Rockpool Bar and Grill reception desk and banquette seating
It's the same feeling you get when you enter the sweeping surrounds of the restaurant dining room, impressively opulent with a soaring atrium and heavy marble columns. The 1936 Emil Sodersteen-designed art deco building is statuesque, cool and stylish with echoes of Mad Men glamour.
The open kitchen
Our group of seven is shown to a table that is directly opposite the open kitchen, a gleaming vision of steel that runs the length of the dining room. An army of staff attend to a multitude of stations, the atmosphere calm and quiet. We notice that the chef de parties are each wearing headsets, allowing them to communicate each with other from across opposite ends of the kitchen without having to raise their voices.
The grill station
The daily menu, printed in heavy A3 paper, offers a dizzying myriad of choices. Thirty-four entrees are split across three columns headed Cold Bar, Hot Starters and Salads & Other Things. Main courses number twenty-nine, from pasta to seafood, to main plates and the wood-fired rotisserie and grill. And then there are the sides (fifteen) and side salads (three).
Needless to say, I am torn with indecision.
Thankfully I have done some preliminary research. Pig Flyin
has recommended the rotisserie chicken, and when I ask our waiter what process it undergoes to warrant the 50 minute waiting time listed on the menu, he points his hand in the direction of the kitchen.
Free range chicken on the rotisserie
The chickens are cooked to order, speared onto a rotisserie that sends them on a flaming ride over a charcoal grill.
My moment of indecision is over.
Bread and butter
We settle into our heavy leather chairs, squat and square but easily moveable on castor wheels, taking advantage of the complimentary crusty bread and pats of butter served on rustic blocks of wood.
Fried calamari with Romesco $28
Our entrees don't take long to arrive, delivered to us via one of those foldable side tables topped with canvas, unnecessary from a practical point of view, but creating a sense of occasion and importance as our white-coated waiters fuss over a procession of dishes.
Charcoal roast squid and pork belly $28
Accommodating friends mean we switch and swap spoonfuls and plates so we try each other's dishes. The charcoal roast squid is incredibly tender, and whilst the charcoal roast king prawns are a little finicky to eat, the effort pays off with succulent and sweet prawn flesh that tastes fresh from the sea.
Charcoal roast king prawns, split and marinated $34
Warm salad of wood fire grilled quail $29
with braised dried figs, walnuts and fresh herbs
The wood fire grilled quail
is hard to spot beneath the tangle of salad leaves, walnuts and fig, but there is at the bottom, its flesh cooked to tender pink - perhaps a little under toward the bone - even though the tips are deliciously caramelised.
My steak tartare with chips $25
I'd ordered the steak tartare, titled as "my steak tartare with chips" on the menu. Executive Chef Neil Perry makes no other claims on the remaining dishes.
The steak tartare is not the vision of raw beef and egg yolk I'd expected. Instead a cascading mound of beef, pale pink and smothered in a creamy mayonnaise, is presented on a radicchio leaf with accompanying canoes of witlof. The steak tartare is deceptively light, expertly-seasoned and zingy with a meticulous dice of cornichons.
A side plate of chips is more than generous, deep-fried to a golden brown.
Brioche with slow cooked hens egg and bone marrow $21
with red wine butter sauce
I'd been torn between ordering the steak tartare and the bone marrow, and am glad to strike a deal with A to trade a spoonful or two. The dish is glorious exercise in decadence, a pristine orb of slow cooked hens egg that is pierced to release a stream of runny egg yolk over the thick slab of fluffy brioche.
The bone marrow is where the real action lies for appreciative gluttons. The discs of marrow are the size of scallops, pale and quivering with flecks of pink at their centre. The pleasure of pure bone marrow melting on the tongue is the type of sensation one should enjoy behind closed doors. It really is that good.
Pierced and runny egg yolk
The Rockpool Bar and Grill dining room floor
Waiter exiting the kitchen
Seafood stew with spicy mussel and saffron broth $45
Our mains meet similar nods of approval although there is no question that the prices here are not for the faint-hearted. Seafood stew
is a jumble of clams, octopus, prawn and mussel, the broth tinged orange with saffron and rich with flavour.
