The sign said scenic drive, which basically means a longass winding, steep sloped, slip-sliding sorta road. As my mate put it, this was drift country. We traverse down the face of the hillside basically, down to the waters below. That was to be our destination, a lunchtime birthday celebration at a place we’d been talking about going to since like, 3 years ago when we’d arrived. Anticipation is the keyword. Berowra Waters Inn was an iconic Sydney restaurant back in the day (1975) when the Bilsons bought over the place. The restaurant has seen the likes of Neil Perry of Rockpool and Nick Hildebrandt of Bentley come through the kitchens to name but 2. Today, we’d finally make the trip.

We stop a borrowed car and rock out, pretty much the most overdressed crew in the vicinity, compared to a buncha hikers in their sportgear and some locals going fishing. To get to Berowra Waters Inn itself, there are 3 ways. The first is to fly from Rose Bay via seaplane. The second is you have the option of mooring your boat if you have one on the Hawkesbury. We opt for the last, which is drive to the public pier and get the private ferry. 2 minutes later, we cross the river and dock on the other side, a supremely picturesque restaurant. I don’t think I’ve seen a place better encapsulate the premise of fine Sydney dining in any other location. This feels fucking magic.

Designed by Pritzker Prize winner Glenn Murcutt, it’s a longish house set against the water that looks really Aussie to me. I don’t know why. The roof is corrugated metal that’s slightly tarnished, unrefined and sort of workmanlike. Somehow when it’s presented with top to bottom glass louvre windows on the front facade, it feels strangely modern. We step inside and go up some stairs before we enter the dining area, which is exceptionally airy and bright. In the second photo below, you can maybe just make out the pass in the middle of the room, which is a hole in the wall where the chefs plate up and pass the food to the front of house. The waitstaff actually get to do their work on this nice big table which stores all the cutlery as well as the water and wine for each table. There’s also this cheese display and some other stuff like the bread and so on. I made the push to make this a lunch date and my mates are glad for it. I think this place must be enjoyed in the daytime, in all it’s simple beauty.

Still, I’m not about to harp on about waterfront architecture and it’s place in Sydney. I am no expert in that at all. Well, I’m not much of an expert in anything but at least I know what I came for. To eat. And I shall. We peruse the menu, some stuff has changed from the version dropped online. I notice the one constant is the first course, Chilled Vichyssoise with Oscietra and Salmon caviars and beignets of Hawkesbury river Oysters. Otherwise, most everything else keeps changing with time and the seasons. The menu here is interesting. You pick the number of courses you want and then each individual dish for each person. Pick your own degu. I totally recommend 6 courses and eating in an even number of people. The main thing to worry about is picking 5 savoury courses to satisfy yourself. There’s only 8 or 9 options anyway so it shouldn’t be too hard. It was for me because I like a lot of stuff and a lot of stuff sounds real tasty on the menu. With dessert, just get the variation to share, which is smaller sized desserts but one of each. I’ll tell you now, they’re generous with the dessert size in so much as fine dining restaurants will be anyway.

We opt for some still water and a bottle of 2002 Nga Waka Riesling from Marlborough. Mostly because the name sounds like the birthday boy’s name so corny as we are… The bread arrives with an option of sourdough or multigrain and a choice of salted or unsalted Echire. I get sourdough with salted Echire. The butter is sickass and that little medallion would probably run me 2 or 3 bucks if I could kop them outside. It’s the kind of butter I’d eat alone. How good is this place?

Alright so first course arrives. Birthday boy gets the scallop tartare and tells us to get ready after trying his. Other mate gets the soup with oysters that are killer fried and tasty, topped with oscietra. The soup is a smooth, aerated vichy that has got the salmon roe hidden on the bottom as a surprise. My first course is a new take on the classic Aussie beetroot and goat’s cheese salad only it’s got white asparagus cooked and seasoned to perfection. Super tender, just the barest bite and resistance to being cut and not a whisker of stringiness. There’s these blobs of goat’s cheese creamed over them and then some salted, peeled and poached grapes, walnuts lightly crusted with salt, drips of beetroot reduction and a nasturtium pesto that is far milder than a regular one. It’s beautiful, light and balanced. I love it because it takes the worst thing of a beetroot salad and turns it into the best thing. Instead of chunky, earthy, muddy red purple things that are hairy to chew, I get a simple sweet sauce instead. Brilliant.

