that they were safe. You could also access all their functions, and I imagine they could be easily cleaned, or replaced for a new set of guests. Such a simple solution.
With many hotel brands moving to bulk amenities for cost and environmental reasons, it was good to have individual tubes of shampoo, conditioner etc. I know its not environmentally sound, but they are more COVID-19 safe.
The Kevin Murphy brand is more known for its ‘skincare for your hair’ range. But it launched a hotel line in 2017, and here it is – featuring the ‘smooth again’ line, with a pleasant, mild citrus scent.
Public Areas – Bars, Restaurants & Gyms
We didn’t venture into the pool – late June is too cool for us, but we did spend some lunchtimes and early evenings at the Pool Bar. Although there were gas heaters outside on the deck, we tended to keep ourselves indoors.
The bar has a number of small private-ish rooms at the back, which would be good for small family or friends groups.
Rick Stein’s Restaurant
The consensus was that this in-house restaurant was overpriced because it carried the Cornwall/South Coast based Stein name.
I beg to disagree. You may not know, but I am allergic to fish – although most other seafood is OK, so I was surprised that they didn’t have a substantial shellfish main course on the menu. (They do now – Lobster!) However, they did have a 300g Black Angus Scotch Fillet on the menu. Much larger than I would normally eat, it was perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious.
My husband had the infamous fish pie, which he said was the best ever. Sure it wasn’t cheap, but with socially distanced tables, and good (although not great) service – it was worth it to us.
Our meal was very good, if expensive, but worth it. If you don’t want to splurge, then head over to the Italian based eatery at Banisters Pavillions – away from the beach. The food there was very good too, but at much more reasonable prices.
Lets talk about hotel room faults . . .
Best get it over and done with. Here are the faults in the room – all in one place – explanation in the photo captions:
Am I being pernickety? Of course, I am. It’s in my DNA.
But over and above the fact that we were on the peg for close to AU$500 a night for this suite, is the message these faults send to the occupant of the room. That is, ‘We don’t care.’ And that is the opposite to the message any hotelier wants to give. They so say ‘You’re not worth it’.
The mess on the bathroom floor given that it had been ‘refurbished’ was unforgivable in my opinion.
Look, other than my little rave about room faults, these 5 days away from Sydney after lockdown were absolute bliss. The hotel staff that assured me they had the perfect room, with the perfect view were not far wrong – especially about the view, and booking a suite was definitely worth it.
It’s a mix of country charm service, and city shabby chic design, at an absolutely stunning location that makes this a winning hotel.
We would have happily stayed another 5 nights if budget and responsibilities allowed.
Summary This converted motel on a stunning headland offers some wonderful rooms with views to die for, and food to indulge in. It ain't perfect, but its pretty good.