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 perhaps you prefer the gentler harbour vistas you get at Chiosco or Catalina? 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.
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.
Outside on the street, away from the Star casino, 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.
The first thing that hits you when you visit Pilu is the view. This Sardinian restaurant (the only one in Sydney, mind) is built in a huge old weatherboard house looking out over the beach at Freshwater. In winter, catch the whales migrating. In summer, watch as locals take to the sea. Chef Giovanni Pilu is all about celebrating classic Sardinian fare. Make sure to order ahead for the incredible platter of golden, crisp-skinned suckling pig and rosemary potatoes.
For years, Peter Gilmore’s signature restaurant has upheld its position as one of the most incredible restaurants this city has ever seen. From the mud crab congee to the Snow Egg, everyone knows its name, but few have the luxury of actually going (perhaps because prices start at $150pp). But when you sit down to your table at night with the sparkling waters of Circular Quay beyond the glass, you'll know they're dollars well spent.
Exotic gloop, soft proteins, white gloves, polished cloches, hushed surrounds. This is not Sean’s Panaroma. Sean’s is freshness, simplicity and fun on a plate – it’s the antidote to every bad meal you’ve ever had. Chef and owner Sean Moran cooks his own food his own way. And has done since he opened the restaurant in 1993. The restaurant looks straight out over Bondi Beach – it’s some of the best real estate in the country.
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.
So finding out what ‘Papi Chulo’ means exactly takes us down a bit of a click spiral. Whatever it means, it’s packed. We’re talking every table and every seat at the bar. Wall-to-wall Manly locals cram in for a taste of Justin Hemmes’ northside restaurant. It’s the mix of North meets South America in a tidal wave of sour, hot, spicy and fun at this new beachside smokehouse that’s got us, and everyone else, amped.
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.
This giant restaurant is just as full as it’s always been. Perhaps it's because you cannot deny the appeal of a chilled bottle of Domaine du Vissoux ‘Les Griottes’ Beaujolais and sea views. The food? Well, call it set dressing. Order the raw kingfish with ponzu, rounds of raw green chilli and maybe the calamari, even if it’s just an excuse to order more wine. Because, fun lovers,the list (written by Matt Dunne) is brilliant – short, but really thoughtfully put together. If you’re here to luxuriate a little and soak up some summer goodness, you’ll want to spend some time with it.
Breakfast is the business overlooking Balmoral beach here. Pioneer chef Serge Dansereau has one of the most attractively located restaurants, looking out over Balmoral beach. "My most pleasurable moment was when I opened Bathers' nearly ten years ago and my three new kitchens suddenly came alive," says Dansereau.
Built above the Sydney rower’s club, you’ll often see people training with long skinny boats carving up the harbour. Look straight across towards the Sydney Fish Market with flags flicking and flapping in the breeze. The open room is decked with glass on all sides, thick white tablecloths and waitstaff who appear and disappear without a sound, with the likes of fresh shucked oysters like mineraly Wallis Lakes, Angassi flats and salty Claire de Lunes. Potato blini (sort of like a little pikelet) come with crème fraiche, wasabi and a glass pot of ocean trout roe on ice with a pearl spoon while a magnificent mud crab is served simply with a fingerbowl and a pair of crab crackers.
With an amazing view over Rose Bay and an exceptional wine list, Catalina specialise in seafood but also do gutsy French classics like pig's head with sauce gribiche. They also have their own sushi chef who'll slice you a piece of fish faster than you can say mushi mushi. Say hi to the friendly pelicans for us.
This spot is tucked away right around the bend from beautiful Manly Beach, and it's a triple threat: kiosk, café and restaurant in one. The Boathouse duo of Pip and Andrew Goldsmith added this spot to their existing trio of eateries in Palm Beach, Balmoral and Whale Beach. Wood-fired ricotta with honey, cucumber and buckwheat; autumn ravioli of duck, potato and rhubarb; and the famous Boathouse beer-battered flathead and chips are highlights of the café menu. The venue is open all day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it incorporates the previous Shelly Beach kiosk, which was given a polish and reboot – it now boasts an open kitchen, a tropical-tinged proportions and a wood-fired oven to bake seafood and bread to succulent perfection.
These are some of the best views in the city. The huge balcony juts straight over Circular Quay with a bird's-eye view of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Sydney ferries choofing their way across the sparkling blue water. Stunning by day or night, it's one of the best views in town and all the better for being in the open air. If you're in full impress-your-mates mode, order a seafood platter with a selection of yabbies, bugs, crab, marron and prawns.
Hickson's Food and Wine has picked up where Firefly left off, providing excellent wine and high-end bar snacks down in Sydney's waterfront theatre precinct. By the glass options will cost you at least a tenner and bottles start at $48. The 120-strong list has a strong French bias and opts for small boutique producers rather than more familiar names.