Nowhere conjures riverside chic more effortlessly than Noosa stalwart, Rickys. Interiors channel an upscale houseboat vibe, with boards underfoot, a mix of louvres and floor-to-ceiling bi-folds angled to capture every riparian ripple, reflection and breeze. There's a "source local" ethos here, and the menu leans Mediterranean with a focus on pristine seafood: spanner crab tossed through spaghettini, say, or pepper-cured swordfish with finger lime and cucumber salt.
2 Quamby Pl, Noosa Heads, (07) 5447 2455, rickys.com.au
Opt for an icy glass and a chilli prawn sanga at the bar, or fish and triple-cooked chips with seaweed salt on the deck – either way those impressive widescreen panoramas of the Brisbane River and city's skyline are omnipresent at Stokehouse Q. Like its Melbourne counterpart, this northern outpost is famous for its long lunches, but the slide from sunset into early evening is when the real magic happens. Sidon St, South Bank, Brisbane, (07) 3020 0600, stokehouseq.com.au
If your idea of poolside dining is more on the casual side, recalibrate here. The Brisbane sibling of the Gold Coast's best Greek will see you settled in one of its seven glam waterfront cabanas forking lobster pasta like an Athenian before you can say pass the horiatiki. The cabanas fit eight to 10 – all the better, you'll need friends to help tackle the salty pork belly, dolmades and everything else that comes in the banquet.
The Calile, Level 1/48 James St, Fortitude Valley, (07) 3252 2060, hellenika.com.au
Rhythmic white-tipped breakers, the colourful clash of surfers – all the ocean action unfolds under your nose at Ricks, and, cleverly, there are views from each of its three levels. "Feed me" options from the pan-Asian menu are a chance to get
an overview of the food – anything from coal-grilled Chinese black chicken with fermented chilli, to roasted cauliflower with pepita satay and cauliflower-leaf kimchi – without thinking about it too much, leaving ample opportunity to drink in the beach vistas.
43 Goodwin Tce, Burleigh Heads, (07) 5630 6611, rickshores.com.au
Nab a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows and relish the broad Noosa River views and a menu that brings local flair to Japanese dishes. Buckwheat soba paired with strands of Noosa sand crab and herbs from Wasabi's Honeysuckle Hill farm and shot through with Sunshine Coast bunya nut, perhaps, or Mooloolaba prawns cured in house-made mirin. A Japanese dining experience like no other.
2 Quamby Pl, Noosa, (07) 5449 2443, wasabisb.com
What goes on Instagram first: the close-up views of Bunker Bay, or the artful plates coming from Ben Day's kitchen, such as charred sardines and smoked lardo on toast, or Shark Bay crab with celeriac rémoulade? However you play it, lunch – and life – is good at this breezy beach house overlooking the ocean.
Farm Break Ln, Bunker Bay, Naturaliste, (08) 9756 8284, bunkersbeachhouse.com.au
Meet Perth's unofficial summer clubhouse. Ocean views, a mighty cellar and gratifying Italian cooking (buttery clams with prosciutto, lasagne on Sundays) make this seaside cantina a likeable proposition. After something more casual? Il Lido's nearby spin-off, Canteen, serves wood-fired pizza and natural wines.
88 Marine Pde, Cottesloe, (08) 9286 1111, illido.com.au
The beachside setting and pastel colours say casual, but David Coomer's cooking remains as exacting as ever. Wood-roasted pita, spiced pumpkin tagines and bold spice exemplify the kitchen's Levantine lean, while bright cocktails and wines encourage lingering.
364 West Coast Dr, Trigg, (08) 9447 0077, islandmarkettrigg.com
Pee Wee's enchants all the senses: see, smell and hear the ocean from the open-air terrace, flanked by trees and manicured lawns, or sprawl in the cool new lounge sipping a Dead Ant cocktail made with green-ant gin. Northern Territory ingredients shine in the lounge's small plates, such as smoked crocodile brandade with pickled vegetables, or buffalo carpaccio, and in main courses including baked saltwater barramundi, and coconut, makrut lime and lemongrass mackerel with green pawpaw salad. It's worth settling in, especially if an electrical storm rolls in over the bay as the city lights twinkle beyond.
Alec Fong Lim Dr, East Point, (08) 8981 6868, peewees.com.au
The clifftop view from Star of Greece overlooking Port Willunga Beach seems a dreamy Aegean vision, but somehow without any sign of a crowd. Brett Worrall is as consistent as the languid setting, the chef sourcing whole calamari from Kangaroo Island to slice and deep-fry, and King George Whiting from Kangaroo Island fishermen (who land their catch at Emu Bay and Kingscote each morning) to serve battered, crumbed or simply grilled. When freshness speaks volumes, you don't interfere.
1 The Esplanade, Port Willunga, (08) 8557 7420, starofgreece.com.au
Bench seating on a patio beneath beach umbrellas and a string of party lights marks SeaSalt as an ideal location to settle in for a long summer session. It's tempting to just graze all day on smoked eel croquettes, Ortiz anchovy soldiers topped with salted egg yolk, Singaporean chilli fish wings spiced with Sichuan pepper, and bowls of sardine "Bolognese" on spätzle, dressed with chilli oil and pecorino. And why not?
269 Seaview Rd, Henley Beach, (08) 8465 5005, seasaltbysea.com.au
An Amalfi Coast-style beach club on the wide brown Yarra may seem like a contradiction but Arbory Afloat gets it right. Striped umbrellas, canopied daybeds, citrus trees and a party soundtrack play backdrop to an Italian-leaning menu (good pizza, zeppole, seafood pasta) that also includes excellent fish and chips. The booze list – cocktails, Spritzes and plenty of rosé – completes the smoke-and-mirrors transformation.
