Pioneering Australian chef Neil Perry swung open the heavy brass doors of Rockpool Bar and Grill back in 2009. Ever since then, the restaurant has been consistently heralded as one of Sydney’s – if not Australia’s – finest restaurants, winning as many accolades as Ms T Swift (well, perhaps nearly as many – 1989 was a hit).
It’s an epic achievement, and a near-impossible undertaking when you consider the cut-throat and fickle world of hospitality, coupled with the Emerald City’s tumultuous history. And while Perry has since passed the reins to the competent hands of culinary director Corey Costelloe, Rockpool is showing no signs of slowing down. That’s the thing with the classics – they never go out of style.
Rockpool is housed in the Art Deco City Mutual Building on Hunter Street, which was constructed in 1936 by architect Emil Sodersten. The grandeur of the dining room can not be overstated. Soaring marble pillars the colour of the ocean on an angry day tower into the incredibly high and ornate ceiling. There are 2,682 Riedel riesling glasses hanging like a sparkling, expensive chandelier. Furnishings are jet-black like a panther. The elegant space is almost gothic looking – and, without a doubt, one of Sydney’s most beautiful dining rooms.
We begin with cocktails. Our Negroni is on-point – bitter, with a touch of sweetness, and a citrus aroma. Our date’s Jungle Bird is pretty, pink and tart with dark rum, Campari, lime and pineapple. Cheers.
One of our waiters – who looks smart in their white blazers and black ties – brings us over complimentary warm bread with two cubes of butter from CopperTree Farm. We lather on the first, which is subtle and creamy. But it’s the next butter that brings us to a standstill. It’s rich with umami and tastes like cheese, which makes sense when we later find out it’s made with parmesan. It’s the most delicious butter we’ve tasted and we throw caution to the wind and finish it all.
The wine menu is like an encyclopedia in that it’s 157 pages long – and it’s exy. Like, seriously expensive – the average bottle is around $500 a pop, and our eyes widen when we see one for $13,750. Which is fine when you’re a high-flying business executive, but we are not. It doesn’t look like the diners around us are, either, considering all four tables are not drinking wine. We go for one of the cheapest bottles – a $90 pinot noir from Oakridge in Victoria’s Yarra River – which is crimson red, bright and fruit-forward.
Rockpool’s food menu is also extensive, and we inspect it with a fine-tooth comb and with as much gusto as if it were new-season Zara.
Baby octopus arrives tender yet blackened by a lick of flame, and sitting on a soft bed of smoky, garlicky eggplant that tastes like the baba ganoush of our dreams. A chimichurri bursting with oregano and parsley adds vibrancy, plus tang thanks to a dash of vinegar. It brings the dish together while taking us back to the streets of Buenos Aires.
Plump Abrolhos Islands scallops are served in their shells with butter and jamon XO. Perfectly cooked, the scallops are soft and silky, and the jamon provides a salty, savoury hit with the right amount of chilli.
You can’t dine at Rockpool and not order the steak. We go for the 250g fillet of grass-fed Cape Grim that’s been dry aged for 36 months on-site. Charred on the outside, blushing pink on the inside, with flakes of sea salt on top – it’s as good as it gets, and cements why Rockpool is one of the top ten steak restaurants in the world.
Housemade Italian pork sausages, made using cuts from the whole beast, are fat, glistening and full of flavour. They are served with borlotti beans and roasted cipollini onions, which are sweeter than their counterparts, and finished with a well-seasoned and glossy pork jus with character.
Greens as bitter as a primary school librarian are cooked on the wood fire and liberally dressed in a punchy sauce made from anchovies, garlic and chilli. Yum.
Golden roasted potatoes that have been sauteed with Wagyu fat, garlic and aromatic rosemary have the ultimate crunch factor and are fluffy in the inside. They taste like the salty hot chips of our childhoods, but better.
A smooth and rich chocolate marquise with cloud-like chestnut cream, whiskey caramel and chocolate sorbet is a decadent, heavenly and a fitting note to end on.
It’s likely you won’t go wrong with any dish at Rockpool, such is the excellence and expertise of the chefs who embody Perry’s OG ethos of taking beautiful produce and skilfully turning it into a masterpiece.
Just like the Harbour Bridge and Sydney’s most famous House, there are some places that are so integral to the very fabric of this sparkling city that they’ve reached icon status. And after close to 15 years, Rockpool Bar and Grill is still at the top of its game. There’s only one word for it. Legendary.