The Best Al Fresco Restaurants in Australia

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Mar 02, 2018

by TRAVEL INSIDER WRITERS

Enjoy fresh air and a side of sunshine at the best alfresco tables around the country.

NSW

Otto

With a silhouette of the city skyline, bobbing boats, ripples of deep blue and the swagger of Southern Italian fare, Otto has been wooing all and sundry to Sydney’s Woolloomooloo Wharf for two decades. Who wouldn’t request alfresco seating? The white-on-white furnishings, crisp tablecloths and snappy waitstaff make it seem like a serious affair but this is a relaxed dining experience. And the contemporary Italian-inspired food of chef Richard Ptacnik lets quality produce shine in the glory of simplicity. Start with salt-and-pepper school prawns with a punchy smoked chilli aïoli. Cherry tomatoes, pomegranate and mint add a refreshing edge to creamy burrata, while pillows of gnocchi and Berkshire pork and porcini make for a rich ragù. Whole grilled eastern rock lobster is served in a lather of pepper butter and the Tajima 7+ marbled Wagyu rump cap will have you yearning for more.

8/6 Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo; (02) 9368 7488

Banksii

Among the suite of restaurants on the water at Sydney’s new Barangaroo development, Banksii (from the team that launched the award-winning Bar H) sets the agenda for those looking for the perfect tipple or tempting treat as the sun sets. The alfresco area of this restaurant-cum-vermouth bar is a tantalising blend of Hamptons-style getaway and laid-back Aussie awesomeness. A stunning wine list, one of Australia’s largest vermouth offerings and service that’s one part affable, two parts professional is the perfect recipe for a relaxed dinner or long lunch. In the kitchen, chef Hamish Ingham champions Australian botanical and native ingredients and delivers them in a contemporary context. Muntrie jam gives a fruity twang to chicken liver pâté. Curry leaf butter and pickled turmeric add an Asian accent to grilled king prawns. Seared kingfish is joined by wild fennel and fermented chilli, while crisp saltbush and preserved lemon help balance beautifully braised lamb shoulder.

Shop 11, 33 Barangaroo Avenue, Barangaroo;  (02) 8072 7037

Ormeggio at The Spit

The tranquillity of Middle Harbour and Pearl Bay is matched by sophistication, style and big flavours at this Spit Bridge star. Ormeggio is one of Sydney’s finest proponents of Northern Italian, thanks to executive chef Alessandro Pavoni. Once dubbed “the king of risotto Down Under”, he has many more tricks in his culinary kitbag. With about 30 seats on the deck, a long, languid lunch is at your beck and call. So, too, are waitstaff who know a thing or two about great service. Although classic Ormeggio dishes are offered, Pavoni has recently teamed with Spanish head chef Victor Moya to deliver an Italian culinary trip via Spain. Enjoy Glacier 51 toothfish and salted cod fritters with a Basque Country pil-pil sauce. Meanwhile, a peanut ajo blanco (white soup) partners Skull Island tiger prawns and roast chicken makes a nest in delicate gnocchi. The rye-and-pumpkin crema Catalana is just as stunning as the water views.

D’Albora Marinas The Spit, Spit Road, Mosman; (02) 9969 4088

QLD

Vaquero

A cool breeze and the soothing sound of the fountain in the cobblestoned courtyard at the rear of this Spanish-inspired restaurant instantly invites relaxation. Add a killer cocktail to the picture and it’s a sure thing. The house Mojito, made with Arehucas golden rum, lime juice, charcoal-grilled pineapple purée and mint is highly recommended. Start with the charcuterie board (all that lovely-looking salami and jamón is prepared in-house), pickles and delicious rustic sourdough. That enticing smoky aroma as you make your way through the narrow, moodily lit interior? It’s probably something cooking over charcoal – the rack of pork, complete with sizzling crackling, salt-aged duck breast or wild venison perhaps? If you can’t decide, be guided by the waitstaff, who really know their stuff.

344 Sandgate Road, Albion; (07) 3862 3606

The Wolfe

Housed in a beautiful building with historic touches – and with a classic black, white and grey interior and a grand timber bar – The Wolfe is old-fashioned in all the right ways. Head through French doors to the cosy courtyard tucked away at the rear of the restaurant – the perfect place for a long lunch on a balmy Queensland afternoon. If it sometimes feels like well-executed classic fare is the stuff of fairytales, take heart. The menu, with its whimsical Brothers Grimm-style depiction of prowling canids, is refreshingly straightforward; there are but a dozen or so dishes from which to choose. The perfectly pink lamb rump comes with creamy soubise and oyster mushrooms or there’s the brioche-crusted white fish with native greens and a scallop consommé. Have them both as part of the seven-course tasting menu.

