These three hotels aren’t too far from Sydney, but offer fresh reasons to jump in the car and explore north of the city. We say take a long weekend to wine and dine and recharge.
Church Point – a 50-minute drive north of the CBD.
The first thing you notice when you pull into the former ’60s motel-turned-Palm-Springs-style-hotel is a pink kombi parked beneath swaying palm trees. Then you see the view. Pasadena Sydney is on the tip of Church Point, and its expansive indoor-outdoor dining room offers panoramas of Broken Bay, the thick shrub of Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and direct access to Pittwater and the Hawkesbury River.
It’s a very pleasant spot for a weekend lunch, which could begin with burrata and dollops of beetroot puree and a couple slices of Berkelo bread followed by seafood linguine and a Hunter Valley chardonnay. If you’re feeling more casual, nab an outside table and order the beer-battered fish and chips and a vanilla milkshake. The menu is by head chef Petr Buchel (ex 4Forteen, Barbuto and Sails at Lavender Bay).
A post-prandial dip is almost mandatory, as is a stroll around the corner to Church Point Wharf, a buzzy meeting spot for local artists, authors and boating enthusiasts. Pop into the new Pasadena Pantry & Fresh gourmet grocer for some supplies – perhaps a hunk of South Australian cheddar, double-smoked bacon from Taree and a loaf of local bread – then take the ferry across the water to nearby Scotland Island for an impromptu picnic to round out the day.
When you arrive back at the dock, every Friday and Saturday afternoon the Church Point General Store and Cafe has live music into the evening in the heritage-listed venue (built in 1909) that now serves as the local post office, general store and bottle shop.
After acquiring Pasadena in 2012, Paul Peterkin and his wife Sheridan embarked on a labour of love to restore the 89-year-old venue that began life as the Pasadena Roadhouse in 1930 before transitioning into a motel in the 1960s. Before it became a hotel it was also briefly a training base for naval vessels during World War II and, in its post-Depression era heyday, it was home to grand balls, dances and fashion parades.
Today you can choose from 14 rooms that have recently been renovated, many of which have water views and balconies. After a good night’s sleep guests can visit that pink kombi for coffee and a bacon and egg roll before departure.
A little further: Bells at Killcare
Central Coast – a one-and-a-half-hour drive north of the CBD.
“It’s so bloody serene and it’s so bloody beautiful.” Sean Connolly doesn’t beat about the bush when describing the charms of the Bouddi Peninsula, where he has opened his new restaurant The Wild Flower Bar & Dining at boutique hotel Bells at Killcare.
We’re chatting over a meal of fish with a salt shell cracked at the table, steak tartare and baked eggplant with chilli and pangrattato. “It’s so close to the city, but you have such an abundance of local produce and seafood,” says Connolly. “We are using incredible fish from local Hardy’s Bay fishermen and fresh vegetables grown and harvested in the garden right here.”
That 500-square-metre garden includes an orchard, olive trees, bee hives and free-range hens. But where previous Bells chef Stefano Manfredi plundered its bounties with an Italian approach, Connolly’s food is focussed on Morocco and the Mediterranean. “I’m the least Italian bloke on the planet, and Stefano is the godfather of Italian cooking in New South Wales. So I wanted to be respectful of that,” says the British-born chef with an empire spanning Australia (including Bon Pavilion and in Sydney The Morrison, Auckland and Dubai).
“We’ve come in with a European vibe that channels places like the South of France, the Amalfi Coast and Sardinia where a waiter will bring three fish over for you to choose from, then cook them freshly to order.”
With table-side service and more than 400 wines to choose from, it’s going for elegant but casual. “We’re creating theatre on the floor. But we also want this to be a place where you can come in straight from the beach and enjoy a chic but casual meal,” says Connolly.
The self-proclaimed “Hamptons of the Central Coast” hotel includes 25 suites and cottages scattered among manicured gardens, ponds and streams. Rooms have Ralph Lauren furniture and seagrass matting plus expansive verandas so you can take in the lush native landscape. Hit up the large swimming pool to work off your culinary indulgence or the day spa so you can leave glowing as well as satiated.
Port Stephens – a two-hour-and-40-minute drive north of the CBD.
If the words “Rick Stein” haven’t yet inspired you to visit the celebrity seafood chef’s namesake restaurant at Bannisters Port Stephens, its new Cheeky Dog Bistro might. The recently-opened pub and eatery gives you a third dining option at the waterside hotel – a more casual and affordable experience than Stein’s signature restaurant.
Bannisters head chef Mitch Turner has chosen to focus on wood-fired pizza and a simple Mediterranean-inspired menu rather than competing with the seafood upstairs. “I thought, if we’re going to do a pub, how can we do simple but delicious?” says Turner. “And what do people love that’s simple and delicious? Pizza.”
The dough is made in Newcastle and pizzas come with toppings running from basic pepperoni and cheese; to prawn, octopus and calamari; and the meaty Spagnolo (chorizo, parma ham, salami, capers and oregano). There’s also an array of antipasto to build up a sizeable spread, along with classic pub fare such as schnittys, cheeseburgers and Scotch fillet minute steak with chips. “The whole point is that everyone can feel welcome: locals, in-house guests, day trippers, kids and families,” says Turner.
Follow the locals after lunch and grab a bottle of wine to take to the picnic tables on the lawn to watch the boats come and go from the jetty. Then head upstairs to Bannisters Terrace Bar and take a table inside, or a daybed beside the pool for more ocean views and snacks, such as tacos, burgers, and a watermelon, feta and dukkah salad.
“It’s beautifully casual for anyone who wants to walk in,” says Turner. “The Terrace Bar is a little bit of peace and tranquillity where you can sit and watch the water with a nice glass of wine and a bowl of pasta.”
Turner has overseen the food at Rick Stein since the restaurant and hotel opened in 2018. It offers a relaxed boutique getaway with a design that’s simple and vastly more modern than the former 1970s motel Salamander Shores. “We don’t try to bombard you with how cool or interesting we are,” says Turner. “We just pride ourselves on doing simple things well.”