Whatever you hear, no matter how many times that poor horse has been flogged, fine dining is not dead. It’s just had to adapt a little. And Neil Perry’s Rockpool, in its brand new Bridge Street location, hits it right on the head: flash and grand, but still accessible. And pretty bloody exciting.
At lunchtime, it’s all about getting in and getting out (or not – have you seen the wine list here?) with quick one- ($52), two- ($69) or three-course ($79) menus that mix Rockpool favourites with a few dishes that even die-hard regulars may not have seen before. For our dime, we’d order the meal entirely from the entrée section, which offers the most variety and nimbleness.
But then, it’s dinner that really brings it on the eye-gouging excitement front. You start with a set menu of eight small snacks then from there, choose one extra savoury course. Or three. Or more. Though after doing it a few different ways, we’d probably suggest one to two extras, plus dessert. One thing you can say here is they don’t let you leave hungry. The other thing is it’s not a short meal. You’re here for a good time and a long time.
But there’s plenty to keep you occupied while you wait for the first round of bites like the Champagne trolley, filled with fizzing treats. Ace sommelier Richard Healy might offer a biodynamic sparkling from the Margaret River or, depending on the width, length and depth of your hip pocket, a $55 glass of Ruinart – the oldest Champagne house in the world. Or order a craft beer – this is Rockpool Now, after all. Longnecks of Young Henrys make an appearance, as does the Feral Hop Hog IPA. Woof.
To our mind, the snacks at the beginning should come out quickly – an almost overwhelming treat for the senses at the beginning of the meal. Instead, the table is left to languish for just a little too long. But then, any restaurant that’s brave enough to send out an amuse bouche of a pungent deep-fried prawn head followed by a tiny crisp-fried chicken leg smothered in an umami-luscious kelp butter, then chase it up with an individual Japanese custard injected with lobster meat has perhaps earned the right to keep us on the edge of our seats.
Plus you’re in an outrageously beautiful room in the Burns Philp building (first completed in 1789!), which has been painted entirely in a flat shade of dark charcoal and lit by sharp, sleek, angular chandeliers. It’s Metropolis meets Sin City, only with fewer sexy robots and better food.
Though you might see Neil Perry working the pass, this is head chef Phil Wood’s baby. The chirashi zushi, a bit of a neo-classic at Rockpool, lives on in the new location. Here, thin slices of raw kingfish and tuna are served on top of a little sushi rice which has been mixed through with raw squid. The rich and noble congee has made it to Bridge Street, too, updated with Balmain bug instead of lobster. It’s pretty impossible to not love the hot and squishy mix of almond tofu, rice porridge and spicy peanuts pimped up with little pieces of chopped up Chinese donut.
So there’s still an overarching Chinese influence on the menu here, but then there’s also the outrageously luxurious caviar, spooned over a soft poached egg covered with a crisp potato nest. A decidedly Thai-like soft, supple, cloud-like prawn cake sits in a spicy prawn broth hidden under a bushel of Thai basil and coriander.
While the flow of dishes is a little slow at the beginning of the meal, it seems like they’re trying to make up for lost time at the end. We’re one bite into our pre-dessert when our waiter delivers the soft mango pudding with a sort of whipped condensed milk custard, slices of fresh mango all scattered with toasted almond slivers and crunchy black rice. And we’re one bite into that when the petit fours (tiny date tarts!) are popped on the table. It all feels like a bit of a push to rush us out.
But that in-and-of-itself is small dice when you look at the bigger picture. This is fine dining with freedom of choice. It’s the updated Rockpool we’ve been waiting for.