Satisfying cravings at Rockpool, Sydney

by Forager on August 10, 2014

Reviews of restaurant experiences are normally time sensitive, but given my motherhood sabbatical, the next few posts will be selected archival posts that I had the good intentions to post, but haven’t been able to until now. The experience described in this post is special for a number of reasons – for the specific period in my life and for the psychological leap I made with this meal. Yes, that’s not a hyperbole, a psychological leap.

With the impending arrival of the Master at the end of last year, the Co-pilot and I booked ourselves in for one last splurge. Well, to be exact, it was about 2 weeks out from my due date and forecasting a drought in fine dining experiences in our imminent future I had a mild panic attack. Clutching onto the last shreds of pre-child life, I needed to have a final civilised and indulgent dinner with the Co-pilot before our family unit of two expanded to three and casual, child friendly restaurants became the norm and in case the Master made an early appearance, I needed the situation rectified pronto.

Of all the fine dining options available, Rockpool proved the most appealing to me. I’ve had the pleasure of trying Head Chef Phil Wood’s creations on a few occasions now, though oddly, none of them as a diner at Rockpool, and as the restaurant had just moved from its location in the Rocks after 23 years to its new home in Bridge Street in the CBD, we had reasons enough to visit. The new fitout is sleek, confident, dark and intimate and features a large, arresting artwork with what looks like a fleeting, ethereal wisp of smoke adorning one wall.

Rockpool Sydney Bridge Street

The intimate and atmospheric dining room at Rockpool Sydney

Chefs, Rockpool, Neil Perry, Phil Wood

Chefs busy in the open kitchen. Executive Chef Neil Perry (left) working alongside Head Chef Phil Wood (right).

The mostly dinner menu (mostly Chinese and Japanese-inspired on the night we dined) is designed so that the diner is first served eight tasting dishes (quaintly called “beginning the journey” on the menu), followed by the option of 1 – 3 of their own choices from the mains or desserts. So you’re probably wondering where this hyped psychological leap fits in. Well, amongst the sumptuous and largely pregnancy friendly standard menu, there was one dish in the tasting menu that I zeroed in on:

Chirashi zushi of squid, tuna and trevally

Now of course Rockpool can cater for most dietary restrictions so my first instinct was to automatically ask for an alternative to the dish given I wasn’t supposed to eat raw fish (or the sushi rice) whilst pregnant for fear of listeria infection. But if you read my last post about pregnancy taboo foods, you’ll also know that the risk of listeria infection with sushi is low if fresh and properly prepared. Yet even rationally knowing this, I found it phenomenally hard to break the conditioning that our Western medicine advice had drummed into me. Instead I looked to the Co-pilot for approval as though he were the all-knowing oracle on what’s fine for pregnant women to ingest. And partly, I wanted an accomplice to allay the guilt that was threatening my resolve. He shrugged.

So I had the sushi. That’s right, I was pregnant and I knowingly, happily had the sushi. And it was amaaazing. I know there’s more than a hint of bias in that endorsement. It was the culmination of 8 long months of patient waiting and I took my time savouring every longed for mouthful. I know many other mothers who have happily chowed down on sashimi (albeit most were second time mothers with more relaxed food reservations), so it may not sound like such a big deal to some, but it was a psychological leap for me to cast aside the conditioning and I reasoned that if I can’t trust the sushi at Rockpool, one of the best and most awarded restaurants in Sydney, then surely there’s no sushi in the world that’s ever going to be good enough.

But the sushi was just one dish on the Rockpool Journey. The other 7 dishes were equally tasty. The standouts for me was the first starter of the tempura battered crispy prawn head – a savoury umami texture sensation; and the impossibly silky lobster chawanmushi, the dashi broth infusion giving it aeons of flavour and it was one of the prettiest dishes I’ve had in a while.

Beginning the Journey, Neil Perry, Phil Wood, Rockpool Sydney

Beginning The Journey at Rockpool (top-bottom, L-R): prawn tempura, daikon and soy; chicken wing, egg batter, konbu butter; lobster, tenax, soy with dashi chawan mushi; chirashi zushi of squid, tuna and trevally; potato, cracked wheat, goji, prawn powder and XO; scallop, braised nameko and pearl barley; thousand layer pork tart and liver, pickled cabbage and scampi biscuit; honey and spelt bread served with Rockpool butter and fresh ricotta

For our mains we chose the lamb saddle, a hearty dish of tender rare lamb where the bo ssam spice and miso pastes intermingled to create a flavour not dissimilar to Chinese fermented red bean curd (nam yu). It was a taste straight from my childhood and reminded me of many traditional Chinese New Year breakfasts. The beef rib cap ingredients read like something straight from a Chinese restaurant menu: winter melon, oyster sauce, tendon.. but happily looked and tasted nothing like anything I’ve seen served at a Chinese restaurant. It was unctuously tender.

Rockpool lamb saddle

Lamb saddle from South Australia, bo ssam shoulder, miso braised beans and ginger vinaigrette

Rockpool beef rib cap

Beef rib cap and sirloin with winter melon, gem lettuce, oyster sauce and tendon

Similarly the Rockpool congee was vastly different to any congee I’ve ever had. It was difficult to put aside my preconceptions of what congee should be to appreciate this dish properly. Congee is a traditional rice porridge typically eaten for breakfast in many parts of Asia. The bulk of the dish is rice boiled to a porridge consistency and can be eaten plain; with a swirl of soy sauce; or topped with a variety of meat, vegetables, peanuts, shallots, fried bread and mixed with a myriad of condiments. The rice portion seemed to conspicuously missing in this Rockpool version and was easier to digest if it was perceived as the topping you’d mix into congee – that way, it suddenly becomes a very, very generous congee. On the flavour front though – this was fantastic – succulent morsels of Balmain bug coated in a very rich sauce with alternating bites of silken almond tofu and crunchy spring onions and fried bread.

Rockpool Balmain bug congee

Rich and noble Balmain bug congee, almond tofu, star anise peanuts and Chinese fried bread

Our dinner finished with a refreshing pineapple sorbet and sweet syrupy beet palate cleanser; a decadently rich, nutty and chocolatey dessert and a very comforting date tart petit four.

Rockpool desserts, beetroot pineapple pre dessert, Valrhona chocolate grand cru, petit four date tart

Rockpool desserts (clockwise from top left): beetroot pineapple pre dessert; chocolate grand cru of Valrhona, peanut butter and jelly; petit four date tart (original since 1984)

A fittingly civilised, indulgent and now retrospectively relived and re-savoured meal. Well worth the splurge. It was a luxurious meal that’s a far cry from the many rushed, nay, hoovered meals we’ve now had in casual child friendly establishments; usually with one of us feeding or entertaining the Master whilst the other tries to inhale their lava hot meal in record time. Thankfully, at the ripe old age of 7.5 months, the Master is now a little better in restaurants and can let us enjoy a meal with friends and family. Dinners out are slowly re-entering our lives too; though it might be a while before we see the return of frequent long, boozy degustations.

Despite our best efforts we still find ourselves stifling yawns at 9pm. I’ve never been an early riser but I’ve resigned to the fact that it will be the norm now and have regrettably kissed my beloved sleep ins good bye for the next decade.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Riley Mackey August 16, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Lamb saddle from South Australia, bo ssam shoulder, miso braised beans and ginger vinaigrette seems tasty.. I want to travel and eat in that restaurant.

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