When it comes to a romantic restaurant venue, certain boxes need to be ticked: soft lighting (no harsh, unflattering neon lights please!), smooth service, impressive food and a decent wine list are a must. Whether you’re going on a first date or taking time with your significant other, make a night of it and head into town. Here’s our pick of the best Sydney restaurants for a romantic date.
Drop by Nel. for dinner and you're likely to see few tables seating groups greater than two. This tucked-away basement restaurant is great for dates; it’s just the right mix of laid-back and sophisticated, with a Scandi vibe and acoustics that encourage conversation. The well-crafted degustation draws on Australian produce and it’s always interesting and playful – think dishes arriving alight or being built right at the table. The menu changes every eight weeks but the team here never misses a beat. Our date-night tip? Go for the wine pairing option: the tipples here as just as adventurous and spot-on as the food.
75 Wentworth Avenue, Sydney; (02) 9212 2206
Bistro Rex is one of the newest restaurants to hit the strip in Potts Point and although this French eatery is on the larger side, ambient lighting, generous copper-clad banquettes and friendly staff make it a shoo-in for a not-too-stuffy date night. The food is classic and not-so-classic French bistro fare, from pissaladiere and beef tartare to king prawn beignets and beetroot bourguignon. Practice your pronunciation: the wine list has an impressive collection of French offerings.
Shop 1, 50-58 Macleay Street, Potts Point; (02) 9332 2100
Icebergs Dining Room and Bar
For those who want to see and be seen, this is the place to be. Icebergs offers Italian cuisine with a front-row view of the ocean and waves crashing over the Bondi Icebergs pool. Expect the prices to reflect the stellar scenery and designer interior; this is the place for flaunting and flirting. You can also just swing by for a drink and a snack at the bar, which shares the same view as the dining space.
1 Notts Avenue, Bondi Beach; (02) 9365 9000
Tucked away in a little row of restaurants in Surry Hills, Izakaya Fujiyama is a Japanese restaurant that packs a lot of punch into a small space with its soaring ceilings and moody pendant lighting. Perch at the bar, banquette or a table for two by the curtained floor-to-ceiling windows and order freshly sliced sashimi, Wagyu or fish off the hibachi grill, or bar food to share. Don’t miss the chance to sample some of the saké lining the walls.
G09/38-52 Waterloo Street, Surry Hills; (02) 9698 2797
Two giant sandstone columns outside, high ceilings, mirror-hung walls and a chandelier inside give Bambini Trust a European feel and a romantic ambience. Opposite Hyde Park, it’s small but boasts a menu to please most palates: steak, fish and fowl are all represented. Although its comprehensive wine list is the main event, Bambini also covers off on cocktails and classic liqueurs.
185 Elizabeth Street, Sydney; (02) 9283 7098
Timber-heavy interiors and warm lights create a welcoming atmosphere at this family-owned eatery in Darlington. The vibe at Kindred is casual – think rustic neighbourhood hangout. Much of the food is made in-house, including the bread, butter, pasta and pickles. Vegan and biodynamic drops feature on the wine list.
137 Cleveland Street, Darlington; (02) 8937 0530
A somewhat dramatic entrance leads to a flight of stairs down to this dimly lit CBD basement restaurant, a shrine to Neil Perry’s take on Chinese cuisine. Not everything at Spice Temple is spicy and the menu can accommodate dietary requirements. Choose from exactly 100 wines or take a look at the cocktail list, which features 12 concoctions inspired by the Chinese Zodiac. The service is impeccable.
10 Bligh Street, Sydney; (02) 8078 1888
The dark finishes of the interior of this Potts Point wine bar and bistro, with a frontage that obscures the space from the street, makes for an inviting bolthole. Dare to venture inside Monopole and you’ll discover share plates (note the house-made charcuterie) and a spot-on wine list with a large selection available by the glass or carafe. Faux pas: using your smartphone torch function to read the menu.
71A Macleay Street, Potts Point; (02) 9360 4410
Francophiles unite! Hubert serves fine French food in atmospheric surrounds with flattering lighting and dark-wood panelling. Best of all, it’s open late so supper is fully feasible if you want your date to continue into the wee hours. You’ll find caviar, champagne and unpronounceable items on the menu, while the bar offerings are a more casual affair – you can’t go wrong with duck parfait and steak frites.