Wagyu sirloin 200g 21 days $110
David Blackmore's dry aged full blood wagyu 9+ marble score
Wagyu sirloin comes in at a breathless $110, a stark presentation of meat with lemon on an expansive white plate. The meat is reassuringly tender, although I'm more impressed by the 350 gram rib eye on the bone, particularly when I score the bone to gnaw on.
Rib-eye on the bone 350g 80 days $60
Cape Grim dry aged 36 month old grass fed
Condiment table service for the steaks A choice of mustards, barbecue sauce, harissa, bearnaise and horseradish cream
Free range chicken from the wood fired rotisserie $39
with tuscan white bean and bread salad (50 minutes)
The free range chicken is halved per portion, its skin slightly crisp and seductively smoky from the wood-fired grill. There's a faint hint of lemon in the skin, and the flesh is tender. I take great delight in my accompanying pot of aioli, pleasingly powerful with garlic. On the menu is a quote, presumably by Neil, that says "Man first used fire to roast chicken. There is no reason to believe that it isn't still the best method. Taste the difference!"
Onion rings $9
We order a motley collection of sides, just as well given the bareness of the steak dishes.
Onion rings are surprisingly heavy with batter, although they are a celebration of earth-shattering crunch.
"Mac and Cheese" $11
Mac and Cheese arrives with a layer of charred cheese on its surface, the elbow pasta drenched in a thick lava of molten cheese.
Green beans with creamy anchovy, toasted almonds and chilli and lemon dressing $9
Green beans are surely the antidote to excess. We relish the bright green spears daubed with a creamy lemon anchovy dressing and the crunch of toasted almonds, although we find it hard to detect much chilli here.
Sauteed mixed mushrooms $25
At twenty-five dollars, the sauteed mixed mushrooms is the most expensive side dish, however the combination of exotics is captivating with its earthy aromas and garlic butter.
View of the waiters station from the mezzanine level
"There he is again!"
We'd spotted the bobbing ponytail of Neil Perry as he'd walked breezily past our table at the start of our meal. Here again, we catch but a fleeting glimpse of him as we exit the bathrooms upstairs. We miss him by seconds again, as his ponytail disappears around the corridor.
Waiter with our side table of desserts
Could there be room for dessert? Of course there is!
Bar & Grill cheesecake with marmalade and mandarin sorbet $19
Bar & Grill cheesecake is a dense wedge of dessert, lifted by a scoop of mandarin sorbet and a sticky mandarin marmalade.
Creme caramel $18
I'd ordered the creme caramel which arrives as a massive portion. Doused in a sweet caramel sauce, the baked custard is glossy and smooth but honestly so rich, I can barely manage to eat half. This indeed, is tragic news to my stomach.
Prune and armagnac creme brulee $20
Thick linen napkins surround the ramekins holding the prune and armagnac creme brulee, folded in a lily style that is endearingly kitsch.
The custard is silky in texture, but I find the prunes and armagnac tip this already decadent dessert into somewhat overwhelming excess.
Vanilla panna cotta with strawberry salad and rose granita $19
Much more successful are the granita and sorbet desserts, including the vanilla panna cotta which unexpectedly arrives in a parfait glass, hidden beneath a macerated strawberry 'salad' and rose granita.
Rose granita on strawberry salad
Blood orange sorbet with fennel meringue and yoghurt $10
The prettiest dessert goes to the blood orange sorbet, exquisitely presented with tiny buds of meringue.
Blood orange sorbet
Passionfruit marshmallows $18
And even for those that don't want dessert, passionfruit marshmallows are easily shared, the fresh marshmallow squares tangy with passionfruit and as fluffy as clouds.
Flat white coffee
Caramel popcorn petit fours
Coffee and tea come with a bonus glass of caramel popcorn petit fours.
A memorable meal with exceptional service.
- you have each won a prize pack of Waterthins Chocolate Selections containing ten packets of biscuits. That should go some way to satisfying those chocolate cravings!