I am not a fan of restaurants where celebrity chefs lend their brand names only to find the executive chef to be someone other than the famous chefs themselves. At Rick Stein at Bannisters in Mollymook, that someone other than Stein himself, is Julian Lloyd.
Lloyd is a native of the English fishing village of Padstow in Cornwall where Stein is famous for his seafood restaurants, deli, cooking school and patisserie. He has worked for Stein since he was 18 and after more than a decade he decided to embark on one of Stein’s project overseas and found himself in Mollymook, a small town about 225km south of Sydney in the south coast of New South Wales.
Our arrival was greeted by sommelier Toby Evans, son of the late Australian wine legend, Len Evans. Perhaps he was taking a punt, he seemed to have accurately guessed that we were Sydneysiders on a long weekend break even before we broke into the usual conversation about the local weather. Perhaps it was a pre-cursor that wait staff at this restaurant is pretty receptive and cluey throughout our entire meal.
Our entree of oyster charantaise is “seemingly an odd combination – freshly opened oysters with some hot, spicy sausages. The idea is that you eat an oyster, take a bite of the sausage, then a good gulp of cold white wine…” This is the recommendation on the menu from the affable Stein himself.
The Clyde river oysters were as fresh as they can be with the red wine vinegar and shallots offering great acidic balance. The sausages were deliciously spicy and flavoursome, and after one bite, I preferred such fresh oysters and sausages each on its own.
The flavours of a seafood bouillabaisse of king prawns, black mussels and scallops were elegant. On first taste, I would have preferred a bolder flavoured stock but the freshness of the seafood was beckoning subtlety. As I worked my way through this dish, I found the point of difference in this $56 main is Lloyd’s skill in preparation of the stock where the delicate nuances of thyme and dill were increasingly alluring with each spoonful. A great dish nevertheless with an aged semillon from the south coast wine region of Coolangatta.
The golden batter on the hapuka was as tasty and crispy as it looks whilst the fish was very fresh and only gently seasoned. Hence, the wonderfully rich tartare sauce with chunks of pickled capers and gerkhin was the perfect condiment. The thick cut chips could have been a lot crispier but perhaps slightly soggy is just how the Brits like it back in the motherland.
A slightly chilled creme brulee with orange rind was a great finisher. The syrup was not overly sweet and the rind gave the entire dish a subtle lift.
Dining at Rick Stein’s joint here is not cheap – we managed to keep it just under A$200 with only 1 entree and desert for 2 people despite a A$20 surcharge for 2 people being the Good Friday public holiday.
Perhaps it doesn’t quite matter whether Stein is behind the burners in the kitchen just as it would matter little if I spell it “buiyabase” and “krem brulay” in my own simple way.
In today’s competitive business world, I appreciate the need for savvy marketing. On the same token, perhaps Stein would understand my punt on Julian Lloyd cooking up a better meal whilst he concentrated on his globe-trotting business ventures.
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Rick Stein at Bannisters
191 Mitchell Parade
Mollymook NSW 2539
(02) 4455 3044