If you had to describe Sydney, Australia, landmarks like the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and the golden sands of Bondi Beach may be top of mind. But this sparkling harbourside city is also a leading culinary destination. It boasts an unrivalled melting pot of cultural influences from around the world, with chefs who are encouraged to experiment and some of the freshest, highest quality produce imaginable.
Al fresco dining has been embraced, mastered and thankfully can be enjoyed all year round in Sydney thanks to its mild to warm climate. Here are ten locations you don’t want to miss for the best dining and drinking al fresco style in Sydney right now.
The jewel in the crown of the newly re-opened Bondi Pavilion building is undoubtably Promenade. Outdoor diners in the ‘Front Yard’ area are seated on the calming, creamy white chairs and tables, which are set up smack bang in the middle of Bondi Beach. Here you are in prime position to watch the surfers, swimmers plus random dolphins and whales passing through all while enjoying lunch, dinner or just drinks and snacks.
Sweeping sculpture styled umbrellas will protect you from the sun during the day, while heaters and blankets are deployed for chillier days and nights. An extra bonus? This is a beach dining experience without the sand in your shoes.
Fittingly seafood is a feature on the menu with a crustacean platter, tiger prawn curry and fish and chips ticking all the boxes. A more extensive menu is available for their indoor dining area including the Sesame brioche bug toast which has the foodies coming back for more. Cocktails to try including the frozen Hot Passionfruit Margarita – with the spicy habanero agave it’s like a swim in the Pacific Ocean on a hot summer’s day. The Front Yard Bar doesn’t take bookings so if looking for lunch be sure to be there as close as possible to their opening time of 11:30am.
If you have a special event our suggestion is to book Promenade’s private room: The Grotto. You’ll have your own outdoor area, while the beautiful sandstone lined room that seats 12 guests has two doors which can be left wide open letting in the sea breeze. The service is impeccable, you’ll feel like the kings and queens of Bondi Beach. (Main image above is Promenade’s Front Yard)
The Butler’s open terrace boasts sweeping views of the Sydney city skyline. Both the view and the restaurant itself are so popular that the local community rallied behind Butler recently to help protect it from a proposed apartment development. Thankfully the courts sided with Butler and the view is now protected. We also love that the Butler also allows you to dine alfresco while surrounded by leafy foliage, thanks to its lush forest inspired set up.
Heaters will keep you warm regardless of the air temperature, so this is a wonderful spot to enjoy the majestic peach hued through to rich red sunsets that Sydney is famous for, regardless of the season (tip: book an earlier table in winter when the sun sets as early as 5pm around the Winter Solstice, to really enjoy the show).
Cuisine is Ibero-American inspired. You’ll get to choose from items like market fish crudo, empanada, Queso Fundido and slow roasted lamb. Team it with a cocktail like Jaliso Jungle Bird – tequila, Campari Passionfruit, lime, toasted coconut and whole milk and you’ll feel like the King or Queen of the Sydney Jungle.
Crown Sydney has other fine dining options like the lauded (and close to impossible to book) Oncore by Claire Smyth, but none other can compete with the amount of outdoor space that CIRQ boats.
Housed on the twenty-sixth floor with sweeping views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House on one side, and views of the Anzac Bridge and western Sydney on the other. While CIRQ is officially a bar, you’ll be seated and served by attentive staff. Choose from tapas dishes including duck, mushroom and truffle empanadas, chargrilled Freemantle octopus or grilled king prawns with chilli salsa, pangritata. Or opt for one of their cured meats, seafood and cheese stands, which are designed for 2-3 people to share.
This is another location where timing counts. During the day certainly won’t disappoint as Sydney’s glittering harbour is breathtaking day or night, but if wanting a colour show provided by the setting sun then arrive for an early dinner. Check the time the sun will set on the day you plan to visit and schedule your booking accordingly. Wanting a light show? Book well in advance for when Vivid Festival is on and you’ll get to see this famed light show without the crowds.
The history-rich Shell House, opened in a meticulously restored 1930’s building in Wynyard, gives diners multiple outdoor dining options. Book into the art deco inspired The Dining Room & Terrace, request a terrace table, and hopefully you’ll nab one of their in demand light and bright outdoor spaces, surrounded by trees, and still feeling as one with the pulse of the indoor section of the restaurant, with its open kitchen showcasing chefs fine tuning Mediterranean inspired dishes like Western Australian spanner crab served with turnip, caramelised cream and yuzu; or the main of lamb with caramelised yoghurt, beans and pine nuts. Afterwards head up to the Sky Bar on Level 10, which boasts floor to ceiling glass doors which fully retract, giving you a full open-air experience as well as panoramic views of the city skyline.
If snacks and drinks were all you are after then head straight to Sky Bar – you’ll still be served tasty options including cheese and pepper donut or a wagyu beef burger with cheese and pickles or spicy calamari, and it will be much easier to secure a table. Currently Sky Bar has ‘Golden Hours’ of 4-6pm where margaritas and bar snacks are priced at $15 a pop. It’s a smart time arrive.
