The transformation of the historic Campbell’s Stores into Sydney’s newest harbourfront dining hub might just be the most exciting thing to happen to The Rocks since Playing Beatie Bow (well, apart from the opening of the MCA and Quay).
It’s a killer location, sandwiched between The Park Hyatt and Overseas Passenger Terminal and facing both the bridge and the Opera House. The latest restaurant to open in the 19th-century sandstone building is The Catch – a sustainable seafood fine diner with chef Damian Brassel at the helm. Brassel has an impressive international resume, having worked at Michelin-starred venues The Fat Duck, The Marco Pierre White Restaurant and New York’s Knife + Fork. He counts titans such as Gordon Ramsay and Marc Veyrat as his mentors.
But it’s not only the skills he learnt during an internationally acclaimed 20-year career that he’s bringing to Sydney’s newest seafood eatery.
“My background growing up in a fishing village has taught me you need to preserve the fish; you need to nurture it,” says Brassel over a large plate covered in ice and topped with seafood. “I was always fishing with my father. It’s the most delicate thing to cook because within a second you can overcook it. I love curing fish. I can change the texture of salmon with ingredients like beetroot, orange, coriander, fennel.”
The iced platter is called La Petite Tower, and it’s the smallest of three “towers” – light dishes that arrive together on a mountainous bed of ice – on the menu. The oyster selection changes daily, decided upon when Frank Theodore at De Costi Seafoods calls Brassel early each morning to tell him which are the best of the day. They are served unadorned, left to speak for their spanking fresh selves.
The remaining dishes riding Brassel’s tower of ice are testament to his skill and artistry. Each light bite is served inside a scallop shell, and the selection includes impossibly pink beetroot-cured salmon folded around daikon, with pickled onion, wasabi crème fraîche and a beetroot vinaigrette. Wild-caught spanner crab laced with uni (sea urchin) butter arrives on top of toast and topped with pickled samphire. Chilled mussels rest on salted cod with heirloom tomatoes, saffron roasted garlic and a seaweed cracker. The standout dish on the platter is the king prawn, served with a fennel and coriander salad and a dollop of hard-hitting harrissa butter. At $95 for two people, the Petite Tower may not be petite in price but it’s an effective way to sample the best offerings on the raw menu.
Tuna niçoise is sophisticated in its simplicity – green beans, tiny potato cubes and olives scattered atop two large slabs of technicolour yellowfin tuna. The fish’n’chips are less simple – triple-cooked chips served with a brick of New Zealand snapper in an audacious coating of puffed rice, seaweed cracker and dried shrimp. I believe we have a contender for the most elaborate fish’n’chips in town. The Moreton Bay bugs’ sweet meat is given a kick with some fermented chilli and brought back with a lemon beurre-blanc.
Sustainability is big for Brassel. It remains the focus from the point the fish is caught, through to how it is brought to the restaurant, stored and prepared. “Our providores at De Costi source the correct fish for us to make sure we are following all the rules and regulations, and we’re not going after a fish that’s going to disappear in a few years’ time. It’s about being able to do the right thing, right across the board, with the ocean just a few steps away from us. We don’t have freezers. We use what we get every day. It comes in and goes straight out on the plates that day.”
The Catch is not only an “It’s-my-[insert special occasion]-and-I’ll-have-all-the-oysters-thanks” restaurant for a fancy night out. Yes, the extensive menu can be pricey, but you could just as well have a drink and a plate of chilled mussels.
With a swathe of recent Rocks openings – including Maybe Sammy, Tayim, and The Doss House – and more Campbell’s Stores venues to open soon (fancy steakhouse 6 Head is already open), could 2020 be the year The Rocks becomes a local hangout rather than a tourist hub? Time will tell.
Bays 01-03, Campbell's Stores, 7–27 Circular Quay, The Rocks
(02) 9241 1914
Fri & Sat 12pm–11pm
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on January 22, 2020. Menu items may have changed since publication.