Vinyl-powered sounds and retro interior stylings set the scene at The Banksia Tavern, but it’s the refined dishes and concise drinks list that will have you returning for repeat visits.
Opening a bar in July 2023 – in the depths of winter during an economic slump – was a bold choice, but The Banksia Tavern’s co-owners Brendan McCarthy and Nathan Headlam have the experience behind them to back things up. The pair lived in Southeast Asia where they built and opened bars in Cambodia before establishing multiple cocktail bars in Melbourne, including Eydie’s and Franklin’s Bar.
The long, narrow building they now occupy is just off Busselton’s main street, not too far from the town’s growing drinking and dining centre. The space has had plenty of lives over the years as a craft beer bar, a cafe and a retail space. Now, The Banksia has made the space its own with retro velveteen booths, a polished timber bar, and stonework detail.
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Opening its doors in time for the post-work crowd, the cosy 80-seater quickly fills with those on the hunt for a knock-off drink and a bite to eat. Weekends bring crowds, especially when tourist numbers swell across holidays and long weekends, so bookings are certainly recommended.
McCarthy tells Broadsheet he didn’t pick their latest location – in a coastal cafe town two-and-a-half hours’ drive south of Perth – on a whim. “I've had family living in Busselton for the past 15 years and spent many family holidays in the area growing up,” he says. “The town itself holds a lot of nostalgia for me and I've always wanted to have a crack at a venue in this part of the world. We’re really looking forward to building on the already sterling community of hospitality folks in Busselton.”
The food includes a mix of contemporary bites and elevated classics from local chef Stephanie Vass, whose resume includes stints at Cottesloe icon Vans, Balthazar, Strange Company and the now-closed Greenhouse Perth.
The menu subtly nods to contemporary tavern dining but won’t be stagnant – it will morph each season to highlight local produce. Dishes like smoked Denmark WA boerewors sausage served alongside crisp beer-battered onion rings and rich peperonata, or Wagin duck paired with violet midnight pearl potatoes, are on the robust side of things, while plump Abrolhos Island scallops atop a velvety artichoke puree, or Shark Bay emperor fish crusted with hemp seed dukkah, bearnaise and kale, celebrate Western Australia’s world-class seafood. Chips aren’t forgotten among more refined options: they are thick, handcut, and should be ordered alongside the duck gravy.
The drinks impress with local craft beers from the likes of Beerfarm and Rocky Ridge, and a wine list that mostly showcases Aussie classics like Margaret River chardonnay and Tassie pinot, among others. The cocktail list focuses on Australian spirits with native flavours; The Banksia spritz combines Rainfall Distillery vodka with grapefruit, mandarin, and lemon myrtle sherbet, while a classic Espresso Martini is built around Mr Black coffee liqueur.