Sparkling views of Rose Bay stretch from Catalina, one of the most high-profile and sought-after dining spots in Sydney. The exclusivity may be overwhelming to some at first, but despite the dazzling clientele and prices to match, there’s a warmth to the restaurant that’s immediately welcoming. The charm undercuts what some people may see as a pretentious atmosphere, grounding it with good cocktails, great food, excellent service, and an unbeatable location.
The restaurant’s job as far as atmosphere goes isn’t very demanding, given the view. Just make sure there are huge, spotless glass windows wrapping around the curved dining room and let the prime location immerse diners in Sydney’s quintessential waterside beauty. Day or night, staring out over the vast body of water from the elegant layout of Catalina is an experience in itself, and it’s one that has obviously been factored into the cost of dining at this renowned destination.
With the exception of the odd pretentious waiter here and there, the staff are impeccable in how they work the floor: efficient, quick and attentive. Of course they have to constantly be on their toes when their regulars consist of celebrities – even “A” list at times – and powerful media moguls. As such, food is delivered in a very timely fashion, though spaced apart just enough so one can savor the experience.
The menu changes regularly but a focus on fresh produces remains a core that ensures the quality and depth of flavour is always going to be there. The Sydney Rock Oysters ($5 each) are a safe way to start a feast here, whether you choose to have them natural with eschalot and red wine vinegar, or with lime, chilli and tobiko, or even tempura style with ponzu and sesame seeds. Catalina’s reputation has guaranteed some of the finest produce in the city, that much is evident from the beautiful platter of large, freshly shucked oysters before you tuck into the more substantial entrees and mains.
Essential entrees from the current menu include the beautiful house-smoked Mount Cook Salmon ($32) with a hint of lemon sour cream, fresh cucumbers, salmon mousse, dill and fried capers. It’s a highlight of any Catalina meal, with modest supporting flavours leaving most of the work to the fantastic, rich and incredibly smooth salmon raised in the clear, glacial waters of New Zealand’s famously majestic Southern Alps. There’s also the Assiette of Spanner Crab ($36) which is light and buttery with tempura scampi, red spot whiting, diamond shell clams, clonfit tomato, potato, lemon and chilli beurre blanc. These two very wise choices would push you towards $70 just for entrees, which would be an outrage if the quality of the ingredients didn’t go somewhat far in justifying the price.
For mains, don’t overlook the Cone Bay Barramundi ($49) which is sweet and highly textured with delicate, crispy skin and supporting flavours of pipis, vongole, mussels, braised leeks, avruga and lemon thyme veloute. It’s without a doubt one of the best options on the menu, again speaking highly for local the choice in produce. Those more in the mood for a pasta-based dish should go for the Moreton Bay Bug ($49) which has been poached in a creamy tarragon butter and served on a bed of saffron tagliatelle with broccoli, garlic and lobster oil.
If you don’t want to push your bill over the $200 mark then it’s best to leave it there (although you’d be remiss not to dig into Catalina’s highly considered wine list, or their modest but quality collection of seasonal cocktails). But if you do have money to burn then you’ve got some very hard decisions for dessert ahead of you. The best choice would be the signature Catalina Banana Split ($25) with peanut butter parfait and soft aero honeycomb chocolate, although not far behind on the ranking sits the Dark Valrhona Chcoolate Mousse ($26) with milk chocolate cremeux, kirsch poached cherries, chantilly creme and yoghurt cherry ice cream. Both are delicate, lovingly presented treats which aren’t at all heavy on the palate, although rather intense in flavour.
Take note that alongside a seasonal menu, Catalina also provides a daily-changing list of even more food options based on the best produce available at the time. Like all good restaurants, it allows for the kitchen to continually refine their craft and not have to rely on the harbourside location or sterling reputation for customer satisfaction. This dynamism goes far in solidifying Catalina as a restaurant well-worth the hype and the price, but if you haven’t got the means to make this regular dining experience, save it for a very special occasion.
Address: Lyne Park, Rose Bay NSW 2029
Contact: (02) 9371 0555
Hours: Mon-Sat 12pm-10pm; Sun 12pm-5pm