Sydney – February 24, 2015
One of the best things about cruising is meeting so many different people from all over the world, and all walks of life. Encounters have occurred at the beach when playing with the kids, in chandlery shops while looking for boat parts, and naturally in yacht club bars swapping fishing/boating stories. Friendships have been formed sometimes instantly, mostly facilitated by having children as a common denominator. Other times, the “bonding” process was more gradual, like when you realise that you have been sharing the same anchorages with the same boats, and after waving at the crew while passing with the dinghy, one day you decide to stop by and have a chat.
Then you have special circumstances, like the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) , which we joined over 3 years ago and suddenly provides you with over 1000 potential new friends! We met a few crew, ending up befriending about a dozen people (actually double that if you count all the kids involved!). All of us crossed the Atlantic Ocean together and met again at the other end, in St Lucia. Some kept us company in the French Caribbeans for a whole season while others with a cruising schedule tighter than ours continued on.
It was the case of David and Magali, a couple on their 48ft catamaran ENSEMBLE, who we met briefly during the ARC, shared a couple of dinners onboard and parted ways too soon: they to Panama, us to the Bahamas. Still, we managed to strike enough of a friendship to keep in touch via email and Facebook (don’t you love technology!). Magali and I are quite different physically: she is as tall and diaphanous as I am short and dark. However, we have quite a bit in common. First, we’re both Europeans (she’s Belgian, I am French) who moved to Australia after falling for our Aussie husbands. Second, we both love cooking and eating, and (unbeknownst to each other) started our food blogs at the same time ( check out Magali’s nautical themed site Gourmet on Board). This couple travels as much as we do, if not more, and came back to Australia recently for a holiday. Magali and I were so excited to finally catch up after 3 years apart, the first thing we discussed was where to meet for lunch. We wanted something special: she suggested Guillaume, who doesn’t do lunch on weekdays. I proposed Rockpool, which had been on my wish list for ages, as one of the best fine dining venue in Sydney (if not Australia). It also happened to be David’s favourite. So the booking was made and what ensued was a whole week of anticipating.
Why I am telling you all this, instead of getting on with the restaurant review? Well, I just want to put it all in perspective: while I had all intentions to photograph and dissect every single dish, study every details of the interior, the excitement of seeing our friends got the better of me and as we merrily chatted, food took a backstep. I know, it’s sacrilege, right? Believe me, I am currently sitting and feeling bad that I can’t describe this culinary journey with the reverence it deserves, and you will have to put up with my fairly amateurish pictures. Then again, we all had a fantastic time: great food, great company, lots to drink…the making of a fine lunch. Now on to the review.
Rockpool is located at 11 Bridge Street, in the heritage listed Burns Philp building, smack bang in the middle of the Sydney CBD. A simple gold plate on the façade indicates the restaurant, a few steps leading up to a space swathed in heavy drapes, with dark wood and mute painted walls.
The Burn Philp building in Bridge Street. Photo courtesy of Hospitalitymagazine.com.au
Photo courtesy of Rockpool
A black-vested waiter greeted us and took us to our table, where our friends were already seated. First impressions: it is blissfully quiet and Terry is looking forward to be able to converse without shouting or struggling to hear (too many venues with bad acoustics nowadays!) Magali and I can’t help comment on the waitress’s classy black dress (it’s her uniform, she says), the dainty crystal water glasses, the starched tablecloths, …we’re in for a treat. The lunch menu is quite extensive, and unlike dinner which is a “journey” of nine courses or more, there is a choice of a-la-carte dishes as well as a two-course Prix Fixe menu, for the ones who can’t decide what they want. Designed by the chef for the month, it offers Queensland spanner crab linguine as a starter, followed by Confit of duck leg for main. Everything looks yummy, it would take at least 20 minutes to decide so 3 of us opt for the prix fixe menu option, because it is easy and we can keep talking. Except that Terry elects to be different and orders a-la-carte, so the knowledgeable waitress explains every dish, patiently listening to our comments, dutifully checking with the chef on behalf of the allergy prone diner amongst us, and probably wishing we’d stop talking for a second and focus on the food. The drinks order takes just as long, with a wine list 43-pages thick, David knew better and already ordered a G&T. Beer-drinking Terry was happy to try new brews and fell in love with locally brewed Lord Nelson Pale Ale, ordering 2 at a time, thirsty man! Poor Magali was left with the job of selecting the wine for us girls, and after a few minutes of page turning and advice from the sommelier, she came up with the most refreshing and light pinot grigio (Lost Turtle ?)