2 Flinders Walk, Melbourne, (03) 9629 1547, arboryafloat.com.au
Even without Matt Germanchis's perfectly pitched Modern Australian menu – braised cuttlefish, spanner-crab doughnuts, charred octopus, best-in-show fish and chips – the coastal views from Captain Moonlite's spruced-up surf club dining room would draw a crowd. That you can also access great food, a short smart list of Victorian wine and efficient service in such a setting is truly cause for celebration.
Anglesea Surf Lifesaving Club, 100 Great Ocean Rd, Anglesea, (03) 5263 2454, captainmoonlite.com.au
Absolute beachfront is Donovans' drawcard, and there are few better places to watch the sun set over St Kilda while knocking back oysters and Champagne. The laid-back luxury beach-house vibe makes it the ideal setting for a menu of greatest hits, from fish and chips (enormous – consider sharing) to crab risotto, grilled prawns and pavlova, served with charm and humour.
40 Jacka Blvd, St Kilda, (03) 9534 8221, donovans.com.au
New South Wales
The fact that the view – of polished boats bobbing on the shimmering waters of the marina that opens out onto Middle Harbour and Pearl Bay – doesn't thoroughly distract the diners here speaks volumes. Alessandro Pavoni and Victor Moya offer an inventive synthesis of Italian traditions and Iberian influences at Ormeggio, with a worthy wine list, obliging staff and a price tag to match. Should bare feet, BYO and timeless trattoria classics better suit your style, sister venue Chiosco awaits next door.
D'Albora Marinas, The Spit, Mosman, (02) 9969 4088, ormeggio.com.au
It's family-friendly down below, refined grill restaurant in the middle, and rooftop party on the top. The Manly Greenhouse, once known as the infamous Shore Club Hotel, has been transformed into a three-storey verdant oasis ... with woodfired pizza, charcuterie platters, and small plates of crisp whitebait, Ortix sardines, and burrata to share. The ground floor trattoria offers casual all-day dining, while the adults-only rooftop bar is the place to go for highball cocktails, an edited list of the downstairs menu, and one of the best views of Manly Beach in town.
36-38 South Steyne, Manly, (02) 9056 3388, manlygreenhouse.com.au
Dignified diners with deep pockets have flocked to this seafood specialist since 1994, where elegantly dressed tables set the scene for a special occasion. The likes of poached Western Australian marron in a grapefruit and Campari consommé, or tagliatelle nero tossed with Goolwa pipis, diamond shell clams and cuttlefish follow it through. And the dramatic seascapes of Rose Bay dazzle from every angle, as does the winning wine list.
Lyne Park, Rose Bay, (02) 9371 0555, catalinarosebay.com.au
Rain, hail or shine, this dining room, perched on a rocky clifftop overlooking Sydney's Bondi Beach, has to be one of the best-situated in the country. And with head chef Monty Koludrovic's Italian-accented menu, Icebergs continues to sparkle. Dishes are borne through the dining room by elegantly clad staff, landing on clothed tables as the sea breeze flows through. For something that requires less commitment but with the same views, pull up a seat at the bar for a Spritz and a snack of Ortiz anchovies on toast, or pared-back pasta made with the day's catch.
1 Notts Ave, Bondi Beach, (02) 9365 9000, idrb.com
Merivale doubles down on the success of the Queen Chow concept with a second outpost in the former Papi Chulo space on Manly Wharf – and the good news is none of the original's precision gets lost in transit. Eric Koh's deft touch in the dim sum department is just as commanding, and the new waterfront digs have inspired a broader seafood selection that includes Singapore-style Moreton Bay bugs and nostalgia-inducing honey king prawns.
Manly Wharf, 22-23 E Esplanade, Manly, (02) 9114 7341, merivale.com
It doesn't get more Sydney than a leisurely Sunday lunch at Sean Moran's breezy Bondi restaurant, where produce-driven plates from the succinct blackboard menu celebrate the seasons with stripped-back style. Corn chowder finished with smoked rock oysters or a persimmon and quince trifle may seem simple, but every detail is given its due by an assured and accommodating team that has cultivated a fiercely loyal clientele over the course of two decades.
270 Campbell Pde, Bondi Beach, (02) 9365 4924, seanspanaroma.co
There were five (count them) Rockpool Group-owned Sake restaurants dotted around the country, each with a distinct vibe: moody and sophisticated in Melbourne's Hamer Hall, old-meets-new Japanese stylings in Brisbane, or featuring a wall-length mural in The Rocks, Sydney. There's a mellower design at the sixth Sake at Manly Wharf which comes complete with blonde wood finishings, wraparound windows and lots of natural light, but the kitchen's modern take on Japanese cuisine is as attentive as ever. Pull up a chair at the sushi counter, order a selection of izakaya from the dining room, or sip a yuzu spritz on the rooftop with a view.
Level 1, Manly Wharf, West Esplanade, Manly, (02) 8099 7076, sakerestaurant.com.au
Australian Capital Territory
Canberra's quintessential waterside dining option, The Boat House delivers a standard of cooking and service worthy of its tranquil location and sweeping views of Lake Burley Griffin. Expect all the fine-dining bells and whistles – crisp white linen, elegant tableware, a hefty wine list showcasing the region's best, and a playful modern cuisine that sees the likes of barramundi served with sake caramel, and beetroot sorbet paired with a fudge brownie and sour cream. Sit back and push out the boat as the swans and rowers pass gently by.
Grevillea Park, Menindee Dr, Barton, (02) 6273 5500, theboathouse.restaurant
Photography: Thom Davidson (Island Market), Ben Dearnley (Sean's), Tom Ferguson (Sake Manly Wharf), Simon Griffiths (Donovans), Yasmin Mund (Manly Greenhouse), Jacqui Way (SeaSalt).