I’ve wanted to dine at Catalina since I first started working in advertising. It was mentioned often and always sounded wonderful. But back in the day I never got to go and with so many other places to choose from it somewhat dropped off my radar.
As soon as I saw the offer of a three course meal for two I knew it was finally time to make my way to Catalina. The Ouffer deal included a choice of three entrées, three mains and three desserts, followed by tea or coffee and petits fours. For only $55.00 – half price! I didn’t hesitate, I grabbed two of the deals and booked Dylan, Em, Mr O and myself in for dinner.
The head chef at Catalina these days is Mark Axisa, a young chef who arrived at Catalina in 2001 as a third year apprentice and who has worked his way up through the ranks. In 2010 Mark stepped up to the role of head chef under Executive Chef and co-owner, Paul McMahon. Paul left Catalina to open The Battery (another restaurant I sadly never made it to before it closed late in 2011), and Mark took the reins.
- Smoked salmon, pan-fried king prawns, pork belly confit or a vegetarian option
- Pan-fried snapper, beef tenderloin or vegetarian risotto
- Mixed green salad
- Classic lemon tart, salted peanut praline and caramel parfait or banana bavarois
- Coffee or tea and petits fours
Our booking was for a Thursday night and by some miracle I got out of work ‘on time’, as did the others, so we made our way down for a pre-drink. The dining room is a gorgeous long room with an art gallery feel to it – spacious, wooden floorboards and one large piece of art – the view of Rose Bay through the floor to ceiling glass windows (or sliding doors to be precise). It would be a great location for lunch with stunning water views.
Oysters: Natural, with eschalot and red wine vinegar / Natural, with lime, chilli and tobiko / Tempura, with seaweed and sesame salad and ponzu.
Mr O’s gorgeous cousin works at Catalina and with thanks to her and the kitchen we received a platter of complimentary oysters. I’ll admit it, I have mixed feelings for oysters. I have had some stunning oysters, but I’ve also had some that have made me wonder what all the fuss is about. While I didn’t doubt the ability of a seafront restaurant in serving up oysters that were perfect, previous experiences tend to dominate preconceptions.
The natural oysters were still attached to their shells, but with a little flick of the wrist they were free and ready to be gobbled up. I chose not to douse the oyster in the red wine vinegar and simply let it speak for itself. Plump, supremely fresh and creamy, the quality of oysters at Catalina was clear, with the natural oyster simply highlighting how fresh they were, tasting of the sea.
Next up was the almost ceviche like version, with an abundance of lime dressing to accentuate the stark chilli and light textural pop of the flying fish roe. These oysters had that little extra zing while still allowing the oyster to shine.
The one that really won me over was the tempura. I’d never had a tempura oyster before and had you asked me earlier if tempura oysters were a good idea, I probably would have said no. But that was before I had the chance to actually try them. Now I’m wondering why on earth I had never had a one before. Probably the best cooked oyster I have ever eaten; golden, crunchy tempura batter on the outside, giving way to a creamy and succulent oyster which was just heaven when combined with the salty, citrusy dipping sauce. I’ve regained my love of oysters.
Sushi: tuna, salmon, prawn, kingfish, tataki tuna and Catalina roll / Sashimi: salmon, tuna, whiting and kingfish.
We were also spoiled with a selection of sushi and sashimi. Oh boy just look at that plate, I wanted to demolish the whole thing right there and then. But alas I had to share (and remind myself that we still had our 3 course meal to come). Naturally the hardest part was deciding who would have what.
I sampled melt in the mouth tuna sashimi and mini sushi rolls, sumptuous salmon and tender whiting; all of the seafood was absolutely stunning. The knife skills of the chefs clearly evident in the perfectly sliced sashimi. Dylan and Mr O both loved the tangy and peppery pickled daikon over to the more common accompaniment of pickled ginger. And I can’t remember the last time I had prawn nigiri that was as fresh and flavoursome as this was. Thank you Master Sushi Chef Yoshi Fuchigami, you are amazing.
Pan fried king prawns with chilli, garlic and herb butter.
I couldn’t go past the king prawns for my entrée and I was not disappointed. Large king prawns, lightly pan fried, piled up high in a large bowl and dressed in a simple sauce. The portion size was quite generous for a starter. I loved the sauce of chilli, garlic and butter which complemented the sweet prawns and allowed them to remain in the spotlight.
Crisp confit pork belly, with pear compote and quinoa salad.
