11 Bridge St Sydney, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Daily noon-3pm, 6pm-11pm|
|Features||Business lunch, Accepts bookings, Licensed, Private dining, Vegetarian friendly, Yum cha|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9252 1888|
Don't let anyone tell you Neil Perry's gone casual. Not even Neil Perry. What he has done, by changing Rockpool Est. 1989 to Eleven Bridge, is re-branded the Rockpool fine-dining experience into something more inviting, theatrical and flexible, but not necessarily any cheaper.
There is still much that is Rockpool here, the dramatically dark dining room hung with Earl Carter's startling images of tendrilling smoke, the hot-and-cold running floor staff and the elegantly double-clothed tables. The talented Phil Wood runs the kitchen, the affable Silvio Brentan runs the floor and the hospitable Sebastian Crowther runs the wine side of things. Same same, but different.
What's different is the gueridon (tableside) service, with several of the newly developed dishes plated, carved and presented tableside from a fleet of trolleys. It's a return to an era of space between tables, of skilled serving staff, of food as theatre, and of chefs allowing their front-of-house colleagues control over the final look and feel. Brentan was taught gueridon service at London's Four Seasons when he was 20, and delights in rolling up to the table with a main course of what looks like a freshly baked loaf of bread. He expertly cuts open the crust to reveal a perfectly steamed, perfectly rested, lightly spiced partridge ($59) within, which he deftly joints and plates up with a centrepiece of glazed turnips. A nutty dashi/miso broth is poured over the top with the steamy, yeasty crust presented on the side. It's a lovely dish – but I'm getting ahead of myself.
The first bite to hit the table is Wood's much-loved chicken wing lollipop, coated in a rich kombu glaze and garnished with Sterling caviar in a riot of mouth-filling umami. In common with Sydney's finest diners – The Bridge Room, Quay, Sepia – there's a distinctly Asian undercurrent of flavour and technique. Raw scampi rolled in a crisp, warm coconut crepe with tangy kimchi, pickled mushrooms and shiso leaf and sat on a mushroom and yuzu puree ($39) is a cracker; a captivating mix of raw/cooked, hot/sweet, crisp/creamy, resilient/giving, and rustic/refined. Silky fingers of chicken breast are layered with a top-sheet of scallop mousse ($49), while hand-rolled strozzapreti pasta with sweet Moreton bay bug meat and a gutsy, dirty-in-a-good-way crustacean butter ($36) is very happy-making.
There's a damned clever "pastrami" of boned lamb saddle – the meat pure, pink, perfect – served with a mind-blowingly good eggplant tempura and wilted water spinach ($59). A new Rockpool – sorry, Eleven Bridge – classic.
An apricot fondant glazed with carrot juice reduction and served with roasted almond ice cream and freeze-dried mandarin ($26) is pretty, but the timeless date tart still makes a great dismount.
The wine list is every bit the worthy volume you would expect, larded with surprisingly versatile wines such as the fruitful, earthy 2015 Farr Rising Gamay ($16/$75) from Geelong.
Perry's flagship restaurant has always been a chameleon, transforming itself to suit the changing circumstances. This new regime is an absolute treat, a joyful celebration of contemporary fine dining built around Phil Wood's powerful talent. Here's to the next 27 years and – probably – many more reinventions.
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.
Best bit: The trolleys. It's Rockpool-on-wheels.
Worst bit: Green salad (nice touch) is served on the same plate as your main course.
Go-to Dish: Tea-smoked lamb pastrami with lap cheong, eggplant and black bean sauce, $59