Rockpool Bar & Grill @ Crown Casino, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank
4 March 2011
The powerhouse Neil Perry brand was founded on the reputation of Perry’s flagship restaurant, Rockpool in Sydney. Along with Tetsuya’s, Rockpool is perhaps Australian’s best known restaurant internationally. Consequently, the opening of Rockpool Bar & Grill in Melbourne several years ago was warmly welcomed as it marked the introduction of Neil Perry’s highly acclaimed cuisine to the Melbourne dining scene.
Rockpool Bar & Grill, as distinct from Rockpool, is a modern Australian restaurant that serves fairly basic fare. It includes a bar section which operates with a “no reservations” policy and offers diners a more limited menu relative to the adjacent restaurant section. Over the years, the bar has become a lunch favourite of mine, with its location being a convenient walk from my workplace and its cuisine being of reasonable quality and decent value. On this occasion however, we dined at the bar for dinner and were offered, in addition to the usual bar menu, the more expansive menu from the restaurant.
We began our meal with a dish of “four raw tastes of the sea” – a platter of thinly sliced raw fish with an assortment of dressings. It was an unpromising start. The platter comprised of kingfish with tea-smoked oyster, ocean trout with lemon and harissa, tuna with jalapeno, ginger and coriander and a squid ceviche. Although the slithers of fish were fresh, the various dressings were fairly bland. Even the harissa on the ocean trout, which promised punchy, spicy flavours, was relatively insipid.
Our next course consisted of hand-cut linguine with spanner crab and spicy prawn oil. Although slightly marred by overcooked, soft pasta, this dish was notable for the interesting combination of crab meat and prawn oil which produced a wonderfully rich and complex seafood flavour. An unknown tart component provided balance to the dish, which, overall, was strangely reminiscent of Ezard’s magnificent tom kha broth.
For our final savoury item, we shared Rockpool’s famous wagyu hamburger – an item that I have had for lunch on many occasions. With a rich and succulent wagyu beef pattie, the hamburger had, sandwiched between two halves of a slightly sweet brioche bun, bacon, gruyere cheese and zuni pickle. It is a classic burger and one of Melbourne’s very best. As a point of comparison, it also materially betters, for my tastes, the very highly regarded sirloin burger from New York’s DB Bistro Moderne – which indulgently includes beef short ribs, black truffle and foie gras – that is regarded by some as being among the world’s best. In that light, for $22, Rockpool’s wagyu burger provides for a fairly substantial and relatively affordable gourmet lunch.
We completed our meal with a dessert of fresh and poached summer fruits, including pineapple, grapefruit, lychee and mango, with mascarpone sabayon and lemon biscuits. Although somewhat expensive at $25 – given that it was a glorified fruit salad with custard – it was a well executed and enjoyable dessert that was notable for the fresh and sweet fruits and the flawlessly smooth and creamy sabayon.
While Rockpool Bar & Grill does not strike me as restaurant that befits a two hat status in the Good Food Guide, it does produce consistently good, flavoursome cuisine that ensures my repeated custom. Though not much of a compliment, it leaves me with a significantly more positive impression of Neil Perry’s culinary talent than does the adjacent Spice Temple and makes me eager to visit his high temple of gastronomy, Rockpool in Sydney. In the meantime, lunches of Rockpool’s superb wagyu hamburger and equally excellent onion rings will have to suffice.