Dylan and Em both chose the pork belly and while I didn’t even consider ordering anything other than the prawns, I was pretty impressed with the pork belly when it arrived at the table. Another generous portion, the pork belly had that wonderful crispy crackling you always want to see and just the right ratio of meat to fat which stopped it from being too overbearing. The quinoa had quite an unusual texture, not as crunchy as I am accustomed to, having absorbed the rich jus and having an almost sticky/chewy bite to it. I loved the pear compote that replaced the customary apple that accompanies pork in most dishes.
Catalina house smoked salmon with soft boiled egg, truffle mayonnaise and brioche.
Mr O decided to be a little different and go for the smoked salmon. What an impressively plated dish. Perched atop a piece of grilled golden brioche and taking centre stage, the soft boiled egg looked amazing with a section of white removed and the yolk oozing down to the plate. Mr O thought the flavours were all amazing, with lovely light smoked salmon, buttery brioche and the rich yolk. His only comment was next time he’d order it for brunch as he couldn’t get his head around it being a dinner dish (though he knew that when he ordered it, he just couldn’t say no).
Pan fried snapper fillet with potato and garlic mash; lemon caper butter.
When it came to mains I had a much harder decision than with the starters. I couldn’t decide between the snapper or the beef but ended up choosing the snapper purely because we were at Catalina, where (in my eyes) seafood is king. With the seafood all hitting the spot I thought I was on to a winner, but sadly the snapper was a touch overcooked and dry. The creamy, garlicky mash was somewhat redeeming, though when it comes down to it, this had nothing on the prawns.
Riverine beef tenderloin with fondant potato and truffle mushroom duxelle.
And of course the boys both went for the beef. Oooh yes I had food envy, just look at that beautifully cooked piece of beef. It was then that I realised Catalina isn’t just limited to seafood. Curiously named tenderloin (generally known as eye fillet in Australia), the cut was succulent and surprisingly lean for 150 day grain feed beef. Precision cooked to medium rare and seasoned superbly, the beef won the boys over. Creamy, buttery fondant potato and intense duxelle of mushrooms just added to the dish.
The sides were a nice addition to the mains, freshening up the heavy dishes. I am a big fan of almond slivers being sprinkled over vegies, and I loved the crispy beans with the nuttiness of the almonds. Salad man Dylan enjoyed the bitter radicchio and tangy vinaigrette of the salad.
Dessert selection to share.
Mr O’s cousin wasn’t done with us yet. Instead of just ordering a dessert of our liking from the Ouffer menu, she suggested we share the dessert selection to be able to try more of their desserts. Who could resist? I had my heart set on the banana bavarois which actually wasn’t on the dessert selection menu, and Mr O didn’t want to share the salted peanut praline and caramel parfait, so in the end we got two normal sized desserts along with the dessert selection.
Chocolate lovers beware, you won’t want to share the Valrhona praline centred dark chocolate mousse that ticks all the right boxes – rich, indulgent, not too sweet. Second up was the pavlova meringue. I love chewy pavlova meringue and this was a crispy sugary sweet meringue so it didn’t quite hit the spot for me, but the strawberry gelato was sensational. The white chocolate cheesecake topped with raspberries was a lovely not too sweet addition to the plate, and the lemon tart was nice and citrusy, though more of a lemon curd than a set tart filling we were expecting. Last up was the salted peanut praline and caramel parfait, which had Mr O swooning. I was expecting a bigger caramel hit and found the peanut a little strong for my liking. The chocolate was the definite winner for me.
Banana bavarois with roasted banana ice and date puree.
Polishing off the dessert selection we realised we still had the full size banana dessert to go. Caramelised pieces of banana, silky smooth banana bavarois and a crumbly biscuit base. If you love banana then this is the dessert for you with gorgeous big banana hits and sticky sweet date puree. This came in second place for me – not as amazing as the Valrhona chocolate, but let’s face it, what ever is?
A selection of petits fours and a round of macchiatos finished off a wonderful meal.
The oysters, sushi & sashimi were beautiful and the entrees just as good; but with the bar so high, my main just couldn’t quite get there. The service was friendly and efficient, and I’ve got to say how nice it is to see a sommelier help a novice wine drinker like me choose a lovely bottle of Riesling to go with the meal without being condescending or snooty, and without suggesting the world’s most expensive bottle. Having finally made my way to Catalina, I’m going to have to get back soon for some cocktails on the waterfront, sashimi and more of those king prawns.
A Food Story is acquainted with staff at Catalina and sampled oysters, sushi, sashimi and additional desserts as guests. Ouffer menu and all drinks were paid for separately.
New South Head Road
Rose Bay NSW 2029
(02) 9371 0555