Catalina Rose Bay Sydney waterfront dining marron

Catalina Catch | Sydney waterfront dining | People’s Choice

Sexy and glamorous. Red carpet ready. Did someone say 'rescue fantasy'?

Is there anything more quintessentially Sydney than lunch at Catalina?

It’s like a scene from a Richard Scarry What Do People Do All Day? picture book. The laden Louise Savage Supercat ferry slides on by; striped sailing dinghies dart about the harbour like angelfish on speed; a sea plane swoops into the drink looking like a distant relative of the cheeky seagull who aspires to join the fine diners on Catalina’s verandah.

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.

Catalina Rose Bay Sydney waterfront dining beef strip loin

Beef strip loin, chips to go, barramundi with spanner crab ravioli.


In spring, dilettantes can linger over the seafood antipasti: a board of scallops with roe, salmon mousse, tempura prawns, marron, octopus, capers, fish tacos. Toast their vanishing with a rosé from Provence, or a viognier blend from the Côte de Thongue.

Catalina has its traditional menu – the one that includes the signature suckling pig and Cone Bay saltwater barramundi with spanner crab ravioli – and a daily listing that talks to the season and keeps the many regulars coming back for more.

Catalina Rose Bay sydney waterfront dining dessert

Bitter caramel mousse with floss millinery. Photo Susan Skelly

Sweet-tooths will leave happy. Caramelised fig with bitter caramel mousse housed in a brik pastry coronet, with a twist of fairy floss and sugared pistachio is the exit strategy. Maybe with a Blissful Bounty dessert cocktail?

Lyne Park, New South Head Road, Rose Bay; (02) 9371 0555. Open Monday to Saturday, noon to midnight (bar food between 3pm and 6pm); Sunday, lunch noon to 6pm; closed for dinner Sunday.

Photos: Dominic Loneragan


Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

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Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.