Photography by Tim Brand
Just minutes’ walk from one of our most stunning waterfronts is the Coast’s best kept secret. Hardys Bay Club has a bit of ‘everything for everyone’, nestled among beautiful towering stands of eucalypts. It has to be the friendliest and most laidback ‘club’ going, and the restaurant is a very pleasant surprise.
The club has been on the present site for some time – the land was donated to the RSL in 1972 – but things turned around when the club was offered for private sale and was eventually purchased by Bruce and Sandra Murray, who had a holiday home at nearby Macmasters Beach.
The club was already charming, but Bruce and Sandra could see that to survive it was going to have to offer something special.
The first decision was to offer a pokie-free space. This opened up the main club area and made it family-friendly, an important consideration for the new owners and management. The area now has an engaging mix of furnishings, including vintage sofas and armchairs, and beautiful, large light shades that illuminate the mellow, timber ceiling to a comfy glow.
It’s created a very appealing place to linger over drinks, and as far as the drinks go … there has been some change there too. You’ll still find the regular watering hole selection, but also a good range of wines, and craft beers on tap, including Young Henrys and local Six String Brewing Co. You can even get a great coffee, with their blend coming from Loo Loo’s Coffee Warehouse in Kincumber.
The appeal of Hardys Bay Club also lies in its breathtaking location. Nestling into Hawke Head Drive Bush Reserve which adjoins Box Head, the long, low building is surrounded by lanky gums and rich bushland. To the left is a charming corner of subtropical rainforest that has sprung up around a little waterfall, taking advantage of the added water channelled down from the escarpment above.
This beautiful setting was something Bruce and Sandra were keen to capitalise on, and 18 months ago they opened the impressive outdoor terrace. With a soaring roof line, multi-level decking and child-friendly faux turf area (complete with cubby house) it’s been a huge hit with patrons and also very popular for event bookings. It’s easy to imagine its suitability, especially for a rustic, outdoor wedding. And with a capacity of 120 for cocktails or 80 for a sit-down event, it’s definitely one of the more generously sized areas available on the Coast.
There are charming touches like succulents growing in vintage kitchenalia, string lights and a welcoming mix of tables and seating, purpose-built from recycled timber. The beautiful decorative touches are mainly the handiwork of the incredibly creative Kirsty, who has also been serving behind the bar for over ten years. She’s a great asset to the club, also creating delightful, bespoke decorating options for weddings and other functions.
It’s an absolute joy to spot the vintage touches around the club – a favourite of ours was the iron used to hold pens in the foyer. A particular pattern of dinnerware we all had growing up, or your granny’s old kettle … most of the pieces date from the 50s, 60s and 70s and give a gentle retro vibe. The entire club is rather like coming across a big, old shed filled with the treasures of yesteryear. This also creates so many personalised corners where you can take your drink or meal. There’s no stretch of identical vinyl seating. It feels like each seating area has been carefully created as an individual area of retreat, with plenty of spaces big enough for groups too.
Bruce and Sandra were also determined to offer fabulous food, a notch above the usual bistro fare. The kitchen was rebuilt, and head chef Damien Battye, previously of Audrey’s, MacMasters Beach, was installed in the new Bistro 14.
Originally hired as sous chef, Dane Walker has since taken over the kitchen, working with sous chef James Goyan. Dane brings impressive experience to Bistro 14. Having worked at Restaurant Balzac, Quay, Becasse and Icebergs, as well as ongoing stints on Lord Howe Island, Dane was enjoying the itinerate lifestyle of a chef before coming back to the Coast two years ago.
Dane’s time at Icebergs Dining Room and Bar has been the most influential when preparing the menus for Bistro 14, but he also developed a love for simple yet strong flavours during his travels through Greece, Spain and Italy.
Icebergs’ stylish interpretation of Italian food and their commitment to outstanding regional cuisine, using the freshest, premium ingredients is in evidence, but the dishes are just a little heartier, a little more rustic, to fit their surrounds and the family-oriented clientele. The quality is not sacrificed though, and this is what sets the food apart. The bruschetta is delicious and a meal in itself, with house-made bread, mozzarella, huge oxheart tomatoes, gently roasted, and freshly made pesto.
Prawn linguine is served simply, with lemon, chilli, garlic and tomato, a rustic garlic crumb on top. Each flavour bursts forth and then magically combines. And if you often seem to find yourself cheated of prawns, not so here. It’s a generous helping of succulent seafood within perfectly cooked pasta.
On the day we visited Dane had taken delivery of some cherry tomatoes with exceptional flavour, and these were allowed to shine, just softened. The addition of the garlic crumb was the perfect winter touch, no need for bread. Almost a shame as all the bread and pizza bases are freshly made inhouse.
Clams are pan-roasted with garlic, pancetta, chilli and some of those amazing cherry tomatoes to create a luscious dish of fresh flavours. Served with house-made, toasted foccacia, it’s hearty enough to be satisfying but leaves you room for dessert.
The aim of the menu is to provide restaurant quality food at bistro prices. Dane and his team are committed to using the best ingredients available, local where possible. The menu is seasonal, taking advantage of the freshest produce. And everything that possibly can be is made inhouse, including all the delicious sauces.
There are bistro regulars, including pizzas and steaks, but these too are classier versions without trying too hard. They’re just very well put together.
You can choose from a 200g eye fillet, 300g scotch fillet or 300g rump steak, and these can be served with Café de Paris Butter, lemon wedges or chimichurri. There’s also pork cutlet on the bone, lamb backstrap and cajun-spiced chicken.
Pizzas range from a faultless Margherita, with tomato, mozzarella, parmesan and pesto, to something more unusual but just as tasty – pulled pork, thyme, caramelised onion, goat’s cheese, potato and lemon.
For dessert there’s always a nice range of ice creams and sorbets to finish, and to keep the kids happy. For something more decadent, check the dessert board for the current special. When we visited it was a sumptuous arrangement of fresh orange curd, meringue and berries, served with house-made vanilla ice cream and chocolate praline.
Along with great food and a quirky, welcoming atmosphere, Hardys Bay Club is quickly gaining a reputation as a quality live music venue. Entertainment booker Loren McHenry knows her stuff, having formerly booked for Oxford Art Factory.
Saturdays usually feature live music, and the Sunday Jam Sessions are very popular. Starting at 2pm they’re a musical free-for-all, hosted by a different muso each week, and great fun.
Locals like Shane Nicholson, Sarah Humphreys and Grizlee Train have graced the Hardys Bay stage, plus artists from further afield, including Rick Price whose meal-and-show gig sold out very quickly.
Hardys Bay Club is like a warm hearth around which its community gathers. If you’re yet to discover it, make the journey to this welcoming, and quintessentially Australian, gem.
Check the website for opening hours, What’s On and special weekly deals.