You won’t find a restaurant in Sydney so burdened with the expectations of diners as Rockpool. There’s something particularly special about the flagship restaurant. Maybe it’s the thick white tablecloths; the plushly carpeted catwalk up the middle of the restaurant; the rubbernecking to see who’s dining around you; or the incredibly professional service. Or maybe it’s the food.
While Rockpool is still Neil Perry’s restaurant, Perry has given full control of the kitchen to Phil Wood. And it’s the amping up of the Chinese stuff at Rockpool of late that’s giving the restaurant a newly honed edge. Take the ‘rich and noble’ lobster congee: this luxed-to-the-max Asian nanna dish sees hunks of lobster bound with rice porridge and festooned with a mix of anise-y peanuts, chilli and pieces of fried Chinese bread, all topped with tiny little curls of deep-fried garlic. If that’s not enough of an indicator of where the restaurant’s at, let us present exhibit B: goose gently braised in masterstock on a bed of fine noodles, stir-fried in XO sauce and topped with green-lipped abalone and deep-fried chicken skin. Need more evidence? We’d like to call the Rockpool classic of Chinese roast pigeon to the stand. It’s lightly coated in sweet, fragrant black vinegar sauce and sits on a piece of roasted eggplant stuffed with prawn paste. Not that everything is Asian, mind you. If you want to up the ante even further with your fourth course (the menu at Rockpool is offered over five small courses or the eight-course grand tasting), the medley of beefs – fillet (go the wagyu for a $45 supplement); oyster blade; and gelatinous, rich tendon – is outrageously rich with a rock sugar and soy sauce.
Not enough restaurants give you a bib. But if you order the stir-fried southern calamari with squid ink noodles and Schulz bacon, you’ll get the biggest white linen bib in the land. And you’ll need it – those noodles are slicker than the Gulf of Mexico. And while there’s a bit of heat there from the chilli and coriander, it’s more the richness from the ink and pork fat that give this dish its girth.
We should also mention the enormous wine list which, if you’re not sure what you’re looking for, can be a little bamboozling. Luckily, there are several crack sommeliers working the floor who are more than happy to do the matching for you. A word to the wise, though: if you haven’t dragged your burlap sack with the big dollar sign on it to dinner, there’s no harm or shame in asking the price of the wine. It’s very easy to drink something totally delicious here that’ll bankrupt you before you’ve even hit dessert.
Speaking of which, desserts by veteran Rockpool pastry chef Catherine Adams are, as always, excellent. The bombe Alaska has a surprisingly crisp meringue shell hiding a tangy pear sorbet, finished at the table with a generous dousing of Cognac. Which is on fire. Bibs, sauces on fire... how can you resist? Of course, there’s always the more restrained date tart – so good it’s been on the menu since 1984.
Rockpool isn’t an everyday restaurant but it is an absolute must for every self-respecting food-loving Sydneysider. Veteran diners, if you haven’t been to Rockpool lately, now’s the time to go.