I love Spanish food, and as a result, I’ve tried most of Sydney’s Spanish restaurants. So take note when I say owner/chef Brian Villahermosa’s modern Spanish tapas at Catalonia is interesting enough to make it worth a trip over the bridge. That's coming from someone who rarely ventures over the bridge for much, and why would I do it to eat when there are literally thousands of restaurants on my side of the harbour that I would like to try?
But you're not going for the decor - it was a cheap refit, and it wasn't really my cup of tea. However as you can see by my first photo, there are outdoor areas to dine which I guess largely avoid the interior fit-out. It's pretty closely set to residential, so they have a strict curfew of 10pm.
We started with a plate of Olives ($6) which were good. The prices are actually not what I expected for the location here; plus they haven't gone up since they opened. In other words, dishes are underpriced – you can take a third person as they split fairly into three.
Cocktails show innovation but were quickly forgotten in favour of the hardcore Spanish wine list, basically because I did not feel the cocktails suited the food, and I was there to eat, not drink. In the front is my choice, Mumma Manuka's Cherry Pie ($15) which was a finalist in the 42 Below cocktail competition. It's made on Manuka Honey Vodka, Cherry Liqueur, Coconut Liqueur, cherries, lemon, egg white and spiced syrup. It was like drinking a Cherry Ripe. Perhaps in another set and setting I would have liked it. The rear cocktail is a Strawberry Nemesis ($15) made on Zubrowka, Stoli Raspberry, Chambord, Lemon, Apple, Cranberry, Berry Conserve and Egg White.
So we switched our poison to the 2006 Castro Martin Albarino ($13/glass, $62/bottle) which was amazing, particularly when paired with the Pan con boquerones ($8.50) or bread with marinated fresh anchovies. You know, I think I am rescinding my dislike of anchovies, but only when they are fresh.
Fill corners with Zucchini Flowers ($14.50) with goat’s cheese mousse and honey (and a dab of unmentioned blue cheese). For the record, I am becoming a tad partial to blue cheese too, so I wasn't so angry it wasn't mentioned in the menu description here, but considering that many people have a love/hate relationship with blue cheese, I'd mention it...
Impressively, he makes his own version of Mojama ($16) or Spanish cured tuna, served with well-pickled cauliflower, walnuts and avocado – try it HERE if you love carpaccio, because there are some similarities. However in more recent times, I have tried an authentic Spanish Mojama, which is more akin to jamon than it is to carpaccio (keep an eye out for an upcoming review of Number One - Tony Bilson's Wine Bar for more information on this).
Interestingly one of our must-have dishes on the menu turned out to be one of the weaker ones - the Scallops with Truffled Potato, Jamon and Sofrito Dressing ($18.50) was okay, but the potato was truffled with oil rather than actual truffles, which is starting to be a sticking point for me. I adore truffles, I like the oil in a much lesser way, and I think you have to pick the set and setting for the oil carefully. Mashed potatoes warrant a real truffle shaved into them.
Tasty La Ionica chicken makes the Chicken Stuffed with Morcilla, Gnocchi and Almonds with Cocoa and Truffle Sauce ($17.50) sing. I picked that we had had the brand of chicken instantly - La Ionica has such a distinctive flavour.
But save the best - Braised Beef Cheek with Parsnip and Vanilla Bean Puree and Coffee Soil ($17.50) – for last; it’s well cooked, with excellent balance and great use of molecular techniques. The parsnip and vanilla was a wonderful combination, and the coffee soil went with it a treat! It does however remind me of Daniel Puskas' (Oscillate Wildly) Denver Leg of Venison with pumpkin puree and chocolate soil rather a lot - and I had that over eighteen months ago now.
A visit to the bathroom showed some interesting art, which means I suppose that the decor isn't all bad. We then enjoyed some Manchego ($16.50) which would be a a fitting end to a meal like this; but the salty almond ice-cream with the rich, bitter Chocolate Tart ($12) was a sublime moment!
We also tried a second dessert, pictured below, but I was so gobsmacked by my first Argentinean dessert wine, the 2006 Don David Late Harvest Torrontes ($10/glass, $58/bottle) that I forgot it entirely!
Certainly an interesting meal, with a young chef who is not afraid of being experimental. At the current price point, it's also good value.
Shop 2, 31A Fitzroy Street, Kirribilli
Ph: (02) 9922 4215