The Best Al Fresco Restaurants in Australia

Heart - Add to profile
Book Flights

BOOK NOW

Nov 16, 2015

by TRAVEL INSIDER WRITERS

The hotter it gets, the cooler it is to dine al fresco. Take up prime position at a rooftop bar, courtyard garden or beachside café near you and revel in the tastes of summer.

Western Australia

Il Lido

Perth doesn’t always excel at beachside dining but this relaxed all-day favourite is proof that style, substance and sandy feet needn’t be mutually exclusive. Communal tables populate the airy dining room and the outdoor settings are conducive to long lunching. Whether you keep things simple with salumi or make a feast of pasta such as maltagliati with veal and pork ragù, robust Italian flavours are the kitchen’s forte. Seaside air, sunshine and vistas of pine-strewn Cottesloe make splendid dining accoutrements. A fine array of Italian vino and liqueur helps keep the afternoon (and beyond) on track. In the morning, stop in for a post-swim coffee and brekkie.

Bob’s Bar

Print Hall’s rooftop beer garden might be the most casual of its hospitality offerings but don’t mistake easygoing for slapdash. Like the complex’s polished dining room and high-energy Asian eating house, The Apple Daily, Bob’s Bar is serious about showing guests a good time. The beverage selection has been programmed for maximum fun in the sun and ticks the boxes for beer (crafty), wine (refreshing) and cocktails (civilised). The food is just as notable. Cornbread with whipped maple butter, prawn po’ boy sandwiches and creole street corn feature on the recently launched Southern American menu.

New South Wales

Ormeggio at the spit

Sydney’s glorious harbour may steal the limelight but its hidden waterways offer breathtaking tranquillity. Ormeggio is moored by the Spit Bridge, overlooking Middle Harbour and Pearl Bay, and Brescian-born owner/chef Alessandro Pavoni delivers a contemporary homage to his northern-Italian heartland. From the moment Ormeggio opened, it became the special-occasion spot of Sydney’s north – and with good reason. Squid and mussel tagliolini is accentuated by the salty pop of salmon roe, while the chef’s risotti are as scintillating as the scenery; try the carnaroli with pumpkin, black garlic and fennel pollen.

North Bondi Fish

As the setting sun casts a pink hue over Bondi’s deep blue, those in the know savour its splendour on the balcony of Matt Moran’s no-fuss eatery. Anchored at the northern end of our most famous shoreline, it’s awash with blond wooden chairs, blue columns and white walls – all designed to highlight the beauty beyond its boundaries. Sip on summery cocktails, such as a signature North Bondi Colada, before plumbing the depths of a simple menu that puts the emphasis on premium produce straight out of the water. A rich, red romesco adds sweetness to grilled baby arrow squid, Skull Island tiger prawns are adorned in slaw and sweet Kinkawooka mussels get a minestrone makeover.

Cafe Sydney

There are few more spectacular spots in Sydney than the rooftop of Customs House. It’s here that Cafe Sydney reveals panoramic perspectives, from “the coathanger” (Sydney Harbour Bridge) to our world-famous “nuns in a scrum” (Opera House). It’s so mesmerising you could almost forgive an average food experience but thanks to award-winning chef James Kidman joining the team, that’s not an issue. His modern spin on best-in-class produce will even distract you, if for a moment, from Sydney’s seductive allure. Truffle aioli lathers sheets of Wagyu carpaccio. Peas and greens deliver a sense of spring to a rich taleggio risotto. And Cone Bay barramundi rests atop creamed salt cod. Sublime.

Queensland

The Balfour Kitchen

Tables dotted around the wraparound verandah of this gussied-up Queenslander are positioned to catch the breeze and, after dark, little lanterns twinkling from frangipani trees cast a romantic glow. It’s the dreamiest of settings to enjoy just-seared scallops with sea urchin and pickled kohlrabi and ginger. Things get a little heavier with the suckling pig, offset by spicy ’nduja, lemon thyme and mustard cress. The romance needn’t end there. The Balfour Kitchen is tucked away in a boutique hotel with an intimate rooftop bar right upstairs.

Gusto Riverfront Restaurant

It’s just minutes from the madding Hastings Street crowd but the pace is slower here on the Noosa River. Utterly lacking in pretention, Gusto is the pick of the strip for casual dining. Nothing says beach holiday like a crisp salad with fried local cuttlefish or whiting fillets with a vibrant salsa verde. In the afternoon, the sunny terrace is the spot to enjoy a frosty beer or two and mezze to graze on. When the sun goes down, there’s more of the same simple fare to share or you can step it up a notch with mains such as handmade Mooloolaba prawn and garlic ravioli with lemon beurre blanc. And because you’re on holidays, it’s okay to go all out and have the molten-centred chocolate pudding for dessert. 

Wild Canary

It’s easy to linger for half the day in this secret-garden setting in the western suburbs. Follow the garden path to the Zen courtyard, set beneath palm trees and surrounded by manicured tropical gardens (mind the colony of wild bees at the entrance to the restaurant!). Fresh, produce-driven food is the name of the game here, including a light and tasty pumpkin and Gruyère soufflé served with a rocket, pear and walnut salad. Or grilled Mooloolaba prawns, pumpkin coconut laksa, crisp garden greens, wild brown rice and fried shallot. Pretty much everything on the menu comes prettily adorned with flower petals and herbs from the kitchen garden.

