This boutique getaway on the Bouddi Peninsula has its own award-winning restaurant. But can a hotel owned by a consortium of businesspeople deliver the charm and intimacy you want from a five-star coastal break? Quentin Long finds out.
The Central Coast, an hour north of Sydney, is a victim of some slurs from the self-appointed tastemakers in Sydney. With noses held high they refer to “Penrith by the Sea”, chock full of Cashed-Up Bogans (CUBs) and their McMansions. It’s an unkind and unfair dismissal of an incredibly accessible and beautiful seaside destination where some seriously sophisticated retreats have sprung up over the years.
The Bouddi Peninsula is at the southern tip of the Central Coast, across from Sydney’s northernmost suburb, Palm Beach. This is the heart of the upper-crust Central Coast, with holiday destinations such as McMasters Beach, Pretty Beach, Patonga and Killcare.
It’s here that adman John Singleton and a consortium of Central Coast businesspeople have developed the region’s most sophisticated offerings: Pretty Beach House, John Singleton’s Beach House and Bells at Killcare.
Bells has luxury accommodation and an award-winning restaurant shaped by celebrated Sydney chef Stefano Manfredi. It’s the perfect place for The World’s Most Beautiful Wife and me to relax before visiting family further north.
But first we have to find it. Coming through Woy Woy off the F3, there is not one sign telling you where the hell Killcare is. It’s as if they want to keep the jewel in the Central Coast crown to themselves.
So TWMBW and I take the scenic route, accidentally exploring the sleepy, picturesque seaside villages of Pretty Beach, Hardy’s Bay and Killcare itself, where Bells isn’t. If it was called Bells at Killcare Heights, we could have guessed we needed to head up the hill, not down.
Bells comprises a series of villas. A main lodge houses the bar, restaurant and library. The underlying aesthetic, according to the Bells people, is The Hamptons, the relaxed, luxurious beach retreat for New York’s well-to-do. So, of course there is a library stuffed with chesterfields, board games, books and an enormous miniature tall ship.
But the real drawcard of Bells is its exquisite dining. The restaurant was awarded one hat by the Good Food Guide. Dinner starts in the bar with a complimentary Bellini and superb olives.
In summer, the main dining room is the balcony, which overlooks the beautiful, manicured grounds. Manfredi’s Mediterranean food is hard to beat, although the wine list comes close: an extensive mix of international – particularly Italian – and local wines. Thanks to her pregnant state, TWMBW tucks into a home-made chicken pasta and medium-to-well-done beef – both are unfussy and excellent. My scallops starter with local samphire is the right balance of flavours and technique. When Bells opened in 2008 there was much hype about the kitchen garden, but the garden’s harvest is not evident in our dishes.
As with all great destination restaurants, the accommodation matches the food – casual, relaxed yet totally indulgent. Ten suites are housed in three white weatherboard buildings with accompanying ‘Hamptons’ blue-and-white awnings. Each suite is designed for privacy, so none overlooks another, but you’d be mad not to get out and explore the impressive gardens. I suspect that as well as guest enjoyment, they have weddings in mind.
Our King Suite has a spa bath as well as a shower. The rooms are almost too spacious, with an absence of furniture. The lounge is squeezed up against a wall without serving much purpose – maybe shutting off the connecting door to the other suite? A fireplace is present for winter escapes, as is a small breakfast-sized table with kitchenette. Plantation shutters on the windows accentuate the relaxed summery feel of the suite.
Bouddi bathroom products are made just for Bells and its two sister properties.
A box by the door for your daily newspaper is a nice touch, but there is one disappointment in the room. TWMBW loves a snooze in front of the TV, but the viewing isn’t worth it as the TV is tiny. The snooze, however, is well worth it due to homespun blankets and oodles of pillows on the massive bed.
Breakfast, supplied in your kitchenette fridge, is homemade granola, free-range eggs and bacon with tomato and mushrooms. We cook these up ourselves on the balcony barbie.
The relaxed pool area, tucked into a private corner of the property, also follows the Hamptons theme, with blue-and-white umbrellas and lounges.
The beach is not far away, and there’s magnificent walking around the Bouddi National Park. But that’s for the next visit – this trip was to relax and recharge.
What’s the Gossip?
Here’s what other reviewers have said:
“The boutique hotel is a pocket paradise… It feels more like Lake Como than the Central Coast.” Sydney Morning Herald Traveller
“Bells could be the closest approximation of a European country-house hotel you could reasonably find in an Australian coastal setting.” The Weekend Australian
THE AT Verdict
Quentin Long, who paid his own way and visited anonymously, says:
A magnificent couples’ retreat where the accommodation matches the superb dining.
Where 107 The Scenic Road, Killcare Heights.
Notes We booked the Relax Package; $500 for one night’s accommodation in a King Suite, including three-course meal and breakfast hamper but not drinks and sides. There are loads of packages at the site. Standard rates for a King Suite start at $350 per night in peak season.