Fiery year: Restaurateur Neil Perry in Rosetta at Crown Casino.
Fiery year: Restaurateur Neil Perry in Rosetta at Crown Casino. Photo: Eddie Jim

Michael Harden

IT HAS been quite a year for Neil Perry, one that even the impressively ebullient and constantly on-message chef/restaurateur says he is looking back on with ''mixed feelings''.

The past 12 months have included an excruciating limbo when his new, expensively equipped and fully staffed restaurant Rosetta sat idle for weeks as ownership wrangles played out behind the scenes.

He has had to turn his back on The Waiting Room, the much-lauded lobby bar at Crown Towers, that was haemorrhaging cash and causing friction with his business partner.

Figure in the belt-tightening mood gripping the restaurant industry as a whole and Perry's mixed feelings begin to look like something of an under-reaction.

But the year's bumpy ride has ended in a smoother fashion.

Rosetta, Perry's lavish (and expensive) Italian restaurant at Crown, was able to start trading in late October and not only scored an impressive 16/20 in a recent review from Epicure food critic Larissa Dubecki but has now taken out the inaugural Best Restaurant gong in the Good Food online Best New Places to Eat and Drink awards.

Perry admits that it has been a year ''noticeable for its pretty intense peaks and troughs''.

''I always knew the year was going to be a hard one with the opening of the new restaurant,'' he says. ''But when you have to take your eye off the ball in the middle of it all because you're negotiating with your business partners about whether they're going to stay in the business or not, it adds a whole other layer.''

The partner in question is David Doyle, an American information technology billionaire with more than a 50 per cent share in the Rockpool stable (three restaurants in Melbourne, three in Sydney, one in Perth). His announcement he was considering pulling out of the business was rattling. Perry initially says Doyle's reasons for baling were to do with skinny profit margins in the trade but later admits it was his foray into the world of bars that saw the cracks become visible.

''David was very much against The Waiting Room from the start and I probably did it against his will,'' he says.

During the wrangling over whether Doyle would stay or go, construction was completed on Rosetta and it sat empty for more than three weeks. At one stage James Packer's name was mentioned as a possible white knight but Doyle deemed Packer's offer too low and decided to stay on.

Dubecki also sees strength in the restaurant, rating Rosetta highly (her score would translate to two chef's hats in The Age Good Food Guide) because ''it's an exciting restaurant that exudes the sort of old-world glamour that's rare on the local dining scene combined with Neil Perry's immaculate, ingredient-driven Italian food''.

Some might question opening such an opulent and expensive restaurant when diners are increasingly price sensitive but Perry disagrees. ''I think there will always be room for a beautiful place where people can dress up and come and drink beautiful food and wine,'' he says.

The Good Food Award seems to show he just might be right.