I'd never been to Port Stephens.
But I broke the drought with style, and made sure I included a visit to the place I'd heard about for years: Shoal Bay Country Club.
It's more beach club than the kind of country club you might be picturing, as it's located directly across the road from the beach, and has a buzzy vibe and quite a family feel, and it's also a perfect spot for post-beach, pre-dinner drinks after you've drunk in the sun all day at glorious Port Stephens.
Insider tip: ask for a table overlooking the water... better still, a table outside under the fairy lights opposite the ocean, while you enjoy the late afternoon breeze, devouring your lunch or dinner.
Another insider tip: order that seafood platter.
The highlight: oh my GOSH, that kingfish ceviche!
The deluxe seafood platter - feeding two-four people, at $179 - also features a whole lobster mornay, fresh Port Stephens oysters, Aussie prawns, delicious marinated octopus, sweet blue swimmer crab, grilled barramundi, salt and pepper squid, and chips.
Ah, that tender crab meat:
Back to the ceviche: with a deliciously zesty dressing, and laden with jalapeños, radish slices, lime, and a side of crunchy flatbread, it rates up there with the plentiful lobster mornay.
We had seven in our party, and I am pleased to say that Shoal Bay Country Club also caters for fussy eaters.
One of our mini diners yells 'PIZZA!' when asked ahead of time what he wants to eat at SBCC, and luckily, they have two hard working, on fire pizza chefs who pump out those pizzas like nobody's business.
Here are some sneaky shots of pizzas at the pass, ready for some hungry diners.
We started with the crispy fried buttermilk chicken wings which were craved by my daughter, and we all enjoyed these. They're served with a lime and chilli mayonnaise. Fifteen bucks for a generous serve to share.
The classic fish and chips is always a good choice at a seaside restaurant, and these did not disappoint our mini diner. Beer battered, with tartare sauce, $25.
Burger aficionados (again, my daughter) will love the grilled beef burger. Melted American cheese, crispy bacon, tomato, lettuce, pickles, onion, garlic and lemon aioli, and served with chips. It was so big she couldn't finish it. Twenty fours bucks and a good feed.
We also enjoyed a woodfired garlic and herb flatbread to share ($10).
A serve of chicken nuggs and chips ($12 for kids under 12) can also fill the belly of a small member of the group. Usually, my young guy goes for this dish. Instead he chose the chicken schnitzel and chips and salad. We ate the chips and salad... standard for this super fusspot.
We were so full we couldn't order dessert!
Should you be able to squeeze it in, they have assorted cakes for $15 each, served with whipped mascarpone, or a trio of ice cream for $12 per serve.
We did have room for drinks, though! A robust glass of red, and an Aperol spritz: the latter is Aperol and fresh lime topped with French sparkling wine and a dash of soda (we do prefer it with Prosecco, though this was still refreshing). $17.
See the full drinks menu HERE.
We came to enjoy Shoal Bay Country Club after seeing it from across the road on a beach day during our mini break from Sydney.
I love nothing more than a day at the beach then off to dinner at the local, so the experience feels almost European, and depending on where you sit and the time of day you go (it can get quite busy inside during dinner time, though feel less busy if you're sitting al fresco), that's exactly how you'll feel!
It's open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the venue also features live music. And if you want it to be a super quick pitstop in the am, then Mermaids Cafe is the place you'll head (downstairs at street level, for a quick bite to go).
HERE is the full menu.
HERE is more about the venue.
The Shoal Bay Country Club kitchen is open from 11.30am til late, with a 3pm - 5pm bar menu also available.
More specific hours are here:
Monday 6:30am – 2am
Tuesday 6:30am – 2am
Wednesday 6:30am – 2am
Thursday 6:30am – 2am
Friday 6:30am – 2am
Saturday 6:30am – 2am
Sunday 6:30am – 12am
Bottleshop opening hours: Monday-Sunday 10am-10pm
Bonus: they operate a courtesy bus for those living or just visiting locally, which operates Wed-Sun from 5pm, and is available for pick ups and drop offs. The service covers Shoal Bay, Fingal Bay, Nelson Bay, and Corlette. You can call the bus driver on 0431 725 928, during bus operation hours only.
Oh, you can download the SBCC too! It'll keep you up to date with day to day activities, featured events, live entertainment, weekly performing artists, dining menus and daily specials.
Apple download HERE. And Android HERE.
You can call them on 02 4981 1555, and email them here firstname.lastname@example.org
And find them here: 35-45 Shoal Bay Road, Shoal Bay.
See you there!