With Valentine's Day around the corner, we've short-listed the Sydney restaurants that satisfy our max-romance criteria. Namely, they either have spectacular water views for gazing (or for when you need a break from staring lovingly into each other's eyes) or have the dining-room lights permanently set to "dim and intimate"; and they're one of the city's top-rated restaurants as listed in the Gourmet Traveller 2019 Australian Restaurant Guide.
Book a table. Grab your paramour. BYO serenading violinist. It's going to be a romantic evening.
Three months and more than a few dollars later, Quay emerges from a major renovation. Relax: it's still great.
It's as luxe as ever, glowing afresh, but the interior is now oriented towards intimacy, and makes more of the view of the bridge (and is less at the mercy of cruise ships at port). The menu is all new, but Peter Gilmore's style is clear in concise plays of texture conjured in rare and unusual ingredients cooked with precision. The texture of oysters probably isn't improved by turning them into a cream, but a dusting of caviar and crumbled crisp chicken skin raises no complaints. A little dish of fish maw, smoked salmon roe and cured egg, meanwhile, makes an inspired DIY condiment to lush steamed sea-urchin custard.
Service is much improved both in focus and manner, and while the drinks offer swings wide and pricey, its gusto is admirable. A higher Quay.
Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks, (02) 9251 5600 quay.com.au.
Quay accepts the Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Gift Card.
Hubert is a restaurant with a fetish for restaurants. Descend the stairs and enter a world of tiny tasselled lamps, shelves heaving with vinous riches, an underground playground of bentwood and candlewax. Though the menu reads French, it's a gonzo France of the imagination, channeling hand-tinted Time-Life photographs and Ricard posters, and shot through with brilliant flashes of irreverence. Roasted snails with XO sauce, and gnocchi Parisienne joined like a crisp sheet of potsticker dumplings, demonstrate the kitchen's knack for playing with tradition without breaking the golden-era spell. Grilled bavette with Café de Paris, meanwhile, shows it can play a straight bat with just as much flair.
Unlovely restrooms don't maintain the enchantment, but with one of the city's crack floor teams pouring from one of its best cellars, Hubert's magic remains strong.
15 Bligh St, Sydney, (02) 9232 0881, restauranthubert.com
Sixpenny might be deep into residential territory, set in two rooms of a corner cottage, but there's nothing suburban about the dining experience. Daniel Puskas even riffs on the idea, presenting an airy pumpkin scallop, a play on the chip-shop favourite, among the snacks, along with a cheese-and-green-tomato gougère, and cucumber with dried caviar, which you probably won't be seeing down the local milk bar anytime soon.
Regular fine-diners may find some dishes familiar from year to year, as the kitchen rephrases some of its favourite combinations. Dutch cream potato in a centre-plate role enriched with oyster and mushroom, say, or a striking mead-vinegar custard strewn with beads of frozen raspberry. But it's a welcome sort of familiarity, not least when you're made all the more receptive by welcoming staff and a seriously impressive wine list. A quiet riot.
83 Percival Rd, Stanmore, (02) 9572 6666, sixpenny.com.au
Lunch at Sean's couldn't be more Bondi if a surf lifesaver popped in to say hi to her mates mid-service. Oh wait, there she goes. Despite the serious money and/or beauty flaunted by the clientele, this is the Bondi of welcoming beach-shack vibes and house-made bread, not the Bondi of cliques, canned design and powdered sustenance.
Produce rules the kitchen, but that doesn't mean flair is off the menu – the smoked rock oysters shucked into corn chowder, say, or the grilled bug tail luxing up snapper, dill and shallot. Rosy swatches of chicken liver find happy balance in sautéed radicchio, grapes and bitey watercress, and perfectly perfumed raspberries raise baked custard to swooning stakes. Wine and service are smart, assured and appealing, the former concise, the latter expansive. Fresh, sunny and (yes) a bit pricey, Sean's is as Sydney as it gets.
