Restaurant Review: Jonah's Whale Beach, Sydney, Australia

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If you're heading up to the Northern Beaches for a romantic getaway this is a "must-try" restaurant to put on your list. Not only does it have a stunning location - on a cliff top overlooking Whale Beach - but it offers a combination of fine dining in a relaxed yet elegant atmosphere. It's part of the iconic Jonah's retreat, the only prestigious Relais & Chateau property in Sydney.

The location and decor:

A major drawcard of Jonah's is the location and view, tucked away behind Whale Beach on Sydney's famous Northern Beaches. The view isn't just from the elegant, light filled restaurant either; the terrace, where you can enjoy a pre-dining drink and snacks from the bar, offers panoramic views across Whale Beach, also north to Palm Beach, and south to the other beaches towards Manly. The hotel has a long history, and it's hosted many a famous name, from esteemed actors such as Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Anthony Hopkins, to the legendary Engelbert Humperdinck, and in more recent years, the pop sensation One Direction.

It was the second day of winter when we visited, and one of those spectacular early winter days in Sydney when the air is mild, sky cloudless, and the blue of the ocean looked as vibrant as it can be. We were staying at the hotel overnight, so after relaxing in our retreat, we headed to the restaurant for an early dinner. You can read our full hotel review here. Surprisingly, being a Monday night, it was busy, with a combination of couples, and a lively group of baby boomers celebrating a birthday. It didn't phase the staff, however, who were friendly, and attentive to all throughout the evening.

Although it was dark by the time we walked in, the venue was bathed in soft light enough to illuminate the terrace and the cliff-top gardens just; we were seated by the window. Inside the decor was very beach meets contemporary modern; lots of cream, white, glass and silver with a combination of booths and tables adorned with crisp white linen. The atmosphere was energetic and lively, without drowning out romantic conversation.

The menu:

Jonah's Executive Chef is Peter Ridland, who creates seasonal menus which easily distract you from the view. The focus is a combination of Australian and international produce; it's award winning stuff, earning plenty of 'Chefs Hats' from the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide most years dating back to 2007. The restaurant has also been awarded '2 Glasses' in the prestigious Wine Spectator Awards, and its Sommelier, Christian Baeppler, also won '3 Goblets' for Jonah's at the 2014 Gourmet Traveller Fine Wine Partner Awards. And you can take your pick of services - the restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week.

Being winter, there is a menu for Monday to Saturday, a set course menu for Sundays and public holidays, and a five-course winter degustation menu. As it was a Monday when we visited, we had the opportunity of picking from the à la carte menu. Choosing from such a menu is tricky, but when you are by the ocean it seems natural to go with fish and seafood. My choice of appetiser was Queensland Mud Crab, with black barley, sweetcorn, shellfish cream, finger fennel and dill, while Ben opted for Prawn and Bug Iberico, which was served with globe artichoke, fregola, charred baby onion, tomato, chilli and gremolata. We shared - both looked, and tasted, too good not to.

With three of my favourite fish on the menu, however, mains proved even more difficult. Eventually I was persuaded by Northern Territory Barramundi, which was pan seared with soft-shell crab, pickled bamboo shoots, chilli, kaffir lime and coriander, while Ben also went with fish; the South Australian Snapper, steamed with king prawn, potato and shellfish risotto, zucchini, bergamot and Pino Gris foam. Both were cooked to perfection, delicately flavoured and with accompaniments which, while complex, simply worked; it was hard to choose between the two. We also opted for a simple side dish of mixed salad leaves with Sherry vinegar and extra olive oil vinaigrette. We rarely make dessert, which is unfortunate for some chefs, but on this occasion we left a little room for the delicious selection of local and imported cheeses, served with quince paste, walnut and witlof and pear. By the time we'd polished all that off, we were ready to relax under a blanket on our terrace with a nightcap.

Besides a friendly and relaxing environment, and modern decor, the service was super attentive but not stuffy; the staff were apologetic for the revelry of the birthday party group, but they weren't intrusive at all, just having fun and enjoying their surroundings, food and fine wine as much as we were. The only thing missing was perhaps a sunset before dinner, or a full moon above to illuminate the water, gently rolling in on the beach below. Then again, that's an excuse to visit again in the summer.

Jonah's is located at 69 Bynya Road, Whale Beach, NSW 2107, 02 9974 5599,

Joanna Hall