The Yarra River is one of Melbourne's greatest assets. Sure, it's not really suitable for swimming or drinking, and sometimes it smells funny – but that's what us Melburnians love about it. Finding a great spot to eat by the river can be hard – there are so many options, from Docklands to Richmond and all the way in between – so here's my pick of the best restaurants and bars with Yarra River views, whether you are after a romantic dinner for two or a casual bite with friends. Life jacket optional.
LOADING DOCK BAR | DOCKLANDS
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner all weekend (lunch and dinner through the week), the Loading Dock Bar in the Yarra's Edge Docklands precinct is a hidden gem. Only a ten-minute walk from the city, and handy to anywhere in Docklands, this waterside bar offers modern Australian cuisine, with a great view of the Yarra. Whilst you sit and muse on which boat in the Marina you might like to own, enjoy thin crust pizzas and an extensive menu that brings together your favourite Thai, Italian, Greek and seafood dishes. Webb Bridge is a beautiful sight over dinner, lit up to showcase the true beauty of this urban artwork, with the CBD in the background.
WHARF HOTEL | MELBOURNE
A relatively new addition to the Yarra, the Wharf Hotel is kicking goals with its fitout, food and views. Overlooking the Yarra from Crown Casino to Polly Woodside, the Wharf Hotel is an ideal spot to escape the crowds at the Convention Centre or soak up the sun on the timber-laden deck. The timber theme continues throughout, complemented by a cosy open fire; couches and ottomans add warmth while grass-covered stools are the final touch of quirkiness. Classic pub meals fill the menu and the gang is all here – parma, steak, burger, and fish 'n' chips, but the more substantial plates – salmon, pork belly, crab linguini – are what make Wharf Hotel one of the best riverside pubs in Melbourne.
BANGPOP | SOUTH WHARF
Another of our fave restaurants with a Yarra River view is BangPop – named for the waterway it's perched along. In Thai, the word 'bang' means a village located on a stream, and while our river is a little more than just a stream, it's nice to know the team took into account their gorgeous view while selecting a moniker for the Thai Street Food restaurant. Eclectic and vibrant, the yellow, white, red and green interior of BangPop, punctuated with bicycles, says this is a happy place to be.
The menu is dotted with Thai spices – tumeric, lemongrass, basil and kaffir lime – while chilli is mentioned more often than not. Interesting sounding dishes, like the marinated chargrilled pork neck with nam, jim saap and sticky rice are adventurous, but there are also old favourites like Pad Thai to make you feel at home, but with a great river view.
Ponyfish Island. Image credit: Ponyfish Island Facebook.
PONYFISH ISLAND | SOUTHBANK
With arguably the best views of the Yarra in Melbourne, Ponyfish Island sits IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RIVER, under the Southgate footbridge. Head down the stairs to discover a haven below that will have you turning your face to the sun whilst downing a beer in summer, and snuggling up to the person next to you over a glass of mulled wine in the darkness of winter. There are no cooking facilities here, so it's all toast and muesli for brekkie, and soup and subs for lunch and dinner, but the fillings are fancy and a little bit gourmet. Come along and experience what downing drinks with mates in the middle of the river, on a barge, in the greatest city in the world, feels like.
PURE SOUTH | SOUTHGATE
Perched on the banks of the Yarra in the Southgate complex, Pure South embodies the passion of Tasmania by creating a menu based on produce from the southern most state of Australia. Founded in 2004, Pure South has reached its tenth anniversary, celebrating all that is good about the apple isle – house smoked bacon, King Island cheeses, pork belly, quail and those famous Tasmanian oysters – together with the best of Tassie wines.
My money is on the Cape Grim grass fed Angus eye fillet – melt in your mouth delicious. The Southbank footbridge will lead you to the door of Pure South but you may never want to leave. One of Melbourne's best Yarra view restaurants, Pure South lets you take a holiday without leaving Melbourne.
NOBU | SOUTHBANK
High end Japanese food is where its at, so with the most noted Japanese restaurant in the world sitting smack bang next to the Yarra River, why wouldn't you take the opportunity to experience it? Housed in the Crown Casino complex, Nobu is widely considered Melbourne's best Japanese restaurant,
and has been treating people to glorious food and fabulous river ever since.
Enjoy lunch or dinner by the water, with cherry blossom-adorned ceilings and a touch of elegance in the air. Choose Nobu for a special anniversary, an important business meeting or a milestone birthday – it's the kind of meal you want to remember. Favourites include the zuke tuna with ginger salsa, and the lobster salad with spicy lemon dressing.
Pilgrim Bar. Image credit: Pilgrim Bar Facebook.
PILGRIM BAR | MELBOURNE CBD
Down by the water on the underside of Federation Square, the vaults of days gone by have become the watering holes of the upwardly mobile in the 21st century. Pilgrim Bar is a hit day or night, with the water mere metres away from the timber-topped tents and a Mediterranean tapas style menu to graze or on indulge in, depending on your mood. From midday, perch riverside to watch rowers go by and soak up the sounds of the city buzzing above while enjoying the lamb, saffron and split chickpea broth with harissa, sweet dates, figs and coriander, with a bit of zatar pizza on the side. By night, the lights come on and you can't go past the wine list with the personal annotations to each drop. In a word? Fun.
LEFT BANK | SOUTHBANK
When looking for a bar with great Yarra River views, you can't go past Left Bank. Much like in Paris, Melbourne has a left and right bank, and, presumably, Left Bank sits on the 'left' side of the river – but that probably depends on which way you are looking at it. Either way, Left Bank is a bar and restaurant worth a look in, on Southbank just past the Sandridge pedestrian overpass. Offering à la carte dining, the menu is not extensive but hits home runs with the chosen few.
Burgers and pizzas are Friday night favourites, but a confit duck leg is a little more French I think. The wine list runs to pages, and a spot on the deck is the perfect place to people watch by the mighty Yarra River.
TAXI KITCHEN | MELBOURNE CBD
With 360 degree views over the Yarra River, the CBD, arts precinct and Federation Square, Taxi Kitchen is the perfect balance of location, location, location, and unpretentiousness. The light and airy eatery has a simple menu offering small, medium and large plates, with interesting sides (Brussel sprouts with lap chong sausage and chilli sambal, anyone?) and amazing sounding desserts (Taxi's famous espresso soufflé with Baileys & white chocolate ice-cream – swoon!). A six-course tasting menu will set you back $85, but you'd pay at least that for views like this.
LA CASSOLETTE | MELBOURNE CBD
An unassuming European bistro hidden behind Flinders Street (Clarendon St end), La Cassolette faces the parkland and river opposite the Casino on little known Rebecca Walk. The minimalist dining room appears nonchalant, but with traditional French cuisine that will make your mouth water, you know they are putting in the hard yards in the kitchen. The Parisian style mash melts delicately on the tongue, next to a Cassoulet of pork belly and French sausages, while a simple croque monsieur for brunch is pleasing to the eye and stomach. Wear a beret and sit outside, imagining for a moment that the Yarra is the Seine as you dive into a panna cotta. Magnifique!
So, Listers, what say you? Which are your favourite restaurants and bars with Yarra River views?
Main image credit: Ponyfish Island.