270 Campbell Pde, Bondi Beach, (02) 9365 4924, seanspanaroma.co
There are few decisions to make at LuMi. No need to deliberate over tables – the glass walls and modernist box layout means every vantage eyes the marina. Your wine choice can be safely handed to somm Michela Boncagni (wife of chef Federico Zanellato). And when it comes to choosing between the dég with snacks or without, go the snacks. These bites are harbingers of the finesse to come, none more so than the tomato water with dehydrated strawberries. The cacio e pepe agnolotti – spelt-flour parcels bursting with liquefied pecorino Romano – sing with technique and tastiness, as does passionfruit panna cotta with black-olive crumb. Lime kosho brightens up wagyu roasted for 24 hours, kombu mayo ups the umami in a spot-prawn crudo, and sake sits alongside skin-contact wine. LuMi is not so much a rule-breaker as proof of how far our collective palates have come.
56 Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont, (02) 9571 1999, lumidining.com
At Barangaroo, a dining district rife with "concepts", Cirrus stands out as a real restaurant. A Sydney experience that celebrates the city's love of sterling seafood, being by the water, diving deep on amazing wine and paying plenty for the privilege. Service is the right mix of informed and improvised. Caviar and Champagne against the cool concrete lines of the light-filled room? Done. Or a bottle of something funky and orange to go with the beautifully cooked mud crab, done with an unusual dark, sweet spiced butter and little fried buns? Easy.
This being a member of the Bentley restaurant family, there's quite a lot of technique on every plate, whether it's the fennel pollen and pickled onions with the (essential) outrageously silken smoked ocean trout parfait to start or the (merely adequate) foamy yoghurt parfait with cherries to close. Produce, nonetheless, wins the day.
23 Barangaroo Ave, Barangaroo, (02) 9220 0111, cirrusdining.com.au
How do they make it all look so easy? Someone had to put in the hours sourcing produce good enough to give the wood-grilled lamb with turnips and lemon salsa verde its intensity, while the textural harmony of raw scallops and roasted eggplant, served with crisp sesame lavash can't have simply just happened by accident. And then there's the smarts required to capturing the flavour of roasted figs in a granita and complementing it with honey custard. Maybe it's the gem of a wine list working its magic, but the seeming effortlessness of it all is perfectly intoxicating.
Landing a table can be very challenging, but once you're cosseted in the farmhouse fantasy of the dining room, waiters gliding around pastel linen, chefs intent at their work at the benches and fires in the centre of the room, it's a life of ease. Fred's is what restaurants are all about.
380 Oxford St, Paddington,(02) 9240 3000, merivale.com.au
Icebergs Dining Room & Bar
There's no getting around it: this is one of the most beautifully situated dining rooms in the world. Strangely enough, the management has opted not to simply trade on the glory of Bondi Beach spread before you, but instead to conjure a sultry, sassy vibe in an ageless, modern space, and staff it with professionals and a defining hint of attitude. The current take on Italian is broad enough to allow bay-leaf oil on the burrata, prawns and pangrattato in the spicy Amatriciana that sauces orecchiette, and finger lime with the signature grilled steaks; it's executed with enough care that it all hangs together with natural grace.
It's the same story with wine, the traditional offerings now complemented by some vinous funk from sister venue The Dolphin Hotel. If the prices frighten you, try the bar for fine snacks with a side of sizzle and a double-helping of the view.
1 Notts Ave, Bondi Beach, (02) 9365 9000, idrb.com
Could we be in danger of taking this splendour for granted? No, it's not possible. Even for the most jaded Emerald City citizen, the walk across the forecourt reveals the wonder of the Opera House anew. And you could also credit the team from Quay with working a similar magic inside. Sure, they've packed in the tables, service can feel more of a hustle than simply well-paced, and some of the glass prices on the wine list beg belief.
But the food just gets better and better. Eggplant in lacy batter paired with seared scallop and an XO sauce chunky with streaky bacon is a deft play of textures, while crunchy stone-pot rice rich with sesame and fermented shiitake challenges the glimmering roast quail it accompanies for star billing. Desserts are equally spectacular ("crème caramel vs. mille-feuille" is inspired), and the eat-in bar offers thrilling snacks for gilded grazing.
Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney, (02) 9240 8000, bennelong.com.au