A birthday treat and a trip to Sydney’s hottest new restaurant “Rockpool Bar & Grill”. Be warned book early, we first called three weeks ago and could only get a late table on a Saturday night.
It is a spectacular space with the restaurant located in what I assume was the old banking hall of a beautiful 1930’s Art Deco building. Neil Perry has really done the space justice and has built a very stylish restaurant that adds to the grandeur of the space rather than detracting. Along one side of the restaurant is a large open kitchen, which reminded me of the some of the Terrance Conran “gastro-domes” which opened in London in the ‘80’s (Quaglinos etc). Table settings are basic, it isn’t set up to rival the fine dining subtlety of the main Rockpool restaurant, but stylish.
The menu is quite lengthy with lots of choice, clearly steaks are the main event here but there are lots of other options from the grill plus interesting salads and pasta (including the signature goats cheese tortellini).
The wine list is really awesome; it comes in two volumes, one for red one for white. The cellar is founded on a portion of David Doyle’s wine collection; David is a US software billionaire who now collects great wines. He has approx $9 million of his cellar at Rockpool and it is available for us mere mortals to try. As you would expect then it is a list with lots of Grand Cru’s from Burgundy and Bordeaux but also some more reasonable wines. We drank a great ’07 Spanish Fefiñanes Albariño at $78 and a 2008 Battle of Bosworth Cab Sav from Mclaren Vale at $50. Both are really good wines and were great recommendations from the barman and Sommelier respectively. I think the $50 bottle is the cheapest on the list but it is a fine wine at that price.
OK the food: my partner started with a fantastic “Tuna Tartare, Moroccan Eggplant, Cumin Mayonnaise and Harissa” at $29. The tuna is good and chunky and spankingly fresh, and the Moroccan spicing adds a wonderful dimension to the dish. This superbly conceived and executed. I chose the “Trofie with Hand Pounded Pesto, Green Beans and Potato” at $19, which was very good, the pasta (trofie) in this classic Ligurian dish was very fine and all the elements worked well, my only slight criticism is that IMO there could have been more pesto with the dish to give it a bit more punch.
We could not go past the steak section for main courses, the menu reads like a carnivores dream. My partner went for the classic “My Steak Tartare with Chips” at $25. It was good but oddly the rawness of the meat seemed to be lost in the preparation, the mixture hid the natural quality of the beef, which she had hoped would be the feature of the dish. It was good, but she felt not really as good as ones she has eaten in France. I chose the on-the-bone 79 day, 350g “Cape Grim Dry Aged 36 Month Old Grass Fed Rib-eye” at $58, this was an outstanding steak, quite possibly the best tasting and best cooked I have had. The flavour and texture was divine.
A couple of niggles though, my steak came with a béarnaise sauce, and I love béarnaise, as it is perfect with great beef. Disappointingly this is a “new” béarnaise where the tarragon (and other herbs) is added as oil on top of a hollandaise sauce. For me it really doesn’t work. I did ask for another portion hoping the first wasn’t right and the waiter had more oil added it didn’t really make much difference. The other niggle is the potato puree at $9. This isn’t an easy dish to make as it is really an emulsion of potato and butter (with an equal weight of butter and potato in the best), the result here is quite tasty but the oil had started to split out of the potato, which was disappointing. But all credit to the FOH staffs who are superb; they happily removed the dish from the bill. What is Neil Perry’s magic with FOH teams? He manages to build teams of very skilled people yet ensures they retain their personalities; they are always so good.
Overall it is a really good restaurant for a big night out; a stunning building, great service and good food. At $259 for two (50% booze) I thought it quite reasonable value, we left happy and very full – no desserts we couldn’t fit them in….!