Course 2. Me and other mate get the scallops now. Bday boy was waiting to see our reactions. He got a piece of Murray cod with pea puree, grilled cos lettuce and lemon myrtle. The skin is scored superbly and the fish cooked par excellence. The puree slanging a sweetness, juxtaposed by the brightness of lemon myrtle. You wouldn’t expect it but the humble piece of grilled cos gave the dish that bit of interest. I would never come up with lettuce leaf and fish as a combo that would wash in a fine dining setting. I need to rethink life. But my scallops need attention. Ok this was a scallop tartare with Berowra mud crab served with creamed eggs and a buerre noisette. The comment from bday boy is he wished he could have scramble like that every morning. He was right. This is brilliant. The eggs were rich but given a new dimension with the brown butter sauce, only peeking around the edges. The scallops and crab just gave it that luxury and sweetness. This is one of those woah goddamn I’ve had something amazing moments I don’t get too often. I should also add that I detect some mild acidity and herbaliciousness from the garnish that threw everything together.

Course 3! This time we’d be getting the same shit. Sauteed veal sweetbreads sitting on a bed of spinach and fennel puree, with 2 pieces of langoustine croustilant sitting in a langoustine foam. The foam is sickness. I was reeling in pleasure at the gentle, clean, sweetness of that sauce. Bday boy just wanted a bowl of it. The sweetbread was also massive. I think it’s like a whole piece. Rich and decadent but the spinach puree is supposed to make it, y’know, healthier. It doesn’t. It’s tasty if a little awkward. I mean, everything on the plate went together in flavor but maybe not in the actual process of consumption. I just chugged one bit after the other, sloshing em together in the mouth.

Course 4. Same options once more. Quail served with marron tail, wood mushrooms and salsify. It comes in a clear glass bowl thing. This is a dish that you just can’t go wrong with. It’s straight up regular tasty. Of course, the ingredients aren’t your everyday shiz and even if it goes together really well, I felt that it lacked a certain something something. Nonetheless, if there was something that I would make a more frequent taste of besides the seafood scrambled eggs, this would be it. It’s the kind of tasty dish that you just have to like regardless of how much of an asshole you were. You can’t say no to this. At this point, we declare Berowra Waters Inn to be the premier surf and turf joint in Sydney. 3 courses featuring something from the land and something from the sea at the same time that went well.

Five. We had to part ways here. Other mate decides to be real nice and compromise, opting for the Wagyu minute steak with pepper berries, shallots and cauliflower puree. The other option was a squab that had to be shared by 2 people and just 2 alone. What they did was bake it inside some baking sheet with tarragon and thyme before covering that in clay. This went into an oven which slowly pressure cooked it. They then brought it to the table. Bday boy gets to bash at it with a hammer, the waitress reveals the inside, we smell the “awesome aromas” and they return it to finish in the kitchen.

Interlude. To help us curb our boredom whilst we wait, we get a little cup of sweetcorn and saffron soup. We start cracking some shit about Campbell’s and then the waitress arrives with the wagyu for other mate and our squab.

The wagyu comes with this little potato stack and tastes nice if totally normal and expected. The squab comes nicely browned on the exterior but soft tender and more on the rare side. It’s accompanied by fresh morels and a cromesquis containing some foie gras jus within, some garnish leaves and a side serving of green onion risotto. I found the rice a touch salty but jam packed with sweetness from the onions. The squab is excellent. I love the texture and flavor from the slow cooking in the terracotta shell. The foie jus gives it a lovely richness and the morels, well they’re morels so they win, of course.

