Perry leaves Rocks for a venue that lends itself to lunch

Ready to move on: Neil Perry at Rockpool's premises in The Rocks, where it has been a fine dining institution since it ...
Ready to move on: Neil Perry at Rockpool's premises in The Rocks, where it has been a fine dining institution since it opened in 1989. The George Street restaurant will close in September. Photo: James Brickwood

Neil Perry remembers being fascinated as a child by the elegant Romanesque sandstone facade of the Burns Philp building in Bridge Street when his father brought him to town.

''There was something about it. The arches, all those balconies … opera house boxes looking down on the street,'' Perry says.

Now it's about to be his. Sydney's pre-eminent chef is to move his most famous restaurant and the foundation of his empire, Rockpool, from The Rocks to the Burns Philp building.

The new premises.
The new premises. Photo: Jessica Hromas

Rockpool will celebrate its 25th anniversary next February but the historic 1860s George Street terraces that comprise the restaurant are showing signs of age and their owners, the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, plan to carry out necessary renovations.

Perry does not want to risk hanging around.

''You just never know how long those jobs on old buildings can take. It might be six months but I've seen plenty of renovations blow out to a year, or more and we didn't want to close the business for that long,'' he says.

At work: Perry in his kitchen at Rockpool.
At work: Perry in his kitchen at Rockpool. Photo: Sahlan Hayes

Perry and long-time business partner and cousin Trish Richards started looking when it became clear major renovations were needed at Rockpool - ''the roof was leaking'' - and alighted on the Burns Philp building.

''We'd looked at the building before, during the heady days leading up to the 2000 Olympics when a lot of new fine restaurants opened,'' he says. ''But for some reason never went ahead.''

Back then, the 1901 Burns Philip building had just undergone a change of life.


Burns Philp & Co had been an Australian maritime company that ruled the Pacific trade. Its ships distributed goods to the islands and returned laden with copra and the captains walked into the ornate entrance of 5-11 Bridge Street to settle accounts.

But the company became a gambling chip and the players lost, eventually dividing up the grand pile.

Restaurant VII opened in late 2000 only to crash and burn within two years.

Fratelli Fresh opened in the basement in 2011. And now Rockpool.

Perry expects George Street to remain open until September and, after a week to move, the new Burns Philp restaurant will open for business.

He is confident the changeover will be seamless and profitable.

''We've many loyal customers who have stayed with us over the years and its about maintaining the quality and experience they've become used to,'' he says.

Perry is having designer Grant Cheyne weave his magic.

Cheyne has done each of Perry's Rockpool Bar & Grills (Sydney, Melbourne and Perth), his Spice Temples (Sydney and Melbourne and the Rockpool refurbishment.

''Grant's worked with Philippe Starck … It was important to find somewhere that represented value of an equal historical standing,'' Perry says.

''The Burns Philp building retains much of the style of the past: columns, pressed iron ceilings, the sandstone.

''We'll make it a little darker, reflecting a blend of New York and heritage sandstone.''

The new restaurant will seat about 100.

In 1989, Rockpool became an over-lunch sensation among critics and an overnight sensation among Sydney's dining crowd but Perry pulled the plug on lunch (except Fridays) as the economy soured.

''We'll be closer to the CBD in Bridge Street, so lunch will be back on the menu.''