If Sydney Harbour is the crown of the city, drawing tourists, locals and ships of every description to its sparkling expanse, waterfront venues cluster like gems along its 240 kilometres of shoreline.
Just a handful of these offer a view that looks across Sydney’s greatest asset and all the way out through the heads to the Pacific Ocean. Such is the view from Manly Pavilion, a venerable Mediterranean-style structure with exquisite detailing that has stood guard at Manly’s Federation Point for 87 years.
The view from its terrace takes in not only pretty Manly Cove, with busy commuter ferries, boat races and paddleboarders galore, but the occasional huge swells, container ships or wild storms that sweep through the cliffs that guard the ocean entrance.
Restored in 2008-9 and operating on and off since as a restaurant, The Bistro is now a bustling, convivial Italian eatery, an ideal spot to laze away an afternoon or evening while filling up on seafood-leaning dishes prepared with a light touch, with the harbourside view as pure bonus. (The lower level, with colonnades and similar panoramic views, is an events room that seats up to 220.)
Entrées range from $15 for arancini to $32 for a bucket of prawns. If you don’t fancy a full bucket, try the grilled king prawns with chilli, lemon and garlic butter; a flower-strewn plate of tuna carpaccio; or the delicious scallops, perfectly seared and served with pea purée, red cabbage and pistachio salad (highly recommended).
From there you could skip straight to mains (from snapper with burnt butter carrot purée, fennel and olives to grass-fed eye fillet with roast potatoes, king brown mushrooms, paprika, lemon and rosemary jus, plus a fabulously rich lobster mornay (pictured above) that you’ll want to mop up with any spare handmade focaccia).
But this is food Italian style, so why would you skip the fresh handmade pasta? The bucatini with lamb ragù is meltingly comforting but for an experience for the senses, order the squid-ink linguine with scampi, prawns, cherry tomato, chilli and garlic – it looks great, smells amazing and tastes like the sea.
Executive chef Alessio Rago, ex-Mandarin Oriental Milan, has run the kitchen for a year and believes in simple fare, cooked well using fresh local ingredients. With a decidedly unchef-like calm demeanour, he brings a deft touch – naturally – to his al dente pasta.
The wine list is both considered and reasonable, featuring mainly Australian drops but with 10 different champagnes and seven sparkling wines. (Ask the helpful sommelier to steer you towards choices that match your meals). The elevated bar has seven beers on tap and the cocktail list is terrific.
The main dining room’s high ceilings and dangling plants lend a breezy, airy feeling, though a coveted spot out on the terrace is the breeziest of all. If that’s too breezy, hope for a table by the floor-to-ceiling glass and order up your first cocktail.
On a sunny afternoon the terrace is hopping and the place buzzes with happy groups. But our top tip is to plan for a mid-afternoon storm, plant yourself safely inside the glass, work up an appetite for an enjoyable Italian feast and wait for Sydney’s spectacular southerly buster to roll in over the heads. Magnifico!
Atmosphere: Laidback, breezy fun
Best for: Waterfront dining
Standout dish: Linguine con scampi
Open: Thursday-Saturday for dinner and Thursday-Sunday for lunch
Address: West Esplanade, Manly Cove, Sydney
Phone: +61 2 9949 2255