The Sydney Cove Oyster Bar


In a city built around water, it’s surprising how few Sydney dining places have absolute  water frontage. 

I realised this the other night while dining at one of them and made an ad hoc list on the spot, discovering that although many had unobstructed access to the water (be it ocean, harbour or river) most were separated from it by a road or a footpath. Few were poised as if ready to set sail away, as was the one where we were seated.

OysterBar_01The Sydney Cove Oyster Bar has been operating for almost exactly twenty years, having chosen Australia’s highly auspicious bicentenary (January 26th, 1988 in case that gala day in Sydney has slipped your mind) to open their first oyster and serve it to the paying public.

There are few better places to view the Harbour Bridge and water traffic. This restaurant is almost entirely alfresco (one of an even smaller list I’ll share another time) with tables sheltered under sturdy white umbrellas, beside the minute building which is scarcely large  enough for the kitchen and amenities. Constructed in 1908 and now heritage-listed, it was originally designed for use by Burns Philp & Co workers as part of the wharf facilities that serviced many island trading ships during the early part of last century.

Today the East Circular Quay precinct is urbane and elegant, a colonnaded promenade for people heading for performances at the Sydney Opera House or simply taking in one of the world’s better and most iconic views. It’s a place of buskers and ferries, water taxis and seagulls. At night the city skyline is ablaze, and often as not there is a massive cruise ship docked at the passenger terminal across the water.

As you’d expect the menu has an entire oyster selection offered au naturel  or in various ways with many dressings and sauces. They’re all Sydney rocks or pacific oysters. I am told later by the owner, that they scour the state for the season’s freshest and are supplied direct, although the menu doesn’t spell that out. Pity. 

OysterBar_02Places with great views, or some added attraction (think floating or revolving restaurants too) suffer the same backhanded problem a pretty girl does. It’s easy to forget to notice if she has a brain or a sense of humour. Lest I appear sexist, for hunky guys, read integrity, personality and so on. You get the idea.

So restaurants with sensational outlooks are almost expected not to have good food, attentive service, or special flair. Yet we find that The Sydney Cove Oyster Bar service is friendly and swift. Management is passionate about the food too, I am later told. Our crispy-skinned barramundi was silken, and the twice-cooked duck reminded me of France, although there I’ve never eaten it with pickled cauliflower and cranberries. The optional extras are good too, perfect chilli salt chips, Voss mineral water, and superbly-made Danesi coffee. It’s feasible to assume that the price ($39.50 for mains) factors in the location and the impromptu entertainment afforded by passers-by and the constant action on the harbour.

Indeed with the Harbour Bridge centre stage, this place is an ideal NYE venue to view all the fireworks action. The $450 per person charge includes a set menu (no alcohol) and the best news is that once you are there you may stay until the finish.

If you’re very lucky you may even score a table beside the decorative iron railing on the water’s edge. Absolute water frontage at its absolute best.

FYI here is my initial list of waterfront dining in Sydney. It’s not exhaustive and I’d love to expand it, so please let me know of others I haven’t thought of.

• Berowra Waters Inn, Berowra
• Doyles, Watsons Bay
• Flying Fish, Pyrmont
• harbour kitchen & bar, Park Hyatt Sydney, West Circular Quay, Sydney
• Icebergs, Bondi Beach
• Le Kiosk, Shelley Beach
• Manly Beach House Restaurant, Manly
• North Bondi Italian Food, North Bondi
• Pier, Rose Bay
• Portabello, East Circular Quay, Sydney
• Quay, West Circular Quay, Sydney
• Sails on Lavender Bay, McMahons Point
• The Bower, Fairy Bower, Manly


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