Craig Osment finds harmony on the harbour and views with a vibe.
That old restaurant shibboleth that suggests that the quality of the view is inversely proportional to the quality of the food has been somewhat overturned in recent years. Sure, those cyclorama dining rooms that revolve at half a kilometre above sea level are still a bit suspect but you could hardly accuse Guillaume at Bennelong of being off the culinary pace just because his restaurant enjoyed some of Sydney’s best harbour front real estate. The same can be said for Catalina at Rose Bay in Sydney’s east which happens to also count Sailors Club as a waterfront neighbour and another fine eatery right on the water. These days it seems that if you have waterfront views then you’d better live up to them on the food front.
Catalina occupies an historic site that was, for nearly four decades, home to the Caprice, one of the city’s iconic nightspots and overlooks what was the country’s first international airport, albeit one exclusively used by flying boats. The most famous of which were the Catalinas which whisked passengers at a dignified 160 mph from Sydney to London in just … nine days. This tradition, although over much shorter distances, continues today with Sydney Seaplanes base being adjacent to the restaurant.
The much-awarded restaurant is the brainchild of the McMahon family who had been around the Sydney gastronomic block a few times before establishing themselves at Rose Bay in 1994. Now on the way to becoming a ‘dining dynasty’, they are joined in the restaurant’s 20th year by daughter Kate and son James who appear to have seamlessly slipped into their hosting roles alongside their parents Michael and Judy.
The ‘room’ is an elegant blend of fine diner and casual harbour-side bar with its outdoor deck cantilevered over the water for informal drinks or dining al fresco. Apart from the family the other floor staff are charming and knowledgeable and are well informed about both the food and the extensive wine list.
In keeping with its proximity to transport, the menu covers a fair bit of ground too. There are Catalan (that’s the Spanish region rather than the misspelt plane) style whitebait with fried free range organic duck egg and lemon which is an absolutely delicious, generous bowl of the real, tiny little fried whitebait into which the waiter mixes the lightly cooked duck egg. That’s an entrée but could be a meal on its own if you wanted to eat lightly. On the Daily List there’s also a selection of sushi prepared by master sushi chef Yoshinori Fuchigami accompanied by either glasses or jugs of sake. Among the mains created by head chef Mark Axisa, there’s fetta from Persia, tuna from Ulladulla, New Zealand king salmon, Riverine beef tenderloin, Sydney rock oysters and wines from everywhere. The sourdough bread is made on the premises, as is the ‘hand crafted’ butter.
This is a menu where the produce has been carefully selected and imaginatively combined to ensure that the food, ambience and location all blend harmoniously while taking in sunset views over Sydney Harbour to Shark Island and across to Clifton Gardens on the North Shore. The perfect setting for either a casual summer snack and drink on the deck of a three course haute cuisine meal inside by the fire in winter.
Another go-to entrée has to be the colourful poached marron tail, orange, aioli and seasonal vegetables which can be followed by something elegant black in the Fettuccine nero with lobster, tomatoes and chilli infused lobster oil – delicious. Or an old favourite, duck Maryland confit with smoked duck breasts, rhubarb tart and sautéed kale. Or try their signature dish; roasted suckling pig, apple purée, braised red cabbage and raisins, quite a commitment at AU$110 but worth the money.
Desserts are equally well thought through with a tempting set list alongside the daily specials. For me the salted caramel ice cream in a Tunisian brik pastry pastry crust with pashmak (that’s the wonderfully melt-in-the-mouth Persian fairy floss) was worth persisting beyond a satisfyingly full feeling.
So if you’re looking for the quintessentially Sydney harbour side dining experience, take the short drive from the city or fly in on a float plane for lunch or dinner with the best of both worlds – a stunning view and food to match.
Catalina, Lyne Park, New South Head Road, Rose Bay Sydney.
T: +612 9371 0555