One of Simon Curkovic's favourite words is 'fun'. He uses it when he tells you how he regularly introduces adventurous diners at Catalina restaurant to the wine world's more obscure bottles ("drinking something different is great fun"). Tellingly he also uses the F-word when talking about the great older-vintage Burgundies at the heart of Catalina's excellent wine list: "At the end of the day, it's just such fun to be able to play with wine like this, in a major way, and to work with a restaurant owner who wants the best list possible."
The owner in question is veteran restaurateur (and renowned great-wine tragic) Michael McMahon, who clearly recognised a kindred spirit in Curkovic when he hired him fresh from working at a string of big-note Sydney restaurants (Quay, Aria, Rockpool) two-and-a-half years ago. Since then, Curkovic has developed a list that does his boss proud: there's a great balance between the 'classics' (Burgundy, Bordeaux, Grange, etc.) and the more obscure, with informative, pithy descriptions for some of the less well-known wines. This personal touch is esp-ecially appropriate and nicely done on the sommelier's selection pages at the front of the list: you could happily drink from these two pages alone - a real achievement.
The clincher, though, is the pricing. Compared with other restaurants in similar locations and with similar reputations, Catalina's prices are (relatively) sensible. "Look, there are certain costs involved with running a restaurant like this in Sydney," says Curkovic. "And that's how many others justify their 300 per cent mark-ups. But there's another philosophy: I don't like the wine list to be a museum. I don't want bottles just sitting there looking good. I want these wines to be drunk."
Now that's our idea of fun.
Lyne Park, Rose Bay, NSW, (02) 9371 0555,
WORDS MAX ALLEN PORTRAIT ANSON SMART