With the illustrious glow constantly surrounding Rose Bay dining institution Catalina, complacency would be understandable – unacceptable, but understandable. There’s no time to rest on ones laurels here though, a restaurant where the team know that it’s much than a sparkling harbourside location that keeps people coming back for more, adding to an enviable list of regulars who are more than happy to pay a premium price for a premium meal. This dynamism is largely credited to a strong sense of seasonality which introduces substantial changes to the menu but finds a way to balance that with consistency, sticking to what regulars know and love but always switching it up a bit with ongoing experimentation fueled by unparalleled access to high-quality ingredients.
The spring and summer seasons always seem to bring out the best in this high-end restaurant, so it’s no surprise that their current spring menu is Catalina at its best. Designed by Head Chef Alan O’Keeffe and Executive Chef Mark Axisa, it sits alongside the day-to-day menu (you’re always given both menus at Catalina, doubling the amount of choices) with a large focus on fresh seafood and top-choice meats used in dishes that all sound very tempting. Take the Pan Seared Scallops ($32) for example; this time they are served with a light cauliflower soup, salmon caviar, silverbeet, chilli crums and bottarga. The flavours come together beautifully, all lifting the scallops which are buttery and soft.
The daily menu is always worth a look as well, often bringing in exciting twists that are packed with interesting flavour combinations to reiterate the love of experimentation that fuels Catalina’s kitchen. On this particular visit, an entree of Saikou Salmon ($30) served raw with chilli aoili, furikake, egg yolk and a crispy rice cracker. Saikou Salmon is from Mt Cook in New Zealand, sourced from what is the highest salmon farm in the world; the produce makes a big difference here, moist and wet with a rich flavour that avoids the fatty aftertaste of lesser produce, complementing the equally strong flavours used to build this moreish profile.
Of course, any starters should be accompanied by multiple servings of the freshly shucked Sydney Rock oysters ($5 each; minimum order six) Catalina is well known for. If you can rely on anything to never change at this restaurant, it’s the promise of some of the best, freshest oysters you’ll find in Sydney. Get them served natural with eschalot and red wine vinegar and consider yourself a regular for life.
There’s always a dizzying – and almost stressful – choice of mains since everything reads so well on both menus. It’s worth going for whatever pasta they have on the menu, and since seafood is the main order of the season this time the house-made Parsley Spaghettini ($49) comes with a generous medley of seafood including Mooloolaba king prawns, Confit Bay Clarence River octopus, cuttlefish, chilli, lobster oil and garlic bread crumbs. It tastes as good as one would expect, the thin stringy pasta threaded amongst piles upon piles of fresh, soft and juicy seafood.
An interesting limited edition dessert on the current menu includes an odd but endearing partnership with Guerlain, a luxury skin care brand. The Catalina kitchen has used one of the brand’s products as inspiration to create a truly decadent, and highly attractive Pomegranate and Campari Panna Cotta ($25), delicately served with dressings of crisp strawberry pearls, tapioca and white peach sorbet. The palate is full of subtle details that come together in the aftertaste, lingering for a long time with pleasant and very refreshing notes of berries.
It’s nice to know that a dining institution such as this will always be changing and finding something new, encouraging return visits while keeping consistent the impeccable service and affable atmosphere that has remained anchored at this luxury Rose Bay address for what seems like forever.
Address: Lyne Park, Rose Bay NSW 2029
Contact: (02) 9371 0555
Hours: Mon-Sat 12pm-10pm; Sun 12pm-5pm