Review: Catalina has some new tricks but their signatures remain the highlight (Sydney)

We don’t all have the funds to be regulars over at storied Rose Bay restaurant Catalina, but while many may keep this as an occasional indulgence, it’s always well worth seeing how this dining institution is constantly evolving thanks to their unwavering commitment to change. Like most seasonally-focused restaurants, Catalina switches up their signatures with dishes according to the best produce available at the time, and with that billion-dollar view as a constant, it’s the perfect dynamic and reason enough for its revered position in Sydney’s dining scene.

Executive Chef Mark Axisa just led the restaurant through their Autumn menu, which riffs on Catalina’s signatures with seasonal produce as well as introduces some brand new dishes. As always, there are two different menus to choose from on any given day at Catalina, one being a menu that changes everyday, and one being a menu that changes every season. The favourites are always going to be there, including the simple – and smart – choice of freshly shucked Sydney Rock Oysters, which should always be the starting point here, especially for a long and leisurely lunch on one of the outdoor tables overlooking the expansive Sydney Harbour.

If the Seafood Antipasto ($72) is on the daily menu, and you’ve got the cash to justify such a high-priced option, then jump from your platter of oysters to a full display of fresh produce, with a small but focused collection of tasty morsels of cuttlefish, sofrito-drenched mussels, tempura prawn fish tacos, and toothfish dumplings with pickled fennel, caperberries and salmon mousse on the side. Everything here is delicious, particularly the tacos and dumplings, but the asking price stretches a bit too beyond the quantity.

The standout is a new entrée Axisa has been playing with. Moving away from seafood, the Madeira Braised Beef Cheek ($25) is served covered with oodles of chewy spaetzli, the thick egg noodles lightly flavoured with mustard while the beef bathes in an earthy mushroom jus. It’s busy, but of the more exciting dishes I’ve tried this year and surely a major contender for a new Catalina favourite.

A constant favourite is the Roasted Suckling Pig ($120), which on my previous visits to the restaurant has always been sold out. Luckily this visit was in the afternoon, so Catalina’s staple dish was a no-brainer for the mains. Served with a defining chilli tomato chutney and a sweet Pedro Ximénez jus, it’s the rightful star of Catalina’s signature collection with a generous amount of rich, fleshy pork topped with delicious crackling. Unlike the seafood platter, the high price point is justified and it’s easy to see why this is a constant sell out.

You can never leave Catalina without tucking into dessert. The kitchen is always tinkering with new sweet treats, but none can quite match up to the constant favourite: the Banana Split ($25). It’s thankfully unchanged, with peanut butter parfait and aero honeycomb chocolate that add two very rich textures to the thick, creamy banana taste.

Catalina’s legacy or reputation ain’t going anywhere anytime soon, especially if Axisa keeps jamming out dishes like that gorgeous braised beef cheek. Take a long weekend lunch here, maybe even pair it up with a flight on the nearby Sydney Seaplanes, and you’ll see why people keep throwing their money around at Catalina.

Catalina

Address: Lyne Park, Rose Bay, Sydney
Contact: 02 9371 0555
Website: catalinarosebay.com.au