15 Bligh Street, Sydney; (02) 9232 0881
Finished in white with plush furnishings, the column-lined dining room at est. is elegant and refined. This is where to go if you really want to impress. It’s debatable what stands out more: the inspiring modern Australian cuisine from Peter Doyle, the superb service or the notable wine list from master sommelier Franck Moreau. The set menus take on various guises, from two-courses to an all-in tasting. There’s something for everyone here.
Level 1, Establishment, 252 George Street, Sydney; (02) 9240 3000
This casual, simply decorated Italian restaurant in the heart of Surry Hills has sandstone walls and a flatteringly, lit two-storey dining space lined with bottles of vino. Mille Vini is a charming local haunt that offers weekly specials, classic dishes and a tidy drinks list. Plus, it’s located close to pubs and bars should you want to meet for a drink beforehand or kick on afterwards.
397 Crown Street, Surry Hills; (02) 9357 3366
Cho Cho San
With its all-white interior, this modern Japanese restaurant is a buzzy date-night destination. Cho Cho San is an izakaya-style restaurant, which means there are a few communal tables and the dining space isn’t particularly quiet. The lighting is easy on the eye, the space is happening and the food – designed to share – is good. Tip: order the king crab omelette with Japanese curry. The wine list is easy to follow and won’t disappoint.
73 Macleay Street, Potts Point; (02) 9331 660
Woolloomooloo’s historic Finger Wharf offers a more low-key atmosphere than Circular Quay. China Doll’s refined space with its alfresco dining area (heated during the cooler months) overlooks the luxury craft moored at the wharf marina. The food is even better than the outlook and centres around modern Asian cuisine with lots of vegetarian options. The cocktail list stars creations named after classic rock songs such as China Girl and When Doves Cry.
4/6 Cowper Wharf Road, Woolloomooloo; (02) 9380 6744
SEE ALSO: The 12 Best Pizza Places in Sydney
The Bach Eatery
If you’re after more of a bustling location for a laid-back date (hushed it’s not), The Bach Eatery is entertaining with a cheerful tone and beach-shack feel. But it’s also proper enough to reflect well on your choice of restaurant (read: sophisticated comfort food made with seasonal produce). Seafood lovers will appreciate the share dishes at the top of the list (mussels, clams, cuttlefish, etc.) while more substantial favourites include hearty options such as pappardelle and lamb shoulder. It’s brightly lit, but don’t worry, there’s not a neon light in sight.
399 King Street, Newtown; (02) 8084 4093
Drinks are the focus here with a hefty selection of more than 500 drops to please any oenophile. This Woollahra watering hole also offers a neat menu of modern European bites – charcuterie, cheese, empanadas, oysters and meatballs to name a few. The Wine Library, although small, has an appealing ambience, with banks of backlit bottles in the front room.
18 Oxford Street, Woollahra; (02) 9360 5686
Note the funky, low-key interior with its quirky Volker Haug lighting as you enter Bloodwood, a five-minute walk from Newtown Station. The mood is casual and the modern Australian menu ranges from kingfish and chicken liver parfait to skirt steak and barbecue pork. The wine list? Interesting, considered and reasonably priced.
416 King Street, Newtown; (02) 9557 7699
To combine date night with a special-occasion dinner, you can’t beat Bennelong, situated under one of the lofty sails of the Sydney Opera House gazing out over the harbour and bridge. Dining options include set or à la carte menus and although you’ll have to splash some cash, you can’t go wrong with Peter Gilmore in the kitchen. The drinks are a love letter to Australia with all sorts of Aussie wines and cheekily named original cocktails including the Red Rye Hand with Amer Picon, rum, red rye whiskey and maraschino liqueur.
Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney; (02) 9240 8000
This tiny restaurant sits on a corner site in Surry Hills not far from busy Elizabeth Street. Intimate, with a dark interior colour scheme and a functional yet decorative wall of wine, Bar H delivers a tight menu of inventive modern Australian (Indigenous ingredients make an appearance) with an Asian twist from chef Hamish Ingham. For easy ordering and good value, try the set menu with matching wines.
80 Campbell Street, Surry Hills; (02) 9280 1980
Photography courtesy individual restaurants, except Bistro Rex: Jason Loucas, Bennelong: Brett Stevens, Bloodwood: Volker Haug, and Cho Cho San: Nikki To.