I have the best friends ever. Stop number three on our Wedding Present Dining List was Catalina Restaurant in Rose Bay, courtesy of my friend Jake who I’ve known since we were pimply twelve-year-olds sitting in class in our first year of high school, and his partner Emma. There’s something wonderful about lifelong friends like that who you can call upon out of the blue and know that they’ll be there with you.
The Red Balloon restaurant voucher that they gifted to K and I for our wedding last year was simply described as “Dinner for Two at a Hatted Restaurant on the Water”, so we weren’t sure what to expect – imagine our delight when we realised it was Catalina!
K and I show up after work on a Friday night after booking online a few weeks earlier. The service at Catalina is impressive – we received two calls to confirm our booking, one directly after booking online, and the other a week beforehand to confirm that we were still going ahead with out booking.
The restaurant itself is really impressive as well – situated near the Rose Bay pier on stilts, it is quite literally on the water with amazing views across to the city and across the bay.
Lucky enough to be seated on some prime seats right on the balcony with a great view across the water, K and I both slip on some sunglasses to deal with the late afternoon glare of the sun. It’s some short term pain for some long term gain though – as the sun sets over the first hour that we’re there, we’re treated to some wonderful pink-purple sunset skies over the Sydney skyline.
We order some drinks to enjoy in the sun as well – a Ruby Raspberry mocktail for me (a bit fruity, a bit fizzy, a lot tasty) and a Classic Mojito for K, one of his favourite cocktails.
If you go to Catalina with a Red Balloon dining voucher, you’re presented with a separate menu with a slightly smaller selection to what you would normally receive as a normal diner. Having said that, I compared both options and the Red Balloon menu omits only two or three of the pricier entrees, and the same for mains and desserts, so it’s not as though you’re lacking for menu options!
K chose to start with the Catalina House-Smoked Salmon with a beautifully presented soft-boiled duck egg that slowly oozed its yolk over the soft toasted brioche. It’s a simple but really effective dish, with all the elements combining for a brunch-esque treat.
My choice of the Crispy Pork Belly with seared scallops was absolutely heavenly. The crackling on the pork was superb – crunchy and salty with that wonderful stickiness that allows it to stick to your teeth as you chew. The scallops were wonderfully plump and juicy, with a sticky caramelised glaze sealed in by the flash searing. With the little salsa on the side, it simply couldn’t be beat.
K and I decided to share the two mains equally as we found it hard to choose between the different main options and wanted to try a bit of everything! He ordered the Crispy Skin Barramundi which came served with a spanner crab ‘parcel’, enoki mushrooms and an eschalot cream. As lovely as the crispy skin barramundi was, I think it was actually overshadowed by the spanner crab parcel – I’ve never tasted anything quite as delightfully flavoured as this spanner crab, and would quite happily eat a whole dish just of the spanner crab mix, perhaps included in a creamy risotto!
My choice of main was the Junee Lamb Rack – an unusual choice for me as I don’t often opt for red meat mains as I like my meat cooked to within an inch of its life and most waiters and kitchens will laugh at me when I order my steaks ‘well done’! I was really pleased with the way the lamb was cooked though – while it was still a little bit pink inside, it was mostly cooked through while still being quite tender. With the mint yoghurt and the preserved lemon peel, it was a wonderful lamb dish that I would definitely order again.
The Red Balloon dining offer also came with two sides to share. We chose a bowl of thick and crispy chips and a mixed salad with palm sugar dressing to share – a mix of healthy greens and unhealthy deep-fried goodness! The salad was a little overdressed, but the chips were fantastic – I almost finished the whole bowl by myself.
For dessert, K chose to have a classic Lemon Tart with Mascarpone – as you can tell from his choice of a classic mojito and a classic lemon tart, he’s a man who appreciates traditional favourites! This was a fantastic choice though – the pastry was buttery and crumbly, the lemon curd was tart, and the creamy mascarpone helped to soften the tartness.
My Dark Chocolate Mousse was despite the amount of chocolate and caramel used in the dessert, surprisingly more-ish and light on the palate without the sickly sticky sweetness that can ruin a dessert. I particularly enjoyed the smooth and creamy Valrhona chocolate ice-cream (which quickly melted, so eat it quickly!) and the caramel centre of the mousse log.
As the sun set over the Sydney skyline, the stars began to come out, the Catalina crowd began to thin out, and K and I started thinking about our trip over the Harbour Bridge back home to the North Shore. We don’t often make the effort to visit the Eastern Suburbs for a meal, so I’m glad that Jake and Emma’s gift of a Red Balloon voucher allowed us to escape the familiarity of our usual neighbourhood haunts and introduce us to a fantastic restaurant in a new area.
Catalina Rose Bay is a fantastic experience with a great view – quite affordable for a hatted dining experience! I highly recommend gifting vouchers for a meal at Catalina as a special dining experience for your loved ones.