You know you've reached peak Sydney when you're sipping a boutique wine over a beautiful dinner and outside the windows is the big blue. Perhaps it's three-courses of mod Oz fare from Sean's Panaroma overlooking North Bondi Beach? Or maybe you prefer the gentler harbour vistas you get at Chiosco or Catalina, or spots that sit on the city's edge like Bea or Lumi? One thing's for sure, eating by the water gives your meal that extra special shine, which is why so many people indulge. For your next special occasion, work dinner or to impress visitors from out of town, book at table at the best waterfront restaurants Sydney has on the books.
After a spot for a big group? Check out our guide to the best private dining rooms in Sydney.
Looking for somewhere in the city? Here's our guide to the best business lunches in the CBD.
Sydney's best waterfront restaurants
“By God, this is a beautiful place to eat a meal.” The thought is almost certain to strike at some point as you dine under the dominating, post-Brutalist arches of executive chef Peter Gilmore's new restaurant inside the Opera House sails. And that’ll be before you even see the food. There are four ways to eat here: the restaurant downstairs; the cured and cultured section up a floor; the bar at the top, and if you’re in for a clean $650 per head, the chef’s table situated within the stunning, custom-designed kitchen.
Lunch at Bert’s is as close as we can ever get to actually living the jazz age in all its glory. There’s not a dining room in the city that can hold a candle to the soft-focus beauty that Merivale have achieved in the final instalment of the Newport’s renewal, and though we can’t afford the $2 million price tag on a Newport residence, an afternoon of café society luxury can be yours, and it’s not as expensive as you might think to get it. Of course, it’s not cheap either – it costs money to create the illusion that you’ve gone back in time and risen several social classes.
This waterfront institution offers incontrovertible proof that you don’t need eggs, cheese and meat to make stylish Italian fare pop – they offer full vegan and veggo menus alongside the usual suspects. With its postcard-worthy location and crowded tables, Otto is the ultimate spot for a very Sydney long lunch.
Italian food in Australia has come a long way since powdered parmo in a can. Today, regional Italian cuisine is what it’s all about: Brescian-born-and-raised Alessandro Pavoni, previously at the Hyatt’s HarbourKitchenBar, is now doing a regional menu from his part of Italy ta Ormeggio at the Spit. His business partner Fraser Guthrie is running the floor with a dedicated team and a very drinkable, very Italian wine list. You can tell straight away Pavoni’s in his element – his menu is focused, strong and gutsy.
Hit peak Sydney with seaside seafood from Cirrus, the fourth venue from culinary kingpins Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt. Their trophy cabinet is already chockers thanks to Monopole, Bentley and Yellow, but the collection wanted an aquatic addition. When NOMA moved out, Savage and Hildebrandt moved in and built something Sydney was sorely lacking.
If you can't afford to have a top chef come to your home and cook the kind of aspirationally fresh, local and elegant fare you normally see on cooking shows, the next best thing is going out for dinner at Sean's Panaroma. This little beachfront restaurant looks like a coastal café but has the heart of a fine diner, and for nearly 25 years it has been setting the standard for thoughtful modern Australian cooking.
Outside on the street, away from the Star, Pyrmont feels like a bit of a No Man’s Land for a fancy dinner out. But that was until LuMi Bar and Dining came along, the restaurant from ex-head chef of Ormeggio at the Spit, Federico Zanellato. It’s situated on the wharf opposite the casino, in the old Ripples site. Because of its positioning and extensive glass walls, it feels as if you’re almost floating on the harbour, surrounded as you are by water.
Icebergs can be everything you love about Sydney, or it can be everything you hate. Admittedly, fellow diners do have a tendency to give off a ‘comfortable on any size yacht’ vibe. But letting that get in the way of what could potentially be an epic lunch would be a mistake. Because when it’s good, it’s very, very good. At the height of its excellence, it gives you the feeling every restaurant should leave you with: utter refreshment, and those five-star views out over Bondi are a big part of it.
Here at Time Out, the most common request we get is for a seafood restaurant that won’t break the bank, allows you to bring your own wine and has water views. You can check off two of those four requirements with little difficulty, but all four was asking too much… until now. Turns out Ormeggio at the Spit’s casual offshoot is Sydney's dining unicorn.
In the same way that smart casual can be a flummoxing dress code, fancy casual is a difficult dining style to nail. You want it to be classy enough that you might take visiting colleagues out for lunch here on the company dime, but not so exclusive that the throngs of tourists who gravitate to Sydney’s waterfront hubs won’t consider making this one of their feature meals while they’re in town. Bea is the answer to this brief. It’s not fine dining exactly, but it’s classy as hell and ticking a lot of boxes, especially on the drinks front.