7-27 Circular Quay W The Rocks, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat noon-midnight; Sun noon-10pm|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Phone||02 9241 1914|
It's a little surreal to be back in the saddle after such a summer; to be out eating and drinking on Sydney Harbour like a tourist in your own town, when the smoke in the air is a constant reminder of the suffering of others.
But without being disingenuous, one way to indirectly support our growers, suppliers, farmers and fishing communities, is to dine out.
Sydney's overseas and interstate visitors have been doing their best to help in that regard, filling harbourside tables from The Squire's Landing microbrewery on the very edge of Circular Quay, to the three-hatted Quay above.
Now they have new front-row harbour seats following the $32 million upgrade of the historic Campbell's Stores row of golden sandstone warehouses, from 6 Head steakhouse to the new Alpha Pop pop-up from Peter Conistis, and at the city end, The Catch.
Weirdly, I miss the kitsch tall masts and furled sails of what was The Waterfront, but there is still a special magic in sitting outside with views of bridge, house and the harbour's roiling slurry of ferries.
Heading up The Catch kitchen is seasoned executive chef, Damien Brassel, who won a Michelin star at Knife + Fork in New York and headed the kitchens at the harbourside Cafe del Mar and Ananas in The Rocks.
So what's the catch? It might be the menu, which casts a wide net, from assorted seafood platters on ice ("towers") and potato-topped seafood pies, to marron thermidor and lobster Napoleon (good grief).
Or the way the kitchen has to turn everything into a big deal, a superimposing of skill and ego that diminishes the beauty of simplicity.
So the smallest of the three "towers" ($95 for two) sees some of Australia's finest seafood turned into canapes on ice. Each offering is perched on a scallop shell, whether it's a furl of very good beetroot-cured salmon, or Spring Bay mussels on salted cod with a saffron vegetable reduction and seaweed cracker.
The mighty Skull Island king prawns are teamed with harissa butter AND preserved lemon beurre blanc AND fennel salad, and a round of toast is topped with picked, wild-caught spanner crab meat AND sea urchin butter AND salmon roe AND pickled samphire. That's way too many ands.
Only the oysters are left alone, plumped up in their own brine. Perfect.
When South Coast oyster growers are fully back in business, please come here and order by the dozen – they'll need your support. Add a chilled glass of clean, balanced O'Leary Walker sauvignon blanc ($14/$35) and send a bit of love to the Adelaide Hills as well.
Unlike the oysters, the fish and chips ($32) feels over-thought, the New Zealand snapper encrusted with a crunchy, puffed rice exoskeleton and served with three different sauces, with good triple-cooked chips on the side.
It's a relief to stick a fork into a pretty salad nicoise ($23), all ruby-red yellowfin tuna and the crisp, clear flavours of olive, tomato and radish, and to finish on a sweet but sharp dessert of burnished meringue over yuzu lime curd with raspberry sorbet ($14).
To excel at seafood, you either have to stand back and let the quality speak for itself, or do something truly spectacular.
The Catch falls somewhere in between, with its relatively pricey, slow-paced, intricate dishes. It acts as if the best seafood and shellfish in Australia isn't enough on its own. But it is. It is.
Drinks: Bespoke cocktails, a strong champagne selection, and a lively Australian-led wine list.
Vegetarian: A dedicated vegetarian menu.
Go-to dish: Salad nicoise of yellowfintuna, green beans, quail eggs and kalamata olives, $23.
Pro tip: A spectacular outdoor display of fresh seafood on ice is coming soon.