About five years ago we would drop into Rockpool on the way back home from Friday evening drinks and grab a seat in their waiting area. As the main service had started they were more than happy to let us sit at the bar, order a main and some wine, and enjoy quite a cheap meal which had the benefit of top class surroundings and service. We are now back in Sydney and wandered past Rockpool after our usual Friday beers and found that Neil Perry had cottoned on to this as a great concept and launched the Oyster Bar (OK he used to do it at Wokpool in Potts Point as well).
There are now a few more tables in the space but the bar looking into the kitchen, and overlooking the “salad” plating area is still there and in use. The menu has been structured for lighter/quicker meals at quite reasonable price points.
We start with two small dishes; first “Yellow Fin Tuna and kimchi Sandwich” ($9) consists of raw tuna sandwiched between crisp thin wafers and a little kimchi on the side, the kimchi works really well with the tuna, a very moreish dish. Then, a “Squid Ink Cervice” ($9), this arrives in a little bowl, a few strips of squid, a high proportion of diced crunchy vegetable (mango, green paw paw?), sitting in a squid ink sauce. This dish was terrible, the sauce tasted of pure limejuice, and was really, really hot with lots of raw birds eye chillies in it. You couldn’t taste the squid nor its ink, it was simply very hot citrus dressing. We complained about the dish and the waitress said the chef would be told, but there was no come back from the chef and we were still billed for it. Ordinarily I would send a dish this bad back but as it was only two mouthfuls it had all gone and at only $9 it wasn’t worth making a fuss about; but an acknowledgment from the kitchen would have been good.
For mains my partner ordered a “Fish tagine with cous cous and nut stuffed date” ($22) it was very good, with great deep flavours, and each element executed very well. I chose a “Salt and Pepper Calamari” ($29) which is served in a Thai style with a nicely balanced salad with the heat and sweetness (from Pomelo?) working very well together. It really was one of the best versions of this dish I have had.
We drank a bottle of Eldridge Gamay at $75, which is from the less expensive end of the list; I think the cheapest bottle is $50. In total the bill was $150, which wasn’t bad for the food content, but with wine at these prices it pushes it out of the casual Friday night category.
Back to the poor dish. When we last lived in Sydney we ate our way through the menu and whilst most dishes were superb there were a couple that really did not work. The deep-fried crispy duck, which was overcooked, and a bit greasy is one that comes to mind. I used to think this was down to a badly conceived dish, but after last nights visit I think it is bad execution. We were sat in front of 5 or 6 chefs who were plating the cold dishes. It was clear that one of the chefs was more senior and knew what he was doing, but the others seemed to be trainees who kept asking for direction or who needed to have plating mistakes corrected. As we sat there we saw the same dishes plated time after time, and were surprised at the level of inconsistency and lack of precision in the plating, different proportions of ingredients on the same dish, layers built up in different orders on adjacent plates of the same dish. All the dishes made it over the pass, which is really surprising in a restaurant of this standard and at these prices (the section in front of us was also plating for the main restaurant).
We did have a good time and enjoyed our meal. We will go back, but in future we are going to be on the look out for mistakes and be a little less trusting in the Chef to check what goes across the pass. When it is good it is really great food, so really worth dropping in for a casual meal.