Many of the world’s great restaurants involve a journey – the Royal Mail Hotel, the Fat Duck, the French Laundry, and El Bulli, before it closed. And so it was with Berowra Waters Inn that it was necessary to go by way of sky, sea and river and get to savour sublime Sydney views before savouring a sublime meal at the legendary restaurant on Berowra Creek, Sydney.
It was also possible to do a 50-minute drive from the city centre, the last part through beautiful Australian bushland, and then take the restaurant’s private boat from the car park across the Creek, a tributary of the Hawkesbury River, to the restaurant’s jetty – though you wouldn’t get those sublime Sydney views that you get from the air.
Most Sydneysiders preferred to fly by small plane, however, taking off from the sparkling water from Sydney Seaplanes‘ headquarters at Rose Bay, just east of the city centre and flying over one of the world’s most jaw-dropping harbours, marked by two of Australia’s most iconic structures, the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. That joy ride alone was worth the trip!
But then the plane would pass over Sydney’s craggy cliff faces of North and South Head that dramatically guard the entrance to the harbour (perhaps doing a circle if there were whales playing in the waters below) and travel beside the superb Northern Beaches with their long stretches of creamy sand, before taking a left at Pittwater, with all the pretty sailboats anchored below, to fly over some of Sydney’s most pristine bushland, dotted with remote holiday shacks, only accessible by boat.
The finale of the journey of ‘getting there’ – the prelude to the fine meal awaiting you – was the descent that gave a birds-eye and then birds-level view of that thick native eucalypt forest, before gently landing on the river and gliding along the still water to the restaurant.
Along the way, you’d snatch glimpses of those holiday houses you spotted from above, some little more than charmingly ramshackle fishing shacks, others sleek architecturally designed homes that gave a hint of what was to come.
Berowra Waters Inn wasn’t only a wonderful restaurant, it was a wonderful building, designed by Australian architect Glenn Murcutt, in a contemporary Australian style that draws inspiration from the vernacular – especially the rural shed and old beach-house – featuring louvered glass windows and a corrugated tin roof on solid sandstone.
Once at the dock the maitre d’ – who must have had one of the most envied front-of-house restaurant jobs in Sydney – would help guests alight from the plane.
If that wasn’t a warm enough welcome, once up the stairs and inside the sunny room with those tranquil river views, there’d be a greeting with a glass of sparkling and a smile and twinkle in the eye from the latest legendary chef at the restaurant’s helm, Dietmar Sawyere. (I suspect the latter came from the fact that Chef knew what a delightful time you were about to have and took great pleasure in enabling you to have it.)
And I say ‘latest’ because before Chef Dietmar brought the restaurant to life again, there were the equally legendary chefs Gay and Tony Bilson who had bought the old inn in 1975, renovated it, and transformed it into an iconic Australian restaurant until its closure in the mid 1990s.
We’d wanted to dine at Berowra Waters Inn since the early 1990s when we were very young and becoming ‘foodies’ before the term was even used widely – in the days when the Sydney Morning Herald was still great and we’d avidly read the restaurant reviews in the weekly Good Living section. Back then, until very recently, Berowra Waters Inn remained one of the country’s great gastronomic experiences.
Sydneysiders would take the seaplane there for special occasions – an anniversary, a proposal, a birthday – and as Terence had taken me to Rockpool to celebrate my graduation from my Masters degree, I planned to take him to Berowra Waters Inn for his birthday.
Unfortunately, however, I chickened out at the last minute. Those were the days before we became travel writers, before we’d flown hundreds of times, and while I’d flown quite a bit by then, I’d never been on a small plane and have to admit I was “shit-scared”, as my Dad used to say.
In a way, that was a good thing. Because when Destination NSW recently invited us to enjoy a ‘wow experience’ in Sydney and to choose something we’d never done before, the first thing that came to mind was the scenic seaplane flight and lunch at Berowra Waters Inn, a quintessential Sydney experience in our view.
And the flight was fantastic fun and the views were spectacular – even on a moody day – and the food, Chef Dietmar’s European-inspired take on contemporary Australian cuisine, was truly sublime, matched with brilliant wines.
We left the restaurant thinking, and on landing affirmed with each other, that this truly was a must-do Sydney experience, perhaps the ultimate Sydney experience, best saved for the last day of a holiday in the stunning city.
Sadly, Berowra Waters Inn closed very recently. Not because it wasn’t doing well, but because of another business Chef Dietmar owned. The Chef is working hard to re-open Berowra Waters Inn, so watch this space. We’re hoping the restaurant’s journey hasn’t ended, as we’d love to make the trip again one day.
In the meantime, Sydney Seaplanes offers a handful of other ‘fly and dine’ packages to some of Sydney’s other renowned restaurants, including Jonah’s at Whale Beach, Bells at Killcare by Chef Stefano Manfredi (we’ll feature a review of his Sydney city restaurant Balla here soon) and Catalina right on Sydney Harbour.
Berowra Waters Inn
Our flight and lunch were hosted by Destination NSW.