Our reviewers reveal their favourite alfresco tables for sublime summer dining
Sassi at Peppers Bale, Port Douglas, Queensland: There’s no salty view of the sea at Tony and Di Sassi’s restaurant but the outlook of glistening resort infinity pool and tropical greenery splashed with red-flowering ginger is salve for the urban-battered soul. In a gardenside location, with terrace tables and walls of bi-fold doors, veteran chef Tony serves sunny fare rich with local limes and peppery herbs: it’s the Adriatic meets the Atherton Tablelands in the assured hands of this Abruzzo-born master. Try just-shucked oysters with a finger lime and chilli dipping sauce, pasta of the ilk of seafood tossed through squid-ink linguini or Sassi’s signature carpaccio of Atlantic salmon marinated in citrus soy and olive oil.
There are geckos clicking, chilled handtowels scented with jasmine and frangipani and myriad Asian designer details. The immaculate Di could well be Australia’s most polished hostess: she makes you feel utterly at home but firmly insists you actually will have to leave after lights out. www.peppers.com.au/bale-resort. Susan Kurosawa The Lane Vineyard, Adelaide Hills, South Australia: The Adelaide Hills district promises chocolate-box views at almost every turn but it’s hard to beat the outlook from the broad deck of The Lane Vineyard cellar door and bistro, five minutes from downtown Hahndorf and a mere grape’s toss from fellow vignerons Shaw & Smith and Nepenthe.
Affording an almost 300-degree panorama from Mt Lofty along the ranges, over golden paddocks and rows of vines, The Lane also has great food courtesy of chef Glen Carr, and friendly, professional service. Pull up a stall on the large terrace to taste John and Helen Edwards’ single-vineyard wines while watching farmers make hay or clouds scud over the blue hills. Order a tasting plate or two (the duck rillette with home-made orange marmalade is a favourite). Or settle in for the long haul, working your way through Carr’s seasonal menu that might include braised veal shin and prosciutto ballotine or tempura zucchini flowers. www.thelane.com.au. Christine McCabe The Baths, Sorrento, Victoria: Sitting on the veranda at The Baths restaurant on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula is almost like being in an Arthur Streeton painting. It’s easy to feel the urge to don striped neck-to-knee bathers and plunge into the crisp waters of Port Phillip Bay just metres away. Wooden couta boats ply the water, families stroll along old wooden piers, children squeal in the shallow water. For lunch try the seared sea scallops with yellow curry sauce and Asian herbs to start. Or a dozen Pacific oysters. Follow with miso-cured ocean trout with soba noodles and wasabi soy dressing. And a nice bottle of local Mornington Peninsula white. www.thebaths.com.au. Stephen Lunn Hugo’s Manly, Sydney: Nestled on Manly wharf, Hugo’s is the perfect casual open-air venue, with sparkling views of the harbour and the emerald waters of Manly Cove. On a sunny afternoon, it is hard to think of a lovelier place to idle with a glass of crisp white wine. The menu offers quintessentially Sydney fare, with its focus on seafood with an Italian bent, and pizzas thrown in for good measure. Start with the tasting plate for two featuring meatballs, barbecued king prawns, fried calamari and salmon carpaccio. And while the pizzas are ever popular, the mains are the stars: whole grilled flounder with a warm dressing of red-wine vinegar, parsley and garlic or gnocchi with flaked snapper, cherry tomatoes, basil and toasted breadcrumbs. Delicious dining in stylish surrounds. www.hugos.com.au. Elizabeth Meryment
Soul food: Sassi at Peppers Bale, Port Douglas
Sea breezes: Pacific Dining Room, Byron Bay Manta, Sydney: Everybody has their favourite among the parade of restaurants on the Wharf at Woolloomooloo and Manta is mine. Now home to luxe living and moored pleasure craft, Woolloomooloo still has the faintest whiff of the old wharves as, even though they’re tasteful rather than tough, the buildings remain. With the cityscape rising in an arc on the Wharf’s land side, Manta serves pristine seafood with city sophistication (prime beef, including wagyu, is also on the menu).
Fish and shellfish are sourced daily and come with elegant combinations; crabs and lobsters are kept alive in tanks beside the kitchens, and oysters are a speciality. My choice is the Claire de Lune bouton from Bateman’s Bay in NSW. www.mantarestaurant.com.au. Judith Elen Pacific Dining Room, Byron Bay, NSW: With its beach-house vibe, light Mediterranean-influenced menu and cool, young staff, Pacific Dining Room is the perfect spot for summer dining. Whether you park yourself in the palm-filled courtyard garden or inside, where a giant jellyfish-shaped chandelier is a focal point and bi-fold doors can be thrown open to let in the gentle sea breeze, this newest addition to Byron Bay’s Beach Hotel is a casual yet sophisticated affair.
Chef David Moyle, previously of Melbourne’s Circa The Prince, has put together a menu of plates designed to share, including Ortiz anchovies with a sourdough crouton and slow-cooked tomato, or grilled local prawns with aioli and smoked paprika. My picks are an exquisite reef fish curry with shaved cuttlefish, cucumber and sorrel salad, and spaghettini with spanner crab, garlic, chilli, white wine and breadcrumbs. There’s also an extensive cocktail list. www.pacificdiningroom.com.au. Michelle Rowe Maldini Cafe Restaurant, Hobart, Tasmania: Maldini’s location at the northern entrance to Hobart’s Salamanca Square makes it an excellent (and sunny) vantage point for summer lunch or dinner. The extensive menu covers most of Italy’s 20 regions and incorporates the freshest Tasmanian ingredients, including seafood from the fishing fleet moored a short walk away. Once anchored under an umbrella at Maldini, the hustle and bustle that is Salamanca Square comes to you in a passing parade; this is a people-watching paradise. Head chef Victoria Hardwick-Tiberio’s fare is simple and well-crafted, the wine list varied and the service friendly and unhurried. www.salamanca.com.au/maldini/. Matthew Denholm Sittella Winery, Swan Valley, Western Australia: Sittella Winery restaurant, at the end of a gently winding road in the Swan Valley, half an hour’s drive east of Perth, is perched on a grassy knoll overlooking a lake and vineyards.
The hearty food — including the likes of chicken breast filled with spinach and cheese, served on creamy chilli polenta, or porterhouse steak served with mash and roast parsnip and onion — is expertly prepared by chef Mike Price. Those who prefer to graze can sip a glass of Sittella’s 2007 crisp dry white wine and share a Winetasters’ plate of home-made dips, orange and fennel olives, pickled capsicum, locally made sausage and Swan Valley cheeses while sitting on the wide veranda.
Like the native sittella bird that hops in and out of the rows of vines, visitors to Sittella winery tend to return again and again for its cheerful, relaxed ambience. www.sittella.com.au. Victoria Laurie