Australian Capital Territory

The Hamlet

In the warmer months, this converted garage is hotter than hip. The Hamlet is a collection of stalls and caravans decorated with funky menu-boards and surrounded by pot plants, recycled timber benches and deckchairs. There’s even the occasional DJ. Sample everything from Golden Gaytime doughnuts and old-fashioned lemonade to Peruvian meats, gourmet hot dogs and Indian street food. Get to know the friendly vendors as you kick back with a BYO beer as the sun goes down. Between bites, explore the space out back where locals sell handmade jewellery and homewares.

South Australia

The Bridgewater Mill

Lunch on the deck at The Bridgewater Mill on a fine day is just about as good as it gets. This is bucolic bliss for diners (who might also be refreshed by fine spray from the 155-year-old millwheel). Two more decks are being added to the restaurant as its new owners, Seppeltsfield proprietor Warren Randall and his wife, Nicolla, bring new life to the former Petaluma HQ. Head chef Zac Ronayne’s dishes might include a zucchini flower and tomato salad with ashed chevre and tomato oil or roasted goat rack with pickled radishes, dates and yoghurt. Inside there’s a wine lounge and long table for casual diners.

Botanic Gardens Restaurant

It’s hard to imagine a more picturesque setting for a restaurant than a pond filled with ducks, approached from an avenue of giant Moreton Bay figs, with lawns spreading in all directions. The conservatory-style restaurant, housed in century-old tearooms, takes full advantage of its location with 270-degree views. Chef Paul Baker’s menu features up to 60 varieties of vegetables and herbs, harvested from his backyard, in dishes such as slow-cooked Coorong Angus brisket with crisp-grilled tendon, beetroot emulsion and caramelised garlic. The ducks on the pond are off limits.

Victoria

Entrecôte

The ground-floor dining room is underwear-drawer pink, the upstairs one a delectable mint green but the smart tiled terrace facing Domain Road is where the well-heeled denizens of South Yarra gather to see and be seen. Sitting inside affords an ascetic Gallic menu of steak frites – Hopkins River porterhouse with a herby mustard sauce and limitless fries plus oysters, should you so wish – while dining al fresco means a broader bar menu. It’s simple stuff (leek and Roquefort tart, a rough-hewn farmhouse terrine, salmon gravlax) but the menu’s straightforward charms are rather beside the point. As the hordes jostling for pole position would attest, few things are more civilised than sipping another bloody Mary while watching joggers do laps of the Tan.

Fatto Bar & Cantina

It boasts one of the best views in Melbourne from its riverside position at the redeveloped Hamer Hall – across the Yarra to the bright lights of the CBD – and with production values befitting a member of the Stokehouse stable, Fatto’s practised staff will get you in and out before you can say “dinner and a show”. Outside it’s a vine-covered terrace where the city is the show, augmented by Italian classics making a virtue of simplicity – think crab spaghettini with lemon, chilli and toasty breadcrumbs, and fennel-spiked pork and veal salsicce with wilted greens and truffled pecorino. An Italian wine list wraps itself neatly around the theme.

Newmarket Hotel

A landmark renovation by noted architects Six Degrees turned an ugly old pub duckling into the cleverest indoor/outdoor venue in the land, with a leafy beer garden and walls that can be magicked away in warm weather. It’s a place loved by bright young things who embrace the sunny Cal-Mex menu and its easy-drinking soulmates of sangria, craft beer and keg wine. Eats-wise, it’s all about the tacos, including authentic blue-corn versions with mushrooms, Jerusalem artichoke and goat’s curd or soft-shell crab with fennel, corn and spiced tomatillo. Other smokin’ tips? Hit the wood barbecue (try the xylophone of tamarind-accented pork ribs) or order the whole fish done a la plancha (grilled).

Tasmania

Phoenix & the Wolf

Chef Sean Keating is obsessed with two things: cooking with fire and the provenance of the ingredients he uses in this renovated church in “the real Perth” in northern Tasmania. Plonk yourself at a picnic table outside and feast on butter-fried hazelnut cake with poached pear, honey labne and citrus and licorice syrup for brunch. If it’s lunch you’re after, try the Two Little Pigs toastie with bacon, black pudding, garlic aioli, kale, pickled onions and cheese. Be sure to take home one of Keating’s fabulous sourdough loaves. 

Tombolo Freycinet

This venue couldn’t be in a more stunning location, with views looking across Coles Bay to The Hazards on Tasmania’s east coast. Indulge in Freycinet oysters freshly shucked to order, paired with Tassie’s finest craft drinks (Moo Brew, Gillespie’s Ginger Beer, Milton Sparkling Pinot Noir). Andrew Merse and his team of chefs turn out excellent thin-based pizzas from the wood-fired oven. Try the Funky Funghi with mushroom paste, Spanish onion, honey brown mushrooms, brie and basil or the Salty Sea Dog with anchovies, olives, capers, chorizo, mozzarella and parmesan. With a pinot and that view, life is grand.

Northern Territory

Char Restaurant

When the rest of the country revels in summer sunshine, Darwin swelters under a blanket of humidity. Luckily, Char offers alfresco dining with an aircon option. An indoor table, walled by glass and overlooking the tree-shaded courtyard, allows you to coolly enjoy the house specialty (steak); seafood dishes such as the lime-pickled fish and scallops (numus); and sexy little sides, including peas with mint and fetta. Fine diners like Char are hard to find in Darwin. 

Earn 100 Qantas Points per diner when booking online through Qantas Restaurants.