Sydney was made for outdoor dining and outdoor dining was made for Sydney. Her hidden coves and brassy balconies, dazzling harbours, shady courtyards and tropically lush parks all come to life when the sun is shining. (Is it even Sydney if the sun goes behind a cloud?)
We all know and love the great alfresco places in Bondi, on the Finger Wharf, and in our parks and gardens. They're as much a part of summer as sunnies and spritzes. But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that we also need to embrace change, and invent our own fun.
Outdoor dining can now be anything we want it to be – a takeaway taco from a truck, a cocktail snack on a harbour cruise, or fish and chips on a pier. It's about small pleasures, not big bills; about kicking back and feeling free and easy. Knives and forks optional. You want ice in your wine? Fine.
With luck, summer will bring even more great dining-out opportunities, as the NSW government's new multi-agency taskforce works to relax its own rules and open up our streets and footpaths to diners and drinkers. Supporting our already struggling restaurants at this stage of the game is an investment in their future, and ours.
So what are you waiting for? Go and play outside.
10 new ways to go alfresco
1. Glass Island, Sydney Harbour
Book a table on the open top deck of this luxury vessel, and you'll be ferried around Sydney Harbour with a faceful of fresh air, an exhilarating selection of cocktails, and food – salumi platters and spring green and tofu rolls – via chef Simon Ekas. Will Sydney ever stop inventing new ways to show itself off? We hope not.
Tip: Music comes via DJs and a bespoke Void Acoustics sound system.
Soak in the views at Betel Leaf at Bathers' Pavilion. Photo: Nikki To
2. The Louis Terrace, Bathers' Pavilion, Balmoral
Thirty-two lucky diners and drinkers can gather on the first-floor balcony terrace of Balmoral's gorgeous 1930s bathing pavilion. We suggest they do it with a glass of chilled Louis Roederer champagne in one hand and an oyster with chilli and lime from Ty Bellingham's Betel Leaf pop-up in the other.
Tip: New glass screens and awnings protect from the elements.
Bathers' Pavilion, 4 The Esplanade, Balmoral; 02 9969 5050; batherspavilion.com.au
3. Estate Terrace, Coogee
Retire from a day in the sun to the tropical, palm-dotted terrace that lines Estate Restaurant and Taqueria at the multimillion-dollar Crowne Plaza Coogee Beach, and grab yourself a lobster roll from the vintage Airstream trailer. Live music, bean bags, local brews and sunset films add to the beach-club vibe.
Tip: End the night in the Confessional, Estate's hidden karaoke bar.
Corner Arden and Carr streets, Coogee Beach; 02 9315 9179; estatecoogee.com
Tacos and gelato? Yes, please. Photo: Katie Wlton
4. Ricos Tacos, Rosebery
Look, if you want table service and glasses with stems, go elsewhere. But if you want tacomeister Toby Wilson's toasty tacos topped with braised beef with salsa rojo from a cute food truck while hanging around a picnic table in a car park, you're set.
Tip: Finish with a dulce de leche gelato from Messina Gelato, because it's their car park that Ricos is popping up in, all summer long. Thursday from 5pm and Friday to Sunday from noon until sold out.
Gelato Messina, 58 Mentmore Avenue, Rosebery; gelatomessina.com
5. No. 92, Glebe
Who needs water when you have wine? The gorgeous white-painted sun trap of a courtyard out the back of Glebe's newest corner wine bar hits the spot for aperitivo from 3pm to 6pm (Thursday-Sunday), or for a slap-up Sunday gastropub-style roast.
Tip: Wednesday is Half Full wine night, when you can buy wine and beer at retail price.
92 Glebe Point Road, Glebe; 02 9571 9292; no92gpr.com.au
6. CC Babcoq, Cronulla
Sit in the sun outside CC Babcoq with some slow-roasted lamb, tzatziki and a spritz, and the vibe is so Mediterranean you could (almost) be on a Greek isle. The team behind HAM (Harry and Mario) cafe and former Apollo chef Josh Davidson also do wonders with charcoal chicken from the rotisserie.
Tip: Take it away, to the beach.
Shop 5, 66-70 Cronulla Street, Cronulla; 0420 955 844; ccbabcoq.co
Work lunch? Hit up Glorietta in North Sydney. Photo: Supplied
7. Glorietta, North Sydney
So you've gone back to work in an Actual Office. In North Sydney. Then you need to know about Glorietta, wrapped on three sides by a glorious outdoor terrace that just screams drop-in-after-work-for-a-drink. Swing by for a quick Italian pizza-and-burrata lunch, aperitivi specials of $12 negronis and $10 arancini from 3pm to 6pm, or spicy, creamy paccheri with vodka sauce for dinner.
