Saturday, 31 August 2013

Rockpool Bar & Grill - Part of the Neil Perry Empire

I love living in Brisbane, the climate is the best in the country and the food culture is developing at a rapid rate, but if there was one other capital I would live in, it's Melbourne.  There is a lot to love about Melbourne but the two things I love most about it are the food scene and the fact that it's the world capital of Australian Rules Football.  It doesn't hurt that it was recently voted the world's most livable city again (not sure why Brisbane didn't make the top 20).  The major problem with Melbourne, and really the only problem for me is the fact that that it's so cold in winter.  The cold is not my thing.

I recently found myself in Melbourne for a few days with a pretty full schedule, but had a couple of free moments and one free night, so I had to decide where I would go for dinner.  My flight arrived late(ish) which meant I couldn't get out of the city at a reasonable time to visit any foodie haunts, and since I was staying at the Crown Metropol, there was an abundance of options available at Southbank.  I thought I would hit up some of my twitter followers to check on recommendations (thanks for the RT Booma) and the restaurant most tweeted about was Rockpool Bar & Grill.

It was a good option.  Rockpool Bar & Grill is one of the fleet of restaurants by food genius Neil Perry and is one of the most awarded and celebrated restaurants in the country.  Its currently ranked in the top 25 restaurants it the Gourmet Traveller top 100 restaurants in the country and has had two hats from the Age Good Food Guide for a very long time.

I had fond memories of a trip to Melbourne a few years ago that included a dinner at Rockpool Bar & Grill, so I decided to see if I could replicate the night and tried to make a booking.  After calling the reservations number to try to make a booking for one, I was told that I couldn't do so and that I would have to head over to the restaurant and try my luck.  I thought that was a bit strange, but it was still relatively early, so I put some 'dining duds' on and made my way through the labyrinth that is the Crown complex and hit the restaurant.

The Rockpool Bar & Grill is a very understated looking restaurant from the outside, with a small sign indicating its location and a massive set of wooden doors leading to the restaurant.  Making my way to the maitre'd, I put on my best 'cheeky' grin and asked for a table for one, thinking that I might have to sit at the bar.  To my surprise, I was ushered past the open kitchen and through the extremely large restaurant to a table in the main dining area.  It seems as if I had arrived just before the rush as there were still quite a few tables available throughout the restaurant.

One of the reasons why I had such fond memories of my last visit to Rockpool was the wait staff, who I found to be some of the most knowledgeable and professional waiters that I have come across in Australia.  My waiter on the night, Daniel, reinforced my view with his intro as he ably led me through the menu and special options for the evening.  Coincidentally, I was following the Age Good Food Guide annual restaurant awards and noted on the twitter feed that someone from the Rockpool Bar & Grill had won the Service Excellence Awards, this didn't surprise me at all.

The menu at Rockpool Bar & Grill is as spectacular as it is massive, with heaps of options available to cater to almost every want or need.  I was really tempted with a couple of the entree specials, but wanted something tasty and a little bit lighter, so decided on something from the 'cold starters'.  

I have a thing for cured meats, so the Ibérico Joselito Jamon, Trevelez Serrano Jamon, San Daniele Prosciutto, Fratelli Galloni Prosciutto di Parma and Rodriguez Chorizo with Pickles looked perfect.  I was a little surprised by the size of the wooden board placed in front of me laden with tasty looking cured meats.  I really loved the intense flavours from the Ibérico Joselito Jamon but my favourite was the Rodriguez Chorizo, which had just a little bite.  I'm glad there was a plate of pickled vegetables served with the meat because it helped with the very fatty meats and cleansed my palate when I swapped meat types.

My waiter for the evening Daniel had tempted me with the Wood Fire Grilled Redgate Farm Partridge, but I really only wanted to have one of Rockpool's famous steaks.  On my last visit, I had had one of the most amazing pieces of meat in my life, and I was hoping to replicate that again.  On this occasion I chose the Rangers Valley dry aged 300 day grain fed 250g fillet and asked it to be cooked 'at the chef's preference' which means medium rare for this cut of beef.  I have to say, I was a little disappointed with my steak on this occasion.  The meat itself had nice flavour and was cooked pretty well, but it was quite tough to eat and was even difficult to cut through with the sharp steak knife.  I also found the bearnaise sauce that accompanied the steak to be a little too acidic.  For a steak that is above $60, I expected a steak that was amazing, and I got one that could have come from any reasonable pub.

It was time for dessert and after the very meaty first courses, I decided that I wanted something light but sweet and the Passionfruit Pavlova looked to fit the bill nicely.  I was expecting something nice, but was unprepared for the monster of a dessert that was presented to me.  It was huge!  There were about nine scoops of dense cream sitting atop the massive wedge of pavlova, with a drizzling of passionfruit resplendent with crunchy seeds.  The pavlova itself was lovely and smooth and when mixed with the cream and passionfruit was a great mix of sweet and tart.  While I quite liked the dessert, it was too big for me to eat and it got the better of me.  I ended up leaving about half of it on the plate.

By the time I had finished the meal I was feeling quite heavy and when I saw the total bill, knew my wallet would be quite a bit lighter.  Rockpool Bar & Grill quite rightly is rated as one of the best restaurants in the country, with service that is a cut above most restaurants, but on this occasion it fell just a little short on my expectations.  I think the main reason why I left just a little disappointed was the fact my steak was not up to the standard I was expecting.  When visiting a restaurant of the calibre of Rockpool, I really want to be blown away with a tender and flavoursome piece of meat, and I only got one of the two.

I was really happy with the service that I received on the night, it was right up with many of the best restaurants in the world.  There is also a really good atmosphere at Rockpool, with lots of subdued lighting and a clear view of the open kitchen from many tables.  In fact, because of the dim lighting in the dining area and the bright lights of the kitchen, the kitchen shines out like a beacon across the whole dining area.  I really dig that.

So, I had a pretty mixed meal at Rockpool this time, with a great entree and pretty decent dessert, but with the star of the show being a little tough.  As this was my second visit, Rockpool was batting one for two in the steaks department, it looks like I will have to go back a third time to see if they can break the deadlock.

There was as much complimentary bread as I could eat.  The first was a little stale to be honest, but the subsequent bread was soft with a crunch crust.  The slightly smoky butter was soft and wonderful 
Like a beacon cutting through a cold and foggy night.  Rockpool has a dark and warm feel to it, but the kitchen is the exception!  You can see it from most tables
When you walk into Rockpool, there is a massive shot of this cow taking pride of place.  The picture is also on the back of all of the menus
The kitchen hard at work 
Rockpool tries to source only the best products, with all of the meats being dry aged on premises
Hats aplenty and another two were won while I was dining, with the Age Good Food Guide awards on at the same time
Through the wooden doors to one of the largest restaurants I have seen in Melbourne 

Rockpool Bar and Grill on UrbanspoonRockpool Bar & Grill Melbourne

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