Eleven Bridge, Neil Perry's fine-diner in the Sydney CBD, will carve its last partridge on May 13. The restaurant wasn't part of the merger Perry made with the Urban Purveyor Group last year, which involved his Rockpool Bar & Grill, Rosetta and Spice Temple eateries, but when Eleven Bridge reopens in June as a high-end Chinese restaurant, it will be as part of the newly formed Rockpool Dining Group. Chef Phil Wood, meanwhile, plans to leave the company.
It's the latest chapter in what has been one of the more tumultuous stories in Australian restaurants. Despite positive reviews, Eleven Bridge has lasted less than 12 months, and was itself a retooling of the original Rockpool flagship after Perry relocated the restaurant to Bridge Street in 2013 from its original site at The Rocks where - stay with us - it had also briefly been rebranded as Rockpool (Fish) in 2007 after it had been eclipsed by the runaway success of its sister restaurant, Rockpool Bar & Grill.
Wood says he's "excited, nervous and a bit sad all at once" about the decision, but says that he leaves the Eleven Bridge counting Perry as a friend, and is and proud of their achievements. "I couldn't be happier with what I've done over the last eight years, but now it's time to look at the eight years to come." He says work overseas is a possibility, but for the moment he's keeping his options open.
Phil Wood (left) and Neil Perry at Eleven Bridge.
By Perry's admission, Eleven Bridge was a passion project and struggled to make money. When he and his new partners were scouting sites for a new Cantonese restaurant, the Bridge Street premises, he says, seemed a natural choice.
The as-yet unnamed project will open following a $500,000 refurbishment, with Eleven Bridge sous chef Peter Robertson heading the kitchen. Perry, whose Spice Temple brand specialises in the schools of Chinese cooking beyond Cantonese, says he's keen to immerse himself afresh in one of his favourite cuisines. He also brushes off questions about the wisdom of opening a high-end Cantonese restaurant on the same block as Mr Wong, Sydney's most successful high-end Cantonese restaurant.
"You wouldn't think twice about it in Chinatown," he says. "I think Sydney probably has room for four or five more great high-end Chinese restaurants anyway."
He's also surprisingly stoic about leaving haute cuisine, even as he acknowledges a "massive end to an era, after 28 years". Plans are afoot for Phil Wood's send-off. In the meantime, the restaurant will serve a greatest hits menu in the lead-up to its closure. And what of the signature chicken wings with kombu butter? "I'm sure they'll follow Phil wherever he chooses to go," says Perry. "We'll have wings here, though they're probably going to be spicier."
Eleven Bridge, 11 Bridge St, Sydney, NSW (02) 9252 1888, rockpool.com