Say the name Neil Perry, and the ears of anybody who knows anything about food prick up. Over the years this chef has firmly cemented himself into a position of one of Australia’s most influential chefs. He is responsible for a spattering of award winning restaurants around Sydney including Rockpool, Rockpool Bar & Grill and Spice Temple, as well as Rockpool Bar & Grill in Melbourne.
Last month, celebrating a special occasion, I was surprised with a dinner at the original Rockpool which was first opened in the Rocks in 1989. The entrance to the restaurant is understated to say the least. Keep looking straight ahead and because there’s no overhanging sign to signify its presence, you’re likely to walk past it as you’re distracted by everything the Rocks precinct has to offer – of course, how could you not be distracted when the Museum of Contemporary Art is located right opposite.
Walking in, you’re greeted with a smile and the restaurant’s warm and simplistic style. The interior is a lot bigger than I thought it would be and we were led past the open front-of-house kitchen to our table located in a back alcove which at this point is bathed in glorious sunset light. Unable to resist a degustation, we chose to have the 8 Course Grand Tasting Menu.
Lobster & Caviar Summer Roll*
This little starter was a perfect beginning to the meal. The saltiness of the caviar served nicely to prime the taste buds for the rest of the meal and also brought out the sweetness of the fresh lobster meat. The bread on the bottom was soft and fluffy with a daintily crispy crust.
Fragrant Crab Broth with Hand Picked Queensland Mud Crab, Dashi Custard, Tapioca & Wild Bamboo Pith
The broth was unmistakably a crab broth with the crab meat, dashi custard, tapioca balls and bamboo pith all creating multiple textural layers. The broth was seasoned with an extra generous pinch of pepper which was welcomed as without it, the broth would probably have been overwhelmingly fishy. One disappointing point though was that we found a small piece of crab shell in one of our servings – expected maybe in a spaghetti marinara from a street corner cafe, but certainly not at an established eatery like Rockpool.
Green Lip Abalone, Red Braised Thirlmere Goose, Chicken Crisps & Fine Noodles with XO Dressing
The rich goose meat along with the slightly chewy abalone against the cold noodles were a nice contrast in textures. Tying the dish together, XO dressing was tangy and sweet and nothing like what I was expecting. XO sauce generally meant I would be reaching for glasses of water afterwards, so maybe I misintepreted the description as a variant of a spicy seafood sauce common to Chinese cooking, but there certainly wasn’t any chili aspect in the sauce. Neither was there any relation to XO Cognac which was the only other interpretation that I could make.
That said, once I got over my confusion, I enjoyed the dish thoroughly. The highlight was definitely the chicken crisps which as the name describes gave the most satisfying crunch and added a salty component to the dish.
John Dory Poached in Tomato Water*
Next up, the john dory dish was completely unexpected. The tomato taste was subtle but present throughout the flaky piece of the fish while the freshness was added to the dish by the herbs and simple spring vegetables. The berries were tart and gave the dish that extra bit of zing that was a standout.
Redgate Farm Partridge Pie with Sauteed mushrooms & Partridge Jus
Considering the lightness of the previous courses, the partridge pie was significantly more substantial and was the perfect precursor to the next course. The mushrooms and the partridge jus had a very earth flavour and were a perfect accompaniment to the partridge pie. The pie itself had a flaky pastry and the filling was also very rich so the flavours were very nicely broken up by the onion puree underneath.
David Blackmore’s Full Blood Wagyu (Score 9+) Sirloin, Hot & Numbing Brisket, Tendon with Soy & Rock Sugar Sauce
I’m a great fan of steak, so when the piece of meat we were to receive for this dish was proudly advertised as coming from Blackmore* and had a marble score of 9 or more, I had big expectations. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.
The wagyu sirloin was a perfect medium rare and the high fat content of the sirloin meant a steak knife was perfunctory as the meat was cut with very little effort. The tendon was cooked until it was extremely soft while the slightly spicy (not quite as ‘hot and numbing’ as I expected) and more sinewy brisket nicely complemented the tenderness of the piece of sirloin. Another level of texture was added by the fresh piece of lettuce and the sweet soy based sauce brought all the components together nicely.
Vanilla Panna Cotta with Queensland Strawberries & Rose Granita
With the entrees and mains over and done with, it was on to dessert. First up was the panna cotta which in itself was soft and bouncy and had a distinct and smooth vanilla flavour throughout. Complementing the fresh strawberries, there was also a concentrated strawberry jelly and the addition of chopped pistachios to the mix was a pleasant surprise. The rose granita that topped it all was palate-cleansing and absolutely divine.
Turnover of Caramelised Apples & Calvados Mousse with ‘Granny Smith’ Sorbet
Personally, the caramelised apples were a bit overpoweringly sweet for me especially after the subtle flavours that were present in the previous dessert. While the acidity of the granny smith sorbet cut through the sweetness nicely, there wasn’t nearly enough of it to balance out the apples completely. Other than that, the pastry was flaky and crisp while the Calvados mousse gave the dish a smooth component.
Petit Fours – Salted Butter Caramel, Passionfruit Marshmallows, Milk Chocolate Bar with Candied Orange, Nuts & Preseved Cherries, & Madelienes
Definitely the most generous offering of petit fours that I’ve ever come across. The marshmallows were completely different to any store bought marshmallows I’d ever had before. These were extremely fluffy and literally melted in your mouth coating the tastebuds with a distinct but subtle passionfruit flavour. Sucking the salted butter caramels was delectable with the saltiness bringout the butter taste in the caramel and made you want to keep savouring the salty flavour.
In contrast, the madelienes were simple and delicate which is as they should be. Finally, no girl can resist the charm of a bit of chocolate to finish a meal off. This was a fruit and nut bar with a twist in the candied orange and preserved cherries bringing a sour note against the sweet milk chocolate.
* Note: Somewhere in my post-food haze, I forgot to take along the copy of the tasting menu we were given. The names I’ve given to these dishes are my closest recollection of the correct names as these dishes are no longer available on the degustation menu.
107 George Street, The Rocks, Sydney, Australia
P: 612 9252 1888