Sydney: Coastal dining from the heavens

By Leah McLennan

A flight across Sydney harbour takes Leah McLennan to tempting restaurants that specialise in l-o-n-g lunches.

At Berowra Waters Inn, you'll feel as if you've set off on a river cruise.
At Berowra Waters Inn, you'll feel as if you've set off on a river cruise.

Sydney's fly-in fly-out restaurants are memorable treats.

Most of these riverside, seaside, vineside beauties feature degustation menus with fish so fresh it still may be moving, oysters still salty with seawater and wine so attuned to each dish that it brings out unfamiliar flavours from familiar ingredients.

At the likes of Berowra Waters Inn on the Hawkesbury River, Jonah's Restaurant at Palm Beach and Catalina at Rose Bay (all recently awarded One Hat status in the Good Food Guide) every dish has a wow factor, right through to desserts featuring such flourishes as fruit foams, toffee walls, gold leaf or chocolate "dirt".

You might think these destination restaurants, some of which have no road access, might suffer because of their remoteness.

Quite the contrary, says Berowra Waters Inn's head chef and owner Brian Geraghty.

"If you're a restaurateur it's almost gold," he says. "There's lots of restaurants in the city where you're not sure what your day is going to be like, but I can tell a week off how busy I'm going to be or if I'm going to be busy.

There's no walk-in on a Friday night and very rarely do people cancel.

"It's a big commitment people make to come here, so it works in my favour - I can run a much smaller team and it means I can control my costs and expenditures."

Geraghty, who has been at the helm of the restaurant for nearly a year, has taken to the Hawkesbury River so much he has moved house from inner-city Redfern to become a "river man".

"Initially, it was a choice based on logistics, but now it's become quite a good lifestyle change," says the 29-year-old, who previously was executive sous chef at 3-Hatted Bilson's.

But Geraghty says he's a "terrible fisherman" and does not catching anything he can serve up in his restaurant.

"I have a boat, my fishing rods, I've become old man river but I can't seem to catch any fish."

Berowra Waters Inn, Hawkesbury River

With floor-to-ceiling window walls framing the view of the Hawkesbury, dining at Berowra Waters Inn can make you feel you've set off on a river cruise.

There's no such thing as a quick lunch here, which bills itself as a destination dining experience and offers seven- and nine-course degustation menus.

To reach the restaurant, you can take a 15-minute seaplane ride from Rose Bay. Alternatively, drive (or take a taxi) to the public wharf at Berowra Waters, then make a short ferry ride across to the restaurant.

Peats Bite, Hawkesbury River

Although this beauty has been around for three decades, it isn't well known even by Sydneysiders because the owners don't advertise. The prix fixe seven-course lunch menu is seasonal and local (fishermen deliver the seafood to the restaurant's dock daily).

It's in a secluded spot, but the restaurant has a lively atmosphere - there's always a band playing (mostly jazz) and for fun there's giant chess and a swimming pool.

Peats Bite can be reached by a 20-minute seaplane ride from Rose Bay. Alternatively, there's a boat transfer from Brooklyn (about an hour north of Sydney by car or train).

If you want to sleep over, Peats Bite has six waterfront units.

Catalina, Rose Bay

Jutting out into the waters of Rose Bay, Catalina is a Sydney icon that has been run by the McMahon family for almost 20 years.

On a balmy afternoon, you can sit on the balcony with a bottle of Champagne and slurp oysters while watching the seaplanes roll in and out. Rose Bay was the site of Sydney's first international airport. From 1938, Catalina flying boats landed here.

Head chef Mark Axisa creates dishes inspired by the classics - French, Italian, Spanish and Mediterranean.

Jonah's Restaurant, Palm Beach

Perched high on a cliff, Jonah's views and food are equally special and dramatic. There's a range of menus available - breakfast, lunch, dinner, degustation and terrace.

Jonah's is also home to Sydney's only Relais & Chateaux hotel - the luxury international hotel association. It's an hour's drive from the city or a 20-minute seaplane flight.

Cottage Point Inn, Cottage Point

Nestled in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park on Sydney's north shore, it's hard to imagine a better place to have lunch, dinner or a short break (Cottage Point has an apartment and a suite). Come by seaplane, ferry or boat - or drive a longer scenic route through the national park.

Cottage Point Inn has both a degustation and al la carte menu (and offers a children's menu).

Shark Island picnic, Sydney Harbour

Can't afford a degustation meal or don't feel like sitting still for three hours? Perhaps a fly-and-dine picnic might be more your style.

Shark Island, a shark-shaped dot of land at the mouth of Rose Bay, is one of the city's most romantic picnic spots, with soft green patches of grass and 360-degree views of Sydney Harbour.

The Sydney Seaplane company offers a flight and picnic package that includes a basket loaded with smoked salmon, camembert, cold meats, pain au chocolat, a bottle of sparkling wine and so on.

There's a cheaper DIY alternative: just pack your own picnic and catch a water taxi over from Circular Quay or Darling Harbour.

IF YOU GO

Fly there with: Air New Zealand.

Find out more at: Australia.com.

- AAP

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