989 Stanley Street, East Brisbane; (07) 3891 7772

SA 

2KW

Alfresco dining in the heart of the city? Not a problem when you’re eight storeys above the traffic lights. This rooftop garden and restaurant offers a flexible range of intimate spaces, from communal tables and window seats to shaded outdoor cabanas and a garden terrace. Choose from the substantial bar menu or go à la carte. Head chef Daniel Lawrence keeps it fresh, summery and Mediterranean with smaller plates such as spicy fried eggplant with buttermilk tahini, walnuts and pomegranate. Among the larger dishes, nothing beats the braised baby squid from Port Willunga with grilled white morcilla, white beans and a sweet sherry reduction. Overhead misters keep the mood cool on hot days.

Level 8, 2 King William Street, Adelaide;  (08) 8212 5511

Pike & Joyce

Perched at almost 600 metres above sea level, with bi-fold doors thrown open to reveal a massive deck, this stunning cellar-door restaurant has a view of the vineyards that’s as glorious as the glass of grüner veltliner on your table. As much as possible, the fare is housemade – or at least local – from the bread and hand-churned butter to the Joyson apples served with the cheese plates. The menu is fresh, light and contemporary, with dishes such as pancetta-wrapped rabbit loin with baby heirloom carrots, leaves and flowers or pan-fried garfish with steamed mussels and baby calamari in a hot, spicy broth topped with more leafy bits – super-gorgeous and delicious. 

730 Mawson Road, Lenswood; (08) 8389 8102

WA

Cullen Wines Restaurant

Vines in all directions. A biodynamic garden. A homely, low-profile timber and granite cottage. Few Margaret River estates feel as connected to the land as Cullen’s – doubly so if you’re enjoying the Cullen family’s hospitality from the sun-kissed verandah or under the shade of towering peppermint trees. While Vanya Cullen oversees the winemaking, chef Iain Robertson keeps time with lively, cosmopolitan dishes that celebrate estate-grown ingredients. Lunch might feature dainty tempura zucchini flowers stuffed with sheep’s whey, while garden-fresh green tomatoes counter the richness of juicy pork and scallops. The honey mousse dessert made with nectar from Cullen’s hives is an essential order.

4323 Caves Road, Wilyabrup; (08) 9755 5656

Island Market

Not alfresco in the strictest sense, this breezy dining room with windows and doors that open onto Trigg Beach could be pigeonholed as a restaurant with a view but it has plenty of substance to match its heady coastal style. Most telling is the appointment of David Coomer (Star Anise, Print Hall, Pata Negra) as executive chef. Whether he’s steering the menu in a subtle North African direction (fried calamari with Arabic spice and pitas crammed with exemplary baba ganoush and lamb merguez) or tipping the Akubra to Australian food traditions (hello to you, pavlova with seasonal fruit), delicious eating is assured. Add great cocktails and hip wine choices and you’re looking at the makings of a brilliant day in the sun.

364 West Coast Drive, Trigg; (08) 9447 0077

ACT

Pialligo Estate Garden Pavilions

Rising phoenix-like after their restaurant was devastated by a fire last year and their smokehouse – home to award-winning bacon – burned down in 2016, the team at Pialligo Estate continues dishing up fabulous fare in their Garden Pavilions. The buildings are set amid an exquisite parterre, where diners gaze over the olive groves, vineyards and orchards that provide much of the produce. It’s all about sharing here. For lunch, kick off with the chef’s charcuterie selection and a local brew, Pact Beer Co. 42.2 Summer Ale. You can’t go past the smokehouse fish platter, given sparky zest by capers and cornichons while delicate dill mayonnaise and a cool-climate Canberra rosé soften the edges. Before leaving, purchase some of their famous smoked goods to savour at home.

18 Kallaroo Road, Pialligo; (02) 6247 6060

Pod Food

Wander down a brick-paved path and discover the secret garden that has become a favourite destination of Canberra’s food-lovers. Take a seat on the open-sided wooden deck or in the charming courtyard, where lush creepers tumble over walls and trees. Pod Food offers a tranquil setting for weekday business lunches but expect a rowdy crowd at weekends when diners settle in for the long haul. The concise menu belies the complexity and sheer brilliance of the food combinations, mostly drawn from local produce. It’s a tough choice between two courses for $60 or three for $70 but why not throw caution to the rose-scented wind and embrace the six-course chef’s tasting menu for $100? With an award-winning wine list, each dish can be matched with aplomb.