Tip: Even the high-ceilinged interior, with its "bird" lights and rattan "clouds", was designed by Alexander & Co to make you feel as if you're outside.
100 Mount Street, North Sydney; 02 9167 7499; glorietta.com.au
8. Restaurant Leo, Sydney CBD
The city might still be quiet as people continue to work from home, but Ash Street is abuzz, with laneway tables for an extra 40 people from two of our most talented chefs, Karl Firla and Federico Zanellato at Restaurant Leo, joining those from Felix and Ash St Cellar. Add pitch-perfect Italian food and it's easy to imagine you've transported yourself to Florence for lunch or dinner.
Tip: Drop in to Piccoleo next door for coffee and croissants.
1 Angel Place, city; restaurantleo.com.au
The (not new, but newly reopened) Opera Bar now takes reservations for four or more. Photo: Supplied
9. Opera Bar, Circular Quay
If you've been longing for a lazy brunch with friends overlooking the harbour – and who hasn't? – then listen up. The (not new, but newly reopened) Opera Bar now takes reservations for four or more, and Aria chef Matt Moran has overseen a fresh menu rich in oysters, fishburgers and seafood platters both hot and cold.
Tip: There's also a weekend brunch club with Grey Goose Vodka, a pop-up temaki (hand roll) and sake cocktail bar, and a new all-Australian wine list in case you didn't already know where you were.
Lower Concourse, Sydney Opera House; 02 8587 5900; operabar.com.au
Don't miss the fresh hummus with radishes and smoked egg at Ezra. Photo: Wolter Peeters
Everyone knows that falafel, hummus and puffy pita bread all taste better when eaten outdoors, just as they would in Tel Aviv. Lucky Ezra is front-and-backed with outdoor space; the most charming being the front courtyard of this lovely old terrace bathed in pink neon.
Tip: Former Paper Bird chef Ben Sears does a mighty hummus topped with a smoky soft-boiled egg.
3 Kellett Street, Potts Point; ezrarestaurant.com.au
Five more outdoor stars we know and love
The wagyu beef burger at Poolside Cafe. Photo: Cole Bennetts
1. Poolside Cafe, The Domain
You had me at passionfruit frozen margaritas, Poolside Cafe – just the ticket when lounging under your stripy umbrellas overlooking the dazzling blue saltwater pool and Woolloomooloo Bay below. The new all-day, every-day brunch menu is a keeper, with everything from a cracker egg-and-bacon roll to a healthy spring salad of green tea soba noodles, carrot, avocado and ginger sesame coconut dressing.
Tip: Don't forget your hat and sunnies, it's so bright out there.
Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool, 1C Mrs Macquaries Road, The Domain; poolsidecafe.com.au
2. The Newport, Newport
With its huge deck and gardens, Pittwater views, giant games for the kids, and wood-fired pizza ovens, it's the backyard of your dreams – even if you do have to share it with others. With the vast outdoor space now open Friday to Sunday from noon, The Newy is back in its (lightly sun-kissed) skin as an alfresco playground for the upper north shore.
Tip: Go big, not small, with giant platters of antipasti, pizza and cheese.
2 Kalinya Street, Newport; merivale.com.au
3. The Gantry, Walsh Bay
Take your pooch! Those who get separation anxiety away from their support animals, relax. This elegant hotel perched atop a pier will provide a four-course menu for your puppy to eat outside in the 20-seat Marquee or the Gantry Garden, with a side serve of mesmerising harbour views.
Tip: Chef Thomas Gorringe also feeds humans – and very well, too.
11 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay; 02 8298 9910; thegantry.com.au
4. Anason, Barangaroo
Turkish food is perfect for eating outdoors, especially on the broad, water-lined promenade of Barangaroo, where you can cover the table with owner-chef Somer Sivrioglu's sardine sandwiches, village bread and lamb kofta.
Tip: Happy hour (Wednesday-Sunday 3pm-5pm) brings a mixed meze platter for just $15 a head.
Shop 5, 23 Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo; 02 9188 1581; anason.com.au
It's all about the puffy wood-fired flatbread at Totti's. So grab a table in the picture-perfect courtyard of Bondi's landmark pub, The Royal, and bury it in breads, salumi, pickles and burrata. Their cute little Neapolitan ice-cream sandwich will melt your heart. Also, Totti's negroni is available by the half-litre and litre. Just sayin'.
Tip: Order and pick up antipasti (and that bread) and take it down to the beach for a picnic.
283 Bondi Road, Bondi; merivale.com
This article appears in Good Food in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald on sale October 4.