Pre dessert time! Pineapple jelly type thing with chunks of fruit sits on the bottom of a shot glass. The top is given a Malibu foam. Kinda nice.

Real dessert. I can’t believe this is the last course. I’m kinda sad but really super happy at this point because I think at 3 courses in, I figured this was going to be in my top 3 dining experiences in Sydney. #1 was Pier with mom and dad. #2 was Bentley with mom and bro. This is #3 but they’re really interchangeable imo. Right so bday boy gets his regular, which is a dessert that has hazelnuts in it. This one is a delice of Nespresso parfait with hazelnuts and frangelico. It comes covered in a choc ganache and there’s some sabayon plus a single beautifully teardrop candied hazelnut. It’s real nice. They made a mistake first time round, sending us something wrong but get us the proper one and letting it warm up before serving so the parfait isn’t freezer hard. This was crucial for the texture. Flavor wise, it’s just straight up delish, kinda rich but not insane. On the bottom there’s this frangelico soaked sponge that gave it this oomph.

Me and other mate shared the desserts variation, which is all 4 available options together. Felt like great value because the individual portion of the delice was big for desserts. We got a reduced sized version that wouldn’t look out of place as a regular sized portion. We begin with the souffle, because it would otherwise sink. It’s awesome. Light but filled with bits of smushy mangoes. I think it tasted a lot like Kensington Pride mangoes. I kinda got a lot of the green skin smell and there was a heavy mangoness to the souffle but the texture was still light. I wouldn’t consider it a classic style souffle, which has that disappear texture. Instead, with this one you get the mango all over the place so it’s like an amazing mango pudding maybe. It came with some passionfruit ripple ice cream (nice) and a shot glass filled with passionfruit juice and chunks of mango (sour!). The compliments were secondary. The souffle was real nice. Second dessert to tackle was something like strawberries and cream. Strawberries came with a lemon and lime custard plus a quenelle of basil sorbet. Aside this was this massive slice of aubergine that was dried and toasted slightly. The stuff in the bowl, the custard, berries and sorbet were great. Nice, light and clean with the basil picking up at the back end to give it real interest. The aubergine didn’t do much but it looked dramatic. Part 3 we come to the awesome Amedei choc tart with raspberries and raspberry sorbet. The fruit offers that bright sparkling (there’s also some silver sparkle candies too!) counter to the deep, rich tart. I have to say, I’d dump the fruit and go with a whole tart. The tart was just sick. Good, insane, amazebase choc that had this beautifully smooth cocoa buttery texture that swooved in the mouth. The only extra I’d keep is the bit of yoghurt atop the tart that calmed it down and gave it a touch of softness and brightness. The choc was just awesome, dark and soo sooooo good. We finish with the aforementioned delice, which I think is really really good but man that tart. Thing is I serve the same thing at work now and I know the difference in levels. This thing right here, is the real deal. A great way to showcase quality chocolate.

The waitress comes over and asks if we want coffees and we’re liked, “Yo, stuffed, we good, y’know…”. I mean, this was an awesome feast. 6 courses, each one just as beautiful as the next, not a single beat skipped, not a misstep, just really really good food. I am wondering how the hell this place only deserves 2 hats. I reckon the ambience, service and extras are at least on par or hella close to Pier when it was 3 hat status. I reckon the food is awesome and deserving of just being damn good, tasty stuff that’s not hidden by the technical wizardry of today. It doesn’t blow my mind in terms of concept but in terms of execution, flavour, setting and generosity, I think it’s straight up the one place anyone visiting Sydney with a spare $200 should go. Ok, maybe spare $250 including transport and a tip. Seaplane is extra.

We get some petit fours (L-R raspberry macaron, pineapple & apricot tart some kinda choc truffle, fruit jelly), chill out at the deck outside and then head for the dock to go. I’m like drowsy at the last petit four crumbles in my mouth but I still had the palate to recognise that if I were to go back to Singapore during CNY next year, I will make that mini tart you see above.

Berowra was a blast mang. I only wish I could bring a million people there.