In retrospect, the 12 months since the last GT awards might not seem like the most felicitous period in which to open an ambitious new restaurant. And yet here we are with an embarrassment of restaurant riches. It’s hard to remember a year in which the new restaurant gong was anywhere near this hotly contested. Bright new lights have emerged around the country, while at the same time some of the biggest names in the game have returned, expanded or exploded with projects galore.
We’ve had Pata Negra in Perth and the amazing Buffalo Club in Brisbane. Cumulus Inc remains one of Melbourne’s most talked about new openings, while Hellenic Republic, Coda and Embrasse (not to mention instant country favourite Provenance) burst onto the scene. In Sydney, key players from Rockpool, Bécasse and Tetsuya’s brought us Spice Temple, Etch and the wonderful Sepia. And that’s even before we get to talking about our two other finalists, Greg Malouf’s reborn MoMo and Andrew McConnell’s superbly idiosyncratic Cutler & Co. In any normal year, any of these restaurants would be in the running; those last two would be bookies’ favourites for the gold.
But this hasn’t been any normal year. This has been the year in which Neil Perry, one of our few truly internationally recognised chefs, got together with his wine-obsessed friend and backer David Doyle and opened Rockpool Bar & Grill. Many millions of dollars later, the doors opened on what is undoubtedly the most spectacular restaurant the nation has seen. Within its Art Deco finery it contains a cellar that would be impressive anywhere in the world and a kitchen that reflects, in both its technical proficiency and its focus on simplicity, the experience Perry has gained after a lifetime on the leading edge of his craft.
The vast and wonderful ’30s building, the class of the fit-out, the serried ranks of top-flight personnel both front and back of house, the large yet tasteful menu, the wine list crammed with both vinous rarities from around the world and a thorough survey of the best in Australian winemaking, the surgically fresh seafood, the mind-boggling array of different steaks on show, a dazzling bar that goes as far as to make its own tonic water – any of these elements on their own would be enough to lift your average restaurant beyond the everyday. And Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sydney has them all and more. And if – somehow – that doesn’t quite do it for you, they’re running a whole other restaurant in the basement that’s a head-turner in its own right. Boo-ya.
Rockpool Bar & Grill, 66 Hunter St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 8078 1900
WORDS PAT NOURSE PHOTOGRAPHY CHRIS CHEN
This article is from the September 2009 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.