Then the food arrives. A freshly baked honey spelt loaf accompanied by house made butter and fresh ricotta is the perfect “bar food” to nibble on while waiting for our entrees. Great with beer, Terry reckons.
The spanner crab linguine is delicious and creamy with a nice crunch courtesy of the fried breadcrumbs on top. I certainly enjoyed every bit of the 4 mouthfuls plated in the bowl. Yes, the servings are small for the prix fixe menu, more like snack sized.
In comparison, Terry’s entrée of grilled Squid with stir fried shitake, miso and chili dressing is more substantial (say 6-7 mouthfuls?) but granted, the a-la-carte menu is more expensive. His dish was a complex mix of flavours: shitake mushrooms, miso, squids…all very rich and spicy.
Neil Perry’s cuisine is famous for classic dishes tweaked with Asian influence. The main courses were a revelation for me. I love duck, and have had plenty of Confit of duck leg in my life, but this one was nothing like I’ve had before: the meat was superbly tender and moist, without the stringiness you sometimes find in duck confit, the skin slightly crispy and sweet from the hoisin glaze. The fried rice was something else too: black rice encased in omelette, nothing really fried, but oh so delicious! Such a clever twist on traditional dishes. The only complaint I would have is that there was not enough of it. You see, Terry and I are the kind of people who like to share plates in restaurants. We always order different meals, working on our respective first and second choice, and swap plates after eating half. It sometimes drive other diners crazy, and can be embarrassing when waiters think we are done and come to take the plates away, only to have me holding on to it explaining “no, no! We’re swapping!”
It took all of my resolve to stop eating this duck and handing the plate over to my husband, who had dutifully set aside my share of his Trevalla with coconut rice, chicken skin and turmeric pickle. The serving was bigger so there was more to taste. The coconut rice was beautiful, the fish cooked to perfection, the turmeric pickle too discreet for me to notice…on the other hand, the chicken skin had me intrigued: a small piece of skin, rolled flat and (I am guessing) rendered until as crispy as a chip. Now that’s different! A very subtle dish, I wish I tried it before my main however, as it tasted mild after the bolder flavours of the duck.
For sides, we ordered shaved brussel sprouts with bacon, almonds and pomegranate. A cold dish, it is more like a salad and complemented the duck well. Terry’s eyes lingered on the Potato dauphines on the menu, but didn’t order them for fear of looking greedy!
By then, we are on another bottle of wine, a Grosset “Rockpool” chardonnay, hand picked by David. Unlike a lot of Chardonnays which I find too oaky, this one is wonderfully rich yet fresh, if that makes any sense. A perfect drop to accompany desserts, which Magali and I still had room for (that is no doubt the reason for the small servings…) Her ricotta parfait, almond and white peach, strawberry, spiced lemon sorbet looked completely ethereal on the plate, I didn’t taste it but Magali said it was heavenly.
I can’t go past a chocolate dessert and ordered the Vahlrona chocolate and macadamia, coffee prunes, banana and liquorice ice cream not sure how all these flavours would go together. Well it worked very well: who would have thought that banana and liquorice were a match made in heaven? Combined with the prunes, the macadamia, peanuts and of course the chocolate it made for a surprisingly rich yet light dessert (a bit like the wine!). Two weeks on and I am salivating at the memory of it, that’s how good it is!
We were reasonably full at the end of the meal, and happy to finish the wine, chat and laugh for a little longer. A quick look around the room revealed that we were the only table left, the suits on a power lunch long gone back to the office…At that point I must mention the Rockpool service: from the greeting staff to the kitchen crew, and all waiters, the service was exemplary: friendly, knowledgeable, attentive ( Terry thought it may have been oversolicitous once, but to the waitress’ defense, she was explaining all the components of the dish we were being served, well appreciated if like me, you can’t remember exactly what you ordered!) and very accommodating. As we lingered on, long after the wine was gone, our drink waiter kept topping up our crystal water glasses without any mention of passing shifts or overdue closing time. We were well looked after from start to finish ( It was way past 4pm when we finally left!)
Rockpool is the best meal we have had in Sydney since our return last year. Which is just as well, since it is expensive, but the standard of the food, execution, and service is well worth it. The $49 2-course Prix Fixe menu (lunch only) is unbeatable value for money in my book, in spite of the small portions. Adding dessert rounded up the meal nicely, leaving me satiated enough. Terry felt a little underfed, so maybe we should order some of these delicious side dishes for him next time. For, there will be a next time…we just need another special occasion.
11 Bridge Street, Sydney, NSW
Tel: +61 (02) 9252 1888
Lunch Monday to Friday
Dinner Monday to Saturday