It's been months in the making, but only days in the turnaround: the new Rockpool has arrived, and it's grand. "The new Rockpool is all about elegance and sophistication," says owner-chef Neil Perry. "It's about being able to eat beautiful food, having some kind of control over the experience, but also letting us take you on a journey as well." In moving the flagship of one of the country's blue-chip culinary brands from the George Street site where it opened in 1989 to the Burns Philp building in the heart of the city, Perry has done a lot more than scorch his Amex buying fancy chairs and even fancier kitchen kit. The move, he says, has been a chance to rethink what the pointy end of the restaurant business is all about in Sydney today.
Practically speaking, that means delivering all the fun of tasting menus without the need to be stuck at the table for hours on end. "We're doing tasting menus that aren't quite tasting menus," says Perry. After the kitchen sends out a flurry of eight or so canapés and small plates - mud crab with stir-fried milk and bacon, for instance, and white-cut chicken with bamboo fried in pork fat - you've got a choice of one, two or three courses more at dinner ($125, $145 or $165) and a set-menu option of two or three courses for lunch ($69 or $79). The menus that Perry and head chef Phil Wood have written play to Rockpool's strengths, with seafood and Asian influences as central as ever. At lunch, several Rockpool classics are listed, the stir-fry of squid-ink noodles with squid and bacon, and the snapper with garam masala and coconut milk among them. After dark, meanwhile, the gloves are off: lamb saddle with a Korean-style bo ssäm lamb shoulder, miso-braised beans and ginger vinaigrette shares billing with the full-throttle likes of Balmain bug congee with almond tofu, star-anise peanuts and Chinese fried bread.
"We're giving people the opportunity to see the strength of the kitchen, see what we can actually do, but also be in the driver's seat," Perry says. The other big change is that the restaurant now opens for lunch every weekday, which may see it capture a slice of the business trade that has proven such a mainstay at Rockpool Bar & Grill.
The dining room, designed by Grant Cheyne, also sees a shift in the look, with dark timber hues, towering columns, black pressed-metal ceilings and an illuminated print by photographer Earl Carter, a long-time Perry collaborator.
"When I spoke to Grant I just said 'elegant, sophisticated and sexy'," says Perry. "This is what he gave me. I feel like it's the same place but we've just kind of morphed into a new experience. I felt like [George Street] was so appropriate for when we opened in '89 and this is so appropriate for the 21st century."
Rockpool, 11 Bridge St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9252 1888