Rockpool Bar & Grill
Rockpool. What started as Neil Perry’s iconic Sydney venture some 25 years ago bore a ‘bar and grill’ spin-off in Melbourne in 2006. It proved so popular that Rockpool Bar & Grill has opened up in Sydney and Perth since.
The menu had the date printed on it, suggesting the it changes daily. It was expansive, with hot starters, cold starters, a large number of mains, beef from the grill, sides, salads, and side salads (no, I’m not exaggerating). I’m always wary of excessively long menus – to me it usually indicates that they favour quantity over quality – so I was surprised to see one at Rockpool. Either way, it took us forever to select what we wanted.
Our first dish of the night was cured ocean trout with red onion pickle, coriander and toasted brioche ($24). The fish had a good texture and flavour, with the simple accompaniments doing well to complement it. The brioche felt a bit out of place though: it was nice enough on its own, but I didn’t think the sweet, buttery bread was really the right match for a fatty fish like trout.
Tender, perfectly grilled calamari ($28), came with chorizo, capsicum and hummus. What would have been such a great combination of flavours was let down by (what seemed to me, anyway) an excess amount of lemon. It was quite sharp and overpowering.
Mains and sides
Free range Aylesbury duck was served with cherries and apple balsamic ($49). The tart little cherries were a lovely, simple match for the rich meat. My only complaint about this dish was that it was a tad on the oily side, although I suppose that is the risk you take when ordering waterfowl.
In the past when I’ve had barbecued or grilled short ribs they have been less than satisfactory.The abundance of tough fatty bits led me to believe that they were a cut best suited to slow cooking. When I saw short ribs on Rockpool’s grill menu ($49), naturally I was curious to see if they could pull it off. And they did: they were beautifully smokey and had a nice mushroom undertone. They of course weren’t fall-off-the-bone soft, as they had been grilled, but they had the tenderness of a properly cooked steak. Herby chimmichurri was just the thing to balance out the heavy meat. Slightly acidic pickled chillies also helped cut through the fat and add a bit of interest.
The onion rings we ordered as a side ($9) were enormous. What sort of monstrous, mutant onions did they use for these? The onion-to-batter ratio was a bit off and they had a slightly greasy mouthfeel. Not particularly exciting.
Grilled creamed corn with chipotle butter and manchego ($12) and cauliflower with Cafe de Paris butter and almonds were our other much more impressive sides. I must try this corn thing at home!
We ended with warm, crisp doughnuts enclosing centres of creamy custard ($23). Soft apple and sticky caramel were excellent partners to the doughnuts in what was a winning dessert. I liked the perfect sphere of ice cream; here’s hoping that quenelles go out of fashion soon.
After looking forward to the dining at this institution for so long, I must admit I was left a little underwhelmed. Perhaps in days gone by the experience was unique and standout. However, that no longer appears to be the case, especially in the context of Melbourne’s fast-moving, highly competitive food industry. It wasn’t bad, but for the cost per head of $100 or so, I would say that there are myriad other places in Melbourne at which you would be better off parting with your hard-earned.Rockpool Bar and Grill Crown Complex 8 Whiteman Street Southbank