Nestled between beach and countryside on the New South Wales south coast, Mollymook is the quintessential Australian weekend getaway for romantics, foodies and outdoor enthusiasts alike.
Exuding a laidback, unpretentious bonhomie, the Shoalhaven town of Mollymook is both a tight-knit community and holiday destination, almost equidistant from Sydney and Canberra. Visiting city slickers are welcomed with open arms and quickly settle into the bucolic way of life – it’s no surprise, then, that many who come for a weekend end up staying a lifetime. Such people include none other than the internationally acclaimed chef Rick Stein, who opened his restaurant at Bannisters By the Sea hotel in Mollymook in 2009 – his first such venture outside the UK.
Indeed, with cellar doors, incredible dining experiences and, of course, the beach, a weekend here hardly seems enough. Here’s our guide to making the most of your time. And don’t stress if you can’t fit it all in – chances are, this won’t be your last visit...
The Bannisters team opened the door to its second Mollymook property Bannisters Pavilion in late 2015. Like most little siblings, Pavilion is every bit the upstart, making a bold first impression with its azure rooftop pool, brazenly suspended over the entrance. Add to that the tall palm trees swaying on arrival and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve taken the wrong turn-off on the Princes Highway and ended up in Miami, Florida.
With a bush backdrop and just a stone’s throw from the town’s beach, the boutique hotel’s interior aesthetic mirrors its location, melding Scandinavian-style minimalism with beach-chic. Floor-to-ceiling windows allow for plenty of natural light, while the use of soft-hued timbers, polished stone and neutral-coloured furnishings enhance the tranquillity of the surroundings to create an overwhelming sense of calm.
But it’s all about the rooftop pool, bar and dining area. In fact, if it weren’t for all the things to do in Mollymook, we reckon you’d struggle to leave the serenity of the poolside sunbeds by day, or the open-plan bar by night, with its Antipodean wine list, seasonal cocktails and Young Henry’s craft beers. The menu at the Rooftop Bar and Grill is designed for sharing, influenced by Mediterranean and Mexican cuisines. We recommend the grilled haloumi salad and the Lebanese grilled chicken for two.
“People say ‘why didn't you open your first Australian restaurant in Sydney or Melbourne?’ To which I always reply it's all about the best local seafood,” Rick Stein writes on the Bannisters website. It’s hard to disagree. Mollymook is an epicurean’s delight, blessed with an abundance of local produce harvested from nearby land and sea, carefully crafted by chefs and producers who espouse the paddock (or ocean) to plate philosophy. Here’s our pick of the best.
Breakfast at Milk Haus
Located in a converted cheese factory on the road to Pigeon House Mountain, Milk Haus is a wholefoods cafe that showcases regional produce sourced either from its own garden or local farmers and providores. Despite a pared-back interior that resembles an old school dinner hall, the crackling log fire brings a cosiness to the venue that is matched by the warmth of the menu, which rotates monthly to feature seasonal fruits and vegetables. The coffee alone is worth going back for. Open for breakfast and lunch, Thursday to Monday.
Lunch at St Isidore
Named after the patron saint of farmers, St Isidore is a hatted restaurant located in the foothills of Milton, just a five-minute drive from Mollymook Beach. Bannisters alumnus Alex Delly is the head chef and owner. He’s transformed two acres of fertile farmlands into a working kitchen garden, which customers are invited to explore at their leisure. The fare is contemporary and revolves around the garden’s seasonal produce. We recommend the blue swimmer crab and Wagyu beef tartare for starters and the potato gnocchi to share for a main, making room for the white chocolate and burnt butter mousse to finish. Open for lunch Friday to Sunday, open for dinner Thursday to Saturday.
Afternoon wine tasting at Cupitt's Winery
A weekend in Mollymook wouldn’t be complete without visiting the cellar door at Cupitt’s in nearby Ulladulla. Situated in a 165-year-old creamery that looks out over rolling vineyards, the family-run winery and microbrewery produces a range of French- and- Italian-influenced drops and single-batch craft beers. There’s also a restaurant on site, so you can either enjoy a tipple alongside a ploughman’s plate, or a three-course meal with matched wines. We recommend the aromatic Cupitt’s Viognier for white wine enthusiasts or the berry-heavy Nebbiolo if you like your red. Open Wednesday to Sunday.
Dinner at Rick Stein at Bannisters
Rick Stein at Bannisters is unquestionably the jewel in the region’s dining crown. A courtesy car takes guests staying at Bannisters Pavilion to the restaurant. The decor is plain but the food is anything but, with Stein making good on his promise to showcase the best locally-caught seafood. To start, there are oysters charentaise – freshly shucked oysters with spicy sausage – and pan-seared prawn saganaki. Mains focus on the sea again, with a Madras fish curry of blue eye trevalla and a traditional fish pie both on the menu, which both work perfectly with the Tasmanian riesling on the wine list. A lunchtime visit has the added bonus of a view onto glittering Bannister Head. Open for lunch Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, open for dinner Wednesday-Sunday.
Catch a wave
With six surf breaks of varying difficulty on the doorstep, it’s worth packing the board and praying for some swell.
Hire a bike
Pushbikes are hard to come by in town, but Bannisters Pavilion provides bikes for guests to use free of charge. Saddle up and take a leisurely ride along the beachfront, or if you’re keen to raise the heart-rate, a loop encompassing the neighbouring towns of Milton, Ulladulla and Narrawallee will work off breakfast.
Take a hike
A 40-minute drive from Mollymook takes you to the bottom of Pigeon House Mountain, also known as Didthul in the local Indigenous language. Located in the Morton National Park, this demanding three-hour ascent and descent rewards those who scale its 720-metre peak with breathtaking views over the Shoalhaven region. The walk is quite steep in parts and you will need to climb a series of ladders to reach the top, but the views are worth it.
Play a round
Mollymook has two golf courses: the challenging 18-hole championship Hilltop Course and the nine-hole Beachside Course, which is ideal for beginners or golfers who don’t get out too often. Hire clubs are available.