Is there anything more quintessentially Sydney than lunch at Catalina?
The soundtrack is the gentle lapping of waves on the beach, and of metallic 4WDs reversing shiny new boats on trailers down the nearby ramp.
The Rose Bay establishment, run by Judy and Michael McMahon, is a stalwart institution that defies trends. This month, in their 21st year at the helm, Catalina picked up the People’s Choice award in the 2016 Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide (ahead of Akiba, Canberra; Cavallino Ristorante, Terrey Hills; Harvest, Newrybar; Manfredi At Bells, Killcare; Efendy, Balmain; Jonah’s, Whale Beach; The Apollo, Potts Point; The Stunned Mullet, Port Macquarie; and Graze Restaurant, Willow Tree).
The secret to Catalina’s success might be that it’s not precious, or pretentious, even if chef Mark Axisa does list his key influences as master chefs Mark Best, Peter Gilmore and Thomas Keller. The wooden floors give it a no-fuss school hall feel, the warmth coming from caramel woodwork on the walls, the sun on the sea and an abundant cameraderie.
While it caters to foodies and discerning drinkers (the wines by the glass curation is a class act, and the cocktail list is party central), Catalina also understands that some people just want a 400g strip loin that’s the best it can be, a bowl of chips with celestial crunch; a cushion of kingfish or snapper with a non-violent sauce; and health-giving sides of al dente asparagus, kale, or perfect avocado and lemon. The execution is voluptuous, the servings generous.