A whole new world: Rockpool's dining room is mesmerising. Photo: James Brickwood
That Neil Perry sure misses a lot of memos. He never did get the one about the global financial crisis, launching Rockpool Bar & Grill right on its eve. Nor did he read the memo about the death of fine dining - the one the Sydney Opera House took so seriously - or he would have closed Rockpool altogether, instead of moving it to Bridge Street.
The almost 25-year-old Rockpool is now safely ensconced in the magnificent, heritage-listed Burns Philp building. With its heavy drapes, double-clothed tables, champagne trolleys and dark-vested waiters, it's a whole new world for those of us used to lolling about in noisy izakayas and stool-lined taquerias. But blow me down, it feels very … right.
It also feels very black. The textured walls, soaring pressed metal ceilings, glossy tiles and low-line Italian leather chairs are all resolutely black. Add unequivocally 1930s jazz music and a mesmerising monochrome Earl Carter-captured image of smoke wafting out of nothingness and it's a very retro New York speakeasy vibe. Lunches are priced per course, while dinner is, ahem, a ''journey'', with seven little starters chosen by the kitchen, followed by one, two or three courses chosen by you. Head chef Phil Wood, inevitably referred to as ''a star in the making'' when in fact he has burnt brightly for years, keeps things light and balanced, turning instinctively to Asian flavours for freshness and acidity.
Go-to dish: Balmain bug congee, almond tofu, star anise, peanuts and Chinese fried bread. Photo: James Brickwood
First up at dinner are lightly battered and crisped prawn heads complete with their rich, gutsy head juices, closely followed by chicken wing lollipops cloaked with kombu butter that has an almost 18th-century classicism about it. All right, then. This is brave new territory.
Then there's a delicate miniature of Rockpool's chirashi zushi, with raw squid, tuna and Murray cod on a pearlmeat shell; a spicy white-cut chicken salad bolstered with pork fat, fried bamboo and XO chilli sauce; and a textural minefield of mud crab, bacon, stir-fried milk and taro puffs topped with shaved kombu. Another, of ''thousand-layer'' pork furled around duck parfait and scampi biscuit, divides the table into mutterings of ''too good'' and ''too sweet''.
There's quite a pause before ''main courses'' of South Australian lamb saddle with bo ssam shoulder and miso-braised beans that has serious, meaty grunt; and Rockpool's classic rich and noble congee. An all-out hit, its fleshy lobes of Balmain bug team sweetly with lush rice, crisp-fried breadstick, star anise-scented peanuts and almond beancurd. The one who ordered it has not stopped talking about it.
Ice princess: Meringue, pandan custard, coconut parfait, lime granita and jasmine rice ice-cream. Photo: James Brickwood
Nor has the one who ordered the smooth, supple, spicy 2010 Moorilla Muse Pinot Noir ($120). Wine is a big part of the dining experience, and the list is a spectacularly well-rounded compendium of 1200 wines, their prices commensurate with their age and quality.
The knock-out dessert is an ice princess of a vacherin, a gorgeous, crystal-clear, sweet-sour construction of light-as-air meringue, pandan custard, coconut parfait, lime granita and jasmine rice ice-cream.
Lunches are swifter, filled with city workers who clearly didn't get the memo about a sandwich at your desk being the best way to keep your job. Best bits: potatoes dauphine - golden fried bobbles of creaminess, and a terrific Asian-inspired beef tartare, its olive and black bean dressing full of biffs and kapows.
So Rockpool is dead, long live Rockpool, a lovely combination of new and old, energy and experience. Good people on the floor, and in the kitchen. And no doubt you got the memo about the date tart. The signature dessert, all billowy custard and sweet umami, is offered in miniature wedges as petits fours. A symbolic finish, referencing the past without nailing our feet to it.
Best Bit: A legend continues
Worst bit: Overly themed music
Go-to dish: Rich and noble Balmain bug congee, almond tofu, star anise, peanuts and Chinese fried bread.
- 02 9252 1888
- Cuisine - Modern Australian
- Prices - Lunch 1 course $52pp; 2 courses $69; 3 courses $79; Dinner 7 starters, plus 1 choice $125pp; 2 choices $145; 3 choices $165
- Features - Accepts bookings, Bar, Business lunch, Licensed, Gluten-free options
- Chef(s) - Neil Perry
- Opening Hours - Lunch Mon-Fri noon-3pm; Dinner Mon-Sat 6-11pm
- Author - Terry Durack