It’s well known in Sydney that every venue Merivale’s Justin Hemmes touches somehow turns to gold (or another golden venue launch). And his gradual transformation of Coogee Pavilion was no exception. Mimi’s, is the biggest success story in this sprawling venue, despite launching in 2020! But while the windows are flung open if weather permits, if you want true outdoor dining you’ll head to the Rooftop Bar instead with it’s sweeping views of the beach and all that fresh salty air.
The Rooftop boasts four indoor and outdoor bars. Thursday through to Sunday are the best days to visit as you can order from Jimmy’s Chicken menu with Middle Eastern plates of Baba Ganoush, Spinach and Feta Pide, Octopus with Tahnini and Chermoula or the Charcoal Chicken Habibi Combo which serves 2. DJ’s will be spinning out tunes from Friday through to Sunday, every week.
The Tilbury Hotel has been cleverly designed so every indoor area flows through onto an even better outdoor partner – the main dining room has a beautiful, enclosed courtyard with frangipani and olive trees, the downstairs bar also offers outdoor seating, while upstairs you’ll also find an outdoor terrace to station yourself at beyond the bar.
Cool citrus colours abound bouncing off brass fixtures throughout, with crisp geometric lemon yellow and white umbrellas keeping you shaded from the sun during the day. Head to The Tilbury on a Sunday for their famous Sunday Roast or enjoy the full modern contemporary menu any day of the week with starters like the freshest and juiciest East 33 oysters or crispy buttermilk chicken bao; mains include Jack Creek Black Angus Beef with hand cut potatoes or Prawn linguine. The Tilbury really is Sydney’s insider secret, so you’ll get to soak up the true local vibe as well as the fabulous food.
North Sydney has always had a bit of a nanna vibe, particularly on the weekends when the bulk of its foot traffic (aka office workers) are missing. But Rafi came along and fixed that right up.
Launched in late 2022 Rafi has made it cool to cross the bridge for lunch or dinner. It’s spacious, seating 300 guests so you’ll hopefully have no trouble finding a table, and with its glorious outdoor glasshouse and terrace you’ve got plenty of al fresco dining space too. The terrace is upliftingly decorated with tangerine-coloured umbrellas and pots of flowering plants. Order a matching Aperol spritz and tuck into gems from their menu like barbecued South Coast octopus with chilli, oregano and lemon, or the raw tuna with tomatoes, cucumber, tahini and garlic chilli oil. Delicious.
There’s no doubt that the 189 hectares of Sydney’s beautifully kept Centennial Park is the lungs of the city. So if fresh air is on your agenda heading to The Homestead at Centennial Park makes perfect sense! This is a breakfast or lunch venue – the park gates open at sunrise then close to cars at sunset – has a large outdoor seating area and even indoors when weather permits leaves all the doors wide open.
Their healthy and hearty breakfasts are a wonderful way to start the day – try the Crumbed halloumi & avocado with roasted Roma tomato, Spanish onions, garlic, thyme, parsley, dill, dukkah & grilled rustic bread or a tasty breakfast burger with eggs, bacon baby cos, tomato, provolone, sweet potato crisps. Lunch has freshly grown salads or a try the Braised wagyu beef & vegetable pie with spinach, red wine and grain mustard jus.
Want to find yourself a cosy spot away from everyone? Order one of their picnic baskets which start at just $40, picking it up from the Centennial Pantry, their more casual kiosk counter on the other side of the building. That’s a no fuss picnic plan!
While tourists and locals flock to the Opera Bar, which certainly has sweeping views of the Sydney harbour & plenty of outdoor seating, the better kept secret is Graze at the Museum of Contemporary Art which sits on the western edge of Circular Quay. Like The Homestead, this is mainly a lunch venue, though it does open on weekends for breakfast and brunch.
All tables are outside on a covered terrace. Sit back and watch the incoming ferries, wandering tourists and marvel at the Opera House from the best seat in Sydney to enjoy it all. Want a bit more of The Harbour Bridge – head up to the MCA Cafe for a coffee at the end of lunch, it’s up on level four and has spectacular views too – and an outdoor area to take it all in.
The queen of Sydney dining, Icebergs as it’s affectionately known, has been the destination for the who’s who of Sydney since it first opened 20 years ago, and it’s where international celebrities flock too. Positioned above the Icebergs swimming pool and the south end of Bondi Beach, you often feel as if you are out in the water with the surfers, but somehow with a glass of champagne in your hand, being served by a team of staff who pride themselves on giving every guest a truly memorable dining experience.
The restaurant closed for renovations in 2022, reopening with a new terrace private dining section ‘The Pacific Dining Room’ at the southern end added. While The Pacific Dining Room has a permanent roof, it is practically outdoors, with fresh air streaming in from above the Pacific Ocean over the glass balustrades to the east and also from the south. This new section has been designed for special occasions, with it’s own bar and bartender stationed at the rear of the terrace. Perfect for weddings, parties and special celebrations.