How Sydney’s Catalina Perfects Waterfront Cuisine For Over 25 Years

Cover pan seared scallops, squid, chargrilled corn.
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Waterfront views.
Terrace bar.
Restaurant interior.
pan seared scallops, squid, chargrilled corn.
Cone Bay Barramundi, Tempura zucchini flower, saffron aioli.
Bitter caramel mousse, brik pastry dessert.
Inside the restaurant.
Rose Bay.

It’s also one of Sydney’s very first modern Australian restaurants.

Modern Australian has become a trending sensation in the culinary world, thanks to a handful of Sydney restaurants making magic with the continent’s unmatched produce and bounty. But long before the current wave of headline-making Aussie chefs and restaurants, there was always one notable fine dining destination called Catalina in Rose Bay. An institution that has perfected waterfront cuisine over the past 25 years, many would agree that Catalina was one of Sydney’s very first modern Australian restaurants.

Catalina is the perfect waterfront restaurant if there ever was one. It’s housed inside an elegant, all-white modernist structure floating on stilts at the tip of the harbor. Inside the sun-lit venue, floor-to-ceiling windows look out to beautiful and ritzy Rose Bay, whose waters are always glistening and dotted with white sails. The wide outdoor terrace provides ample space for diners to enjoy an al fresco meal in the sea breeze. There are many ways to make a snazzy entrance at Catalina since you can arrive by boat, car or seaplane. This picture-perfect seaside setting is why Catalina has always been THE place to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, engagements and life in general. The restaurant occupies a tender place in the hearts of Sydney-siders. They’re very lucky to have a go-to waterfront venue for any occasion, which also happens to be a world-class restaurant.

Chef Mark Axisa.
Chef Mark Axisa. Photo: Nadia Cho

Catalina opened at the tip of Rose Bay in 1994. It has always been a close family business started by Judy and Michael McMahon, with their children, James and Kate, following in their footsteps. Although Catalina is considered fine dining, its ethos has always been very humble: to serve delicious food that the masses will enjoy. This is what executive chef Mark Axisa believes continues to make the restaurant so popular after all these years.

“From what I’ve seen, a lot of the Sydney food scene got very technical with foams and mousses and gels and air. It all came in, but then it all faded away as well. Recently a lot of the big restaurants that used to do a lot of that just faded out or disappeared. It wasn’t popular anymore.

I think the main reason why we’re so successful is that our menu and our food has always been focused on being very yummy. We have regulars who come three to four times a week. Some of these people have been coming for 20 years. Because the food is very tasty and you want to eat more of it. That’s the winning element you need for people to come back and back. It’s just really tasty and I think that philosophy when it comes to food is what helped us become as successful as we’ve become.”

When it first opened, the menu leaned more towards French techniques and execution. But over time the restaurant grew into its own and helped move along the evolution of modern Australian cuisine. Catalina is now prominently known for its beautiful elaborations of regional ingredients, impeccable service and unbeatable harbor views.

Bitter Caramel Mousse, brik pastry.
Bitter Caramel Mousse, brik pastry. Photo: Nadia Cho

The main proteins are simply grilled, roasted or pan-fried in order to retain as much of its amazing natural flavor, and then served with rich, flavorful sauces and garnishes on the side. Pan seared scallops and sautéed squid lie in a bed of creamy char-grilled corn and tangy romesco crumbs. There’s no better place than Catalina to try Australia’s famous barramundi. The kitchen prepares it so that the thick skin is satisfyingly crispy and salty, while the meat underneath stays extremely tender and tastes like the waters it came from. To top it all off, the large dessert selection beautifully showcases the seasonal produce in the form of orange flan, lychee granite, poached cherries and fresh passionfruit. Catalina’s gorgeous menu offers the region’s top-quality ingredients in the most delicious way possible, without being overly complex or theatrical. It’s good food that’s meant for anyone in the community and not just discerning foodies or gourmands. The menu changes daily and with the seasons to reflect the new bounty coming in, as well as what the kitchen feels that diners will love.

“That term Modern Australian just means Australia is very multi-cultural. Being very multi-cultural, you can see influences on the menu from the Moroccan, Spanish, Italian, Asian, Japanese flavors. And that combined with the produce we use is what I’d like to say the best of the best. I can’t find better produce. If I could I would buy it. Everything’s done every day. The seafood’s super fresh. Sometimes live. Same with the meat. Fruit and vege all crispy and fresh.”

For the most exquisite modern Australian meal by the water in Sydney, dining at Catalina is a must. Head down to beautiful Rose Bay to get a taste of the fresh, regional flavors which Sydney-siders have loved for the past 25 years.

Catalina. Photo: Nadia Cho

Nadia Cho

Communications Associate

As the empowered female behind the blog: International Women of Mystery, Nadia reps Team JST traveling the world in search of exclusive features on hidden gems and cool hotspots. You can find her exploring metropolitan cities or lounging on tropical beaches.

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