12 Beltana Road, Pialligo; (02) 6257 3388

TAS

The Source Restaurant

There are few restaurants where you can eat at a “living” table but on the deck at The Source, looking out across the Derwent River, the tables are planted with gentle hills of baby’s tears, purple and white pratia and Corsican mint. With one of the longest wine lists in the state, you might like to take a recommendation from the sommelier and try something different, like an ancient varietal wine from Georgia. The chinuri is delicious with a seafood antipasto, pickles, guindilla peppers, saffron aïoli and rye crisps, as is the confit abalone with pickled daikon and greens in a mushroom stock. Meaty options include seared wallaby with smoked beetroot, almond-and-wattleseed butter, Thai basil and fried eschalots or poached fillet of beef with greens, pickled turnip, oxtail-and-whisky consommé and black garlic. Top it all off with the crème fraîche cheesecake with strawberry, raspberry and almond crumb.

Ether Building, Mona, 655 Main Road, Berriedale; (03) 6277 9904

Timbre Kitchen

Take a seat on the deck at one of Tasmania’s first vineyards and enjoy the lush view across to the Tamar River and hills beyond. Owner-chef Matt Adams designs the menu daily around local produce (often delivered by neighbours), pickles, ferments, coals and fire. The wine list features pinot noir from Tamar Valley vineyards such as Stoney Rise and Shiny Wine, as well as the lively pétillant naturel from Marion’s Vineyard. Heavenly dishes include the asparagus with crisp-edged fried egg, ’nduja, goat’s curd and a fried bun or the wood-oven-grilled cheese with Granny Jean’s mustard pickle. Larger plates might include beef brisket with bagna càuda, pickled radish, leaves and fresh broad beans, while the buttermilk and bay jelly with rhubarb and olive oil makes for a luscious finish. 

Velo Wines, 755 West Tamar Highway, Legana; (03) 6330 3677

NT

Yots Greek Taverna

Thankfully, some things remain unchanged year after year: Darwin’s sultry wet-season evenings and occasional wild storms; crisp dry-season afternoons; and enjoying wonderful food at Yots Greek Taverna, overlooking Cullen Bay Marina. Hosts Evan and Anna Papandonakis don’t mess with success, serving simple, classic Greek dishes focusing on seafood. Expect freshly shucked oysters, local wild saltwater barramundi and chargrilled octopus, as well as excellent lamb souvlaki with lemon potatoes. It’s just right for the setting on a broad timber deck next to the boats and twinkling lights of the marina. Then there’s the charming, attentive service and desserts to make any yiayia proud. If sultriness or storms preclude sitting outdoors, there’s plenty of space inside in the air conditioning. Check the weather before booking. 

54 Marina Boulevard, Cullen Bay; (08) 8981 4433

VIC

Wilson & Market

Fans of the Botanical in its heyday are misty-eyed over the re-emergence of chef Paul Wilson. Recently returned from his travels through Latin America, he has opened a slick operation adjoining Prahran Market, complete with a terrace overlooking Commercial Road and enough classical accoutrement to satisfy the sternest Europhile. The truffled polenta of Bot fame is back, too – a bowl of pure comfort. You’ll also want to check out the chicken – a golden-skinned thing of beauty, brined, gently smoked then roasted – and add an order of triple-cooked chips as a chaser. But Wilson knows the two-speed nature of his South Yarra audience so fat lozenges of raw yellowfin tuna tumbled in a bittersweet salad achieve the rare combination of being both delicious and healthy.

163-185 Commercial Road, South Yarra; (03) 9804 7530  

Movida Aqui

With the grand 19th-century dome of the Supreme Court of Victoria looming dramatically overhead and the bustle of the city’s legal district nearby, there are few better places to enjoy the sunshine than on the umbrella-shaded terrace at Spanish champion MoVida’s southern CBD offshoot. Aqui is a bigger beast than the Hosier Lane original, its slick, modern fit-out giving nods to Melbourne design ticks (hello milk-crate light fittings) and its menu enjoying the chance to trot out larger dishes, including authentic variations on paella such as arroz negro with braised cuttlefish and squid. The signature tapas are all here, including anchovy with smoked tomato sorbet, along with a rollcall of cured meats such as jamón Ibérico. Factor in a glass of something Spanish and cold and you won’t want to go back to the office.

Level 1, 500 Bourke Street, Melbourne; (03) 9663 3038

Top image: The Source

SEE ALSO: Australia’s Best Suburban Restaurants