Expense? There’s no escaping the fact: Rockpool Bar & Grill will cost you. But, eight years down the track, it remains one of Melbourne’s best – and most reliable – dining experiences
If restaurant years could be measured like dog years, Rockpool would have settled into a comfortable if unexciting middle age, more 'nice' than 'knockout'. But not only has Neil Perry’s clubbish, masculine steak den seen off so many other restaurants that once glittered on the Crown promenade before fading away, it has maintained – even surpassed – the standards that sent the town a-twitter when it opened in 2007.
You could say it’s surfed the produce-driven zeitgeist – Perry being the original Mr Produce-Driven, whose menu-adorning quote about serving only the finest produce isn’t a cynical bit of PR spin. Rockpool is best-known for its beef – dry-aged, grass-fed, wood-grilled, reliably sensational – but the lengthy menu tips the balance in favour of a seafood obsession.
The 'four raw tastes of the sea', a signature dish that debuted with the restaurant, remains a gob-smacking quartet: kingfish dressed in smoked oyster; ocean trout with a gentle harissa; tuna with a flicker of ginger and coriander; scampi ceviche. The tuna’s underseasoning aside, it’s a mighty statement about the beauty of top ingredients handled with minimal fuss.
There’s linguini, slithery strands of hand-cut silk in pasta form, with sweet outbreaks of spanner crab and an Asian-accented slosh of chilli-spiked prawn oil. And fat nubbles of scampi tail nestled into a creamy blanket of soft polenta with pine mushrooms and sage bringing a taste of the season. Simultaneously comforting and sensational.
There are red meat options to be found under the 10 'main plates' (the menu totals 34 items before you get to the dry-aged, grass-fed steaks – and the corned Wagyu silverside with onion soubise and pearl barley did put up a good argument). But a Rockpool steak is kind of non-negotiable, and if you’re heading in that direction, it’s only correct and proper to hit the 17 side dishes, from crunchy onion rings the size of small Frisbees to the caramelised potato-and-cabbage gratin. You’ll go into a food coma, but it’s a happy one.
It’s a Crown restaurant, so a wide swathe of humanity is represented at the broad, dimly-lit tables in the expense-account surroundings. Ahem. To the average diner, however, Rockpool will exist in the rarified realm of 'special occasion' restaurant. You’re paying for the perfection of the produce, for the brilliance of its treatment, for the dining room’s sartorial swagger, for the seamlessness of the service. Crown can be a bit of a punt, but Rockpool remains one helluva sure bet.