Sydney's world-class restaurants with a view

The terrace area at The Bathers Pavilion, Balmoral.
The terrace area at The Bathers Pavilion, Balmoral. Photo: Edwina Pickles

A rule of thumb used by food critics states "the quality of a restaurant's food is inversely proportional to its views". Or, in other words, "don't order fish if you can see the water".

Certainly, the dictum has merit in coastal holiday towns, where restaurateurs use cut-price seafood to bait hungry tourists, but in Sydney it has little relevance. In the Good Food Guide 2020, published last week, 17 waterside restaurants in the Harbour City were awarded one or more coveted chef's hats for a high level of food and service. 

The majority of those restaurants have been operating for more than 20 years too, such as Balmoral's Bathers' Pavilion which reopened last weekend after major renovations. 

A whopping 4000 people were served at the beachside icon over the first four days of its relaunch.

"We also had a huge number of people just walking around for a stickybeak," said Bathers' veteran chef Serge Dansereau, who secured a new 20-year-lease on the heritage landmark in May. "It's a very special restaurant for the north shore community."

Dansereau's new business partner, Ian Pagent, said the number of guests caught the Bathers' team by surprise. 

"We ran out of food, so that wasn't ideal, but there was a certain frisson through the whole place - people wanted to be there."

The revamped Bathers' features a new fine-dining restaurant, lounge, bistro, kiosk and first-floor terrace bar, now open for seafood platters and champagne after its former life as a function space.

"When I first went up to the terrace I thought 'my god, why haven't we been using this?'," said Pagent, who also runs car dealership empire Autosports Group. "If it was on Lake Como, it would be the entire restaurant!"

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Pagent suggests the limited number of great waterfront dining sites in Sydney is a reason why so many restaurants with a view have found long-term success.

"Because someone new isn't going to come in, it gives you a chance to create a proper restaurant over many years. A Catalina-style restaurant that becomes part of the community."

Five great Sydney restaurants with a view from the Good Food Guide

Aqua Dining

This glass-walled restaurant is perched above North Sydney Olympic Pool, an ordinary Aussie setting with an extraordinary backdrop - the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Luna Park. Delicate entrees include oysters, kingfish and confit calamari. Corner Paul and Northcliff Streets, Milsons Point, 02 9964 9998.

Catalina

It's a rare Saturday night that Michael and Judy McMahon's waterside restaurant isn't hosting a wedding. And on those occasions when the restaurant's free, diners still party like the knot's been freshly tied. The food offering gives prime position to seafood, like a little West Australian marron, served with its claws on like gloves at the opera. Lyne Park, Rose Bay, 02 9371 0555

Icebergs Dining Room and Bar

Icebergs combination of old-world charm, stunning scenery, and Italian classics painted with broad strokes recently led Nigella Lawson to dub the Bondi beacon her favourite restaurant in the whole world. Many Sydneysiders would agree. 1 Notts Avenue, Bondi Beach, 02 9365 9000 

Jonah's

The view to Whale Beach was a natural wonder for Sydney's day-tripping set when the restaurant opened in 1929, and the luxe bolthole continues to be a hotspot for weekend long lunches and no-expense-spared weddings. 69 Bynya Road, Whale Beach, 02 9974 5599

Pilu at Freshwater

You don't even need to squint – Freshwater could easily be a beach in Sardinia. That's not just because the fine-dining menu draws from the food traditions of the Mediterranean island, but also because Giovanni Pilu delivers it with the same ethos. Moore Road, Freshwater, 02 9938 3331

The Good Food Guide's third annual national edition is on sale now in newsagencies and bookstores, and available to order at thestore.com.au/gfg20 for $29.99 with free shipping.