New restaurant of the year 2008: Rockpool Bar & Grill, Melbourne

There's always been another side to Neil Perry; a side that wasn't Chinese roast pigeon with prawn-stuffed eggplant. And that side was steak with horseradish cream, pappardelle with duck ragù, confit of suckling pig with mustard fruits and a nice little apple and rhubarb crumble. In short, Rockpool Bar & Grill, his remarkably accomplished and still relatively new Melbourne business, represents the rest of Neil Perry, the sum of the chef's cooking and eating experiences throughout a career marked by highs, the occasional low, but always consistent determination.

To borrow from the title of a Perry book, this Melbourne restaurant is the food he loves. It shows.

And Melbourne has chosen to share that love. With a crack team in the kitchen, this ambitious, egalitarian spoil has won over the sceptics with produce to back the rhetoric and an unpretentious - dare we say Australian - style of cooking that is easy to understand yet surprising at the same time, low on its intellectual demands yet very, very high in the satisfaction stakes.

Put it into a plush, accessible and dramatic riverside space - part of Crown - with an army of floor staff, a powerful wine collection, a loyal core team of Rockophiles and all those tricks of the trade and attention to detail Perry has learned in nearly 20 years as a restaurateur, and you have one hell of a restaurant experience. How good is it? Sydney wants one too.

Riverside at Crown, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank, Vic, (03) 8648 1900,

www.rockpoolmelbourne.com.

WORDS JOHN LETHLEAN PHOTOGRAPH DEREK SWALWELL

  • Destination:
  • VIC

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