I’ll admit I haven’t watched every episode of Rick Stein’s food-travel shows, but I haven’t ever seen the British celebrity chef book in for a hotel massage or facial. To unwind, the jovial Stein is more likely to retreat to the breakfast buffet or the bar for snacks and a drink.
Yet guests of his boutique NSW seaside hotel Bannisters Port Stephens, which opened last November three-and-a-half-hours north of Sydney, will be able to do both relaxing activities following the launch of its spa this month.
Simply called Spa Bannisters, the intimate five-room space reflects the pretty colour palette of the hotel. Interior designer Romy Alwill, who is also behind the hotel’s aesthetic (with consultation from Stein’s wife, Sarah), was again commissioned for the project, which has touches of musk-pink, pale-coloured timber, brass and terrazzo tiling. The restrained design sets the tone for the calming treatments, with the atmosphere enhanced by a curved timber batten wall, as well as soft, warm lighting and flowing curtains.
Treatments include massages (for two people or solo), facials, body exfoliations, body cocoons (wraps), peels, pedicures, manicures and waxing. All products come from Australian skincare brands Kora Organics (by model and entrepreneur Miranda Kerr) and Organicspa. Some of the rooms have outdoor rain showers for washing away scrubs – but a refreshing al fresco rinse is probably better suited to the warmer weather.
The spa practitioners are experienced, and while they might not be able to knead out stubborn tightness with a 60-minute massage, this isn’t a place you’ll get a frustratingly limp rub-down either. The facialists are particularly skilled in rejuvenating dehydrated winter skin, and the 60-minute Bio Hydra facial left me cleansed, exfoliated, replenished and with the realisation that if I don’t add more moisturiser to my daily routine, I’ll never have a TV career like Stein’s.
The poolside day beds seem like a clever place to retreat to with your dewy, buffed skin after your de-stressing bonanza. There you can order cocktails and lots of snack-style food, including a very excellent braised-octopus bruschetta with plump green olives, or tacos of golden fried fish in house-made corn tortillas topped with pico de gallo. The pillowy steamed bao buns with chicken katsu are a great option, too.
The addition of the spa at the third Bannisters property (Stein also co-owns two Mollymook venues, Bannisters by the Sea and The Pavilion, with his business partner Peter Cosgrove) means there’s something extra to do during the day at the hotel, aside from eating and relaxing by the pool. That said, it’s just the right amount of busyness. There aren’t too many accommodation options of this scale (78 rooms) and quality within a relatively easy drive from Sydney where you can laze it up beside an infinity pool and not feel compelled to leave the resort for a stack of activities.
You can then finish your day with a pretty decent dinner in a lively, good-looking dining room. Rick Stein at Bannisters, his signature seafood restaurant steered daily by head chef Mitchell Turner, is always busy. The menu lists dishes Stein picked up on his travels for shows such as Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey, The Road to Mexico and Rick Stein, A Cook Abroad, among others. Particularly noteworthy: the superb creamy black cuttlefish risotto that Stein discovered in Croatia. I suppose it’s better for us that he spent his time hitting the eateries rather than the spas.
Spa Bannisters is open daily from 9am to 5.30pm at 147 Soldiers Point Road, Soldiers Point.