A good meal always tastes better when accompanied by a side serve of salt air and the sparkle of sunlight dancing on the water. Make lunch at one of these waterfront restaurants – all an easy drive from Sydney or Melbourne – the main course in a memorable day trip.
BEROWRA WATERS INN, BEROWRA WATERS
It's the bush view across the sun-dappled water. The sandstone, glass and tin-topped building by Glenn Murcutt. The arrival by boat – or, if you want to make a real splash, by seaplane. All these things have helped make Berowra Waters Inn, set on the tranquil shores of the Hawkesbury an hour out of Sydney, one of our most memorable lunch spots. What really sets this place apart, however, is the kitchen's creative approach and rigorous technique, evident not just in showstopper dishes such as the crab custard with miso, but also in the complimentary bread and butter, upscaled here into a brioche bun served with whipped treacle butter.
WOY WOY FISHERMEN'S WHARF, WOY WOY
Photo: Nikki To
The third generation of the Cregan-Clayton clan has now stepped up to run this Central Coast landmark, and it shows. While locals still cruise past to pick up some fresh fish or a serve of fish and chips, the famously laid back restaurant is looking more stylish than ever and the wine list now has some serious chops thanks to the resident sommelier. The short-but-sweet menu has some unexpected offerings, including barramundi spring rolls and spicy tuna tostadas, but regulars will tell you that you can't beat a bowl of unpeeled prawns followed by the classic fish and chips.
THE BOATHOUSE HOTEL, PATONGA
A long and lazy meal at one of the many waterside Boathouse properties, with their trademark blue-and-white, driftwood-dotted interiors, has become something of a Sydney institution. This newest outpost – the first on the Central Coast – has a truly special location in the sleepy hamlet of Patonga, reached by a 90-minute drive from Sydney or a 30-minute ferry ride from Palm Beach. The menu offers something for every palate, from burgers and pizzas to kingfish ceviche nachos and the famed Boathouse trout board, laden with pate, smoked trout and sourdough. Wash it down with a frozen watermelon margarita.
MEREWETHER SURFHOUSE, NEWCASTLE
So much has changed in Newcastle over the last 10 years or so: the pavement cafes, the street art, the artists' studios, the microbreweries and specialist roasters are all hallmarks of the new Newcastle. What hasn't changed are those magnificent beaches. No place is better positioned to drink in that ocean view than the Merewether Surfhouse. For a memorable meal, skip the pizza and café offerings on the lower levels and head straight to the top, where Merewether Surfhouse Italian rules the waves. Start with a cannelloni of avocado slices wrapped around spanner crab and topped with salmon pearls, before moving on to a chargrilled swordfish accented with fennel, capsicum, tomato, olive and capers.
RICK STEIN BANNISTERS, PORT STEPHENS
Thank you, Rick Stein. It's not that we didn't love your charming Mollymook getaway – it's just that the drive was a smidgen too far for a day trip. Now we have the Port Stephens property, we can treat ourselves to one of your memorable meals and still have time for a touch of post-prandial dolphin-spotting. Book a seat on the terrace and take your pick from the inviting menu, which features everything from Singapore-style chilli crab to fish pie. If you haven't yet tried Stein's oysters Charentaise – oysters with spicy sausages – now is the time to indulge yourself.
CRUSOE'S ON THE LAKE, LAKE MACQUARIE
Let's talk strategy. Do you like to reconnoitre your meals, perusing the menu online and pondering your choices before you arrive? Or do you take it on the fly, guided by the mood of the moment? Planners have a distinct advantage when it comes to dining at Crusoe's on the Lake. It's wise to book ahead if you want to get your hands on one of Crusoe's seafood platters, laden with blue swimmer crab, tiger prawns, Sydney rock oysters, lemon pepper squid, panko-crumbed prawns and battered sweetlip snapper. If you wait to order on the day, you may miss out.
THE BEACH HOUSE GEELONG, GEELONG
At the Beach House Geelong, it's all about getting the timing right. Don't book your lunch too early; you might want to leave room for a quick dip in the pools at Eastern Beach beforehand. Then again, you don't want to leave it too late, either, and miss out on a post-prandial waterfront stroll? And of course, you don't want to rush your meal, either. As you'd expect from any Mulberry Group (Liminal, Common Ground) outlet, this grand dame of a seaside pavilion has plenty of enticing options on the menu, from local mussels cooked in white wine sauce and served with charred toast to a chicken burger with house-made kimchi on a brioche bun.
THE ROCKS, MORNINGTON
Nostalgia is best measured out in small doses, and The Rocks gets it exactly right. The setting may be wonderfully yesteryear – who can go past a classic clapboard house, particularly when it is perfectly positioned to watch the boats sail past? But the food, critically, is utterly contemporary. Raw bar choices include sashimi and fresh-shucked oysters or a Vietnamese salmon salad and a trio of tartares – tuna, salmon and kingfish – served on betel leaf. If you fancy something heartier, try the red duck curry or the sticky BBQ pork ribs in a sesame hoisin sauce.
THE HOUSE OF JACK RABBIT, BELLARINE
You don't have to be in the mood for wine tasting to pull in at boutique vineyard The House of Jack Rabbit - although if you are, give the pinot noir a go. These days smart wineries are multi-tasking, and The House of Jack Rabbit has made sure its restaurant and café are as much an attraction as the cellar door. The views across the bay to Geelong, the You Yangs and Melbourne are panoramic, and what's on the plate is just as enticing. Good options include the wallaby shank salad and the fried local squid, or tuck into a buddha bowl of black bean and brown rice with avocado and capsicum.
THE CAPE KITCHEN, PHILLIP ISLAND
No-one plans a seaside lunch and hopes for bad weather. However, if your booking is at The Cape Kitchen at Newhaven, looming clouds may be the best thing that could happen. While this restaurant is glorious on a sunny day, its front-and-centre views of Bass Strait can be even more magnificent when the weather is tumultuous and the ocean turns up the drama. As for the food, choose between grazing on share plates on the deck – think grilled Skull Island prawns or spiced lamb kofta – or opt for the two- or three-course set menu inside.
Same same but different. Surrounded by glorious Apollo Bay views instead of street art, Movida's Lorne outpost delivers that inimitable Movida vibe, while playing up the seaside feel with a menu showcasing local seafood. Start small – perhaps with a serve of concha, a pastry shell stuffed with tuna sashimi and charred citrus – so that you can indulge yourself with the whole flounder served with saffron butter sauce. If you need to walk it off, add an after-lunch stroll to Teddy's Lookout or Erskine Falls to the agenda.
STILLWATER AT CRITTENDEN, DROMANA
Photo: Simon Schluter
With a bucolic setting overlooking a willow-fringed lake – there are even ducks, for goodness sake! - Stillwater at Crittenden Estate Winery has the long lunch feel sorted. The kitchen teams seasonal produce from the kitchen garden with the latest harvest from local organic growers, and dishes draw on a range of flavours from around the globe. Start with spiced quail tempura teamed with roast sweetcorn and puffed rice or zucchini flowers with heirloom tomatoes, basil oil and olive crumbs, before moving on to a tender sous vide lamb rump or a perfectly roasted turmeric cauliflower.