The best Darling Harbour restaurants
Let’s get something straight: Sepia is a fancy restaurant, but there is nothing pretentious about it, and therein lies its magic. You aren’t given a moment to even consider resisting being completely looked after – that’s how things are done here. The interior boasts an Art Deco theme – it’s classic. The menu, in contrast, is not. Martin Benn is right on the cutting edge of food right now. Correction: Benn has been on the cutting edge of food for a couple of years; it’s just that the world hadn’t noticed until recently.
It pays to take a closer look at the tourist districts of our city, because every now and again you unearth gold from under the mountain of clippy koala souvenirs. Take King Street Wharf, for example. If you dismiss it as a tourist trap you’ll only be denying yourself all the harbourfront beers and good times on offer at the Sydney outlet of Beer DeLuxe. In yet another case of good Melbourne things coming to Sydney (Belle’s Hot Chicken, we’re looking at you), the craft beer fanatics behind Beer DeLuxe have taken over a space right at the north end of King Street wharf, just before Barangaroo begins, and have set up a two-level temple to fermented fun.
For the last 50 years the Malaya Restaurant has been serving up a mix of traditional and contemporary Malaysian cuisine on King Street Wharf. This is where you go for satay chicken, crab sang choi bow, prawn laksa, curries and Szechuan eggplant. Fill your belly with South East Asian spice as the sun sets behind the city.
Jimmy's Margaritaville has moved on to more tropical climes and in its place we have the Port, a spacious seaside oasis that's all about cold drinks and fresh seafood in chic surrounds. The playlist will jump from Bossa Nova to the Beastie Boys while you kick back on outdoor lounges overlooking Darling Harbour. The interior is as fresh as new sheets and does a good job of making you feel like you're miles from the office. It's open and breezy and if necessity brings you to this corner of the city there are definitiely worse places to sit by the water, drink a frozen wine cocktail and eat a plate of crisp school prawns, flash fried and dipped in seafood sauce.
Given the name is Meat District Co, what you’re in for at this Cockle Bay bar and grill is easy to guess. Beef is the main canvas on which the chefs work their art at Meat District, with burgers, ribs and more on the menu. And what beef it is. Meat District have a ‘paddock to plate’ ethos meaning their meat is all locally sourced, grass fed and free from steroids, hormones and antibiotics. Grab a seat outside to fully appreciate the water views while you peruse the menu. For a dramatic dinner, order ‘the Hook’: skewers of lamb or chicken and vegetables suspended over chips and salad so the sauce drips over everything.
Bungalow 8 holds a special place in the hearts of anyone who was partying down by Darling Harbour in the early thousands, and now it's been given a firm refresh for the modern crowd. Fill your table with tomato chilli mussels or a whole masterstock-braised pork hock that you can break down and pack into soft pancakes for a DIY hand-held snack party. You can also order up giant tiered seafood platter for high rollers, and every year they host a New Year's Eve party with harbour views.
This inner-city pub might be famous for bringing together our Mary and Prince Frederik of Denmark, but times have changed since those heady, black-Amex days. From the outside the Slip Inn looks much as it ever did, but inside things have gone south of the border. And we mean Mexico here, not Melbourne. El Loco’s takeover of the formerly grungy Excelsior Hotel went so well they’ve branched out and taken over the sunken beer garden that taunts drivers stuck on the City Westlink with its colourful lights and party tunes – if only all incursions resulted in colourful bunting and tacos.
Ribs! Ribs! Ribs! And bibs! For plenty of messy, barbecue-y fun and not much cash, Hurricanes is a goer. You can smell it from across the water, and while it may not be the most elegant dinner on the cards, once you're chin deep in a full rack of pork ribs slathered in sweet and sour barbecue sauce, you won't care.
This long-standing Sydney bar got a makeover and refresh in mid-2017. You'll still find a nautical theme and wharf-side fun, with long wooden tables, marquee-lit anchors, cocktail jugs and local wines on offer. Eating seafood by the sea is always going to be a win in Sin City, and to this end they are serving up stands stacked with house smoked salmon, tiger prawns, mussels and market fish.
Located right on the harbour and within the ICC, this waterfront dining destination will sort you out from your morning coffee, right through to after work drinks. Lunch and dinner time is all about pleasing everyone, be it small plates of crisp squid, braised beef sliders or prawn lollipops with Sriracha butter. Mains navigate burgers (ranging from spicy chicken and beef right through to crocodile), stone baked pizzas, nourishing salads and hearty mains, including steaks, pastas and seafood. Kids are looked after too, with a full children's menu, plus activities to keep them busy.
Cargo 2.0 is here with a industrial, New York-inspired fitout, complete with a DJ booth shaped like the head of the Statue of Liberty. They're still booking DJs to spin house, hosting R'n'B and party jams by the water on weekends, and if you're hungry for more than another round of Spritzes or sparkling, they've packed the menu with mini hot dogs, pork sliders, salt cod croquettes and mushroom arancini. There are deep-pan pizzas for sharing, and they're baking those pies until 2am every night to keep your energy levels high.
If you’re after Darling Harbour convenience, Harbour Bar and Kitchen is the spot. You’ll find the restaurant spanning the balcony of Harbourside Shopping Centre in Darling Harbour with views of Sydney Harbour and the CBD skyline visible from any seat in the house. Taking cues from the pit masters of North America, Harbour Bar and Kitchen takes top quality meats, adds just enough seasoning and smokes them with wood for many hours until the perfect harmony of smoke, flavour and time emerges.
Blackbird boasts an extensiven menu that includes grain fed rib eye steaks, stone oven pizzas, salads and creative desserts. They also have an extensive cocktail menu that may include some flaring if you time it right. Plus there are DJ sets on Friday and Saturday nights so all your Darling Harbour party needs are sorted in one spot, located in Cockle Bay Wharf.
More Darling Harbour highlights
Many of our big attractions are found along the waterline at Darling Harbour, so we put together a guide on the best bits of this visitor-friendly part of the city, from top ticketed exhibitons and natural wonders to drinking and dining spots to keep your energy up for a day out in the city.