288 Smith Street Collingwood, VIC 3066
|Opening hours||Mon & Thurs, noon-10pm; Wed, 6-10pm; Fri, noon-11pm; Sat, 10am-11pm; Sun, 10am-10pm|
|Features||Licensed, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||(03) 8415 0700|
CRISP FRIED CHICKEN, HAND-cut chips with malt vinegar aioli, pressed pork rib sandwiches and springy cheddar dumplings with ''white boy XO sauce''. Meet Rockwell and Sons, a fascinating package that juxtaposes fine-dining elements with some down-home USA food.
It's run by North Carolinian chef Casey Wall, 29 (formerly of Cutler & Co, NYC's Spotted Pig and Le Cirque), and Kiwi Manu Potoi, 31 (formerly of Stokehouse and Attica), who dishes up exemplary front-of-house service - fancy credentials for a ''burger bar'', and that's what makes Rockwell and Sons special.
The menu hangs on two things: ''what we wanted to eat on our days off'', Wall says, and what produce Reno, their Swiss-Italian supplier, delivers. ''We have a farmer who we place orders with and he never listens, he just brings what he wants. I didn't ask for corn,'' Wall says with a laugh, which brings us to the Kinkawooka mussels - cooked up in a salty broth made from smoked pork bones and tumbled with pan-fried kaiserfleisch, spring onions, jalapenos … corn. It's inventive and mighty good.
Broccoli salad is fab, the broccoli pan-roasted in olive oil so it still has texture, with pickled sultanas and bonito mayo. Asparagus, too, is simply done, with lemon juice and parsley, and a lush knob of crumbed and fried burrata on the side.
On Wednesdays, they run fried-chicken dinners, $60 for a whole organic Glenloth chook that takes three days to prepare. One day is spent soaking in salted brine, another in an aromatic brine, with citrus and herbs. Then it's dredged in a buttermilk batter and fried golden. The same chicken is used for the fried-chicken sandwich, a sweet, buttery brioche bun, the bread warmed, with iceberg and hot sauce.
The pressed rib sandwich takes 20 hours to make: 10 hours to cure the pork and 10 hours to slow-braise it, pick the meat off the bone, press and sear it.
For that classic midwest, ''glorified McDonald's'' thing, there's the double-patty smash burger. Wall caramelises the bottom of the unshaped ''patty", flips it and smashes it on the grill, so some bits are rare, others are charry. A Kraft single is melted on top. ''It's the best burger cheese in the world,'' Wall says. ''I don't care what everyone says, I'll go toe-to-toe with them.'' It's good, but this was probably my least favourite.
All of it's good drinking food and deliberately affordable. There is real depth here and, at four months old, potential for Rockwell and Sons to grow and firm up its identity. I liked this place; it's a real surprise package.
Do … Check out fried-chicken Wednesdays, and try the hickory-smoked onion rings
Don't … Just try the burgers; there's more to be had
Dish … Kinkawooka mussels or the buttermilk chicken sandwich
Vibe … Professional, bar-like, informal