Friday, June 5, 2009

Rocking the humble steak

Though priorities are not always in perfect order, you've got to love a generation that can enjoy themselves. I mean, what is life all about if not enjoyment? And whether it is a generational trend or not, you've got to love a great night out with fantastic company, delectable food, suave wines and stunning surroundings.

Neil Perry's latest Sydney venture will tick four of the five above criteria and I'll be there again once I rebuild my bank balance. Rockpool Bar and Grill raises lofty expectations from its mere mention, not to add its opulent setting, extensive and quite surprising menu, and all associated price tags. Millions on fitout; tens of thousands for single bottles of wine; and hundreds for cooked meat - money is clearly not meant for stuffing mattresses.

Table setting at Rockpool Bar and Grill, Hunter Street, Sydney

There's no doubt of a Gotham City feel to the building's exterior, especially on a night filled with dark clouds, and walking into the restaurant feels like entering a hotel foyer in another time. The art deco theme runs throughout the restaurant, from the bar to the enviable mezzanine balcony seating to the individual table settings, and while no there's no Bruce Wayne in sight there's no shortage of suits and lavish spending.

I can't stop staring at the arresting display of shimmering Riedel glasses, at the bar and in the private dining area. But interiors and exteriors aside, we're here for food and steak in particular. The menu, printed freshly on A3 paper, tempts with hot and cold starters and salads, non-beef mains, the bovine megastars and a stylised female silhouette on the underside.

Back of the Rockpool Bar and Grill menu

It takes me far too long to decide on just one from the enticing list of entrees - plus that display of glasses is just so distracting - but even longer for the table to decide on a wine from two page-filled portfolios - one for white and one for red. This is serious work and a consultation from the sommelier eventually leads to matchmaking with a shiraz from across the ditch.

Decisions are made on mains, sides and entrees - in that order. Not surprisingly, everyone's going for steak and the decision is to share a range of sides and starters. By the time orders are in, we're borderline famished and grateful for the prompt arrival of bread.

Bread with butter

I'm even more grateful once I've tasted the bread. Unsure if I was simply starving, the bread was astonishingly good. A white, sourdough baguette-style is served in a thick slice with the creamiest imaginable butter, which left us fighting over the last scrapes. The bread had a touch of crunch, plenty of chew and spades of flavour - easily one of my favourite breads I've had in a restaurant.

It's only been a few sips of the Hawkes Bay shiraz, loads of chatter, poor directions to the bathroom and more glass display-ogling before the entrees arrive for our shared devouring.

Warm salad of wood fire grilled quail with smoked tomato and black olive

The salad is generously filled with smokey grilled quail meat poking out amid exceedingly sweet tomato pieces and halved black olives. The salad is simple, sophisticated and perfectly balanced in strong featured flavours.

Four raw tastes of the sea

Essentially a dressed-up sashimi platter, this cold dish presented cuts of Hiramasa kingfish with ginger and coriander; tuna with another herb and lots of ginger; scampi overpowered with a very herbaceous mix; and table favourite of cured ocean trout with a deep red spice paste.

The globe artichokes sauteed with minced prawn on soft white polenta with Fontina cheese was the least impressive of our entree choices. A light offering with sharp cheese kick and difficult to find prawns though it is, admittedly, a dark dining space.

Slow cooked hens egg and bone marrow with red wine butter sauce

The perhaps unexciting sounding hens egg entree turned out to be an unexpected hit, immediately being eyed off by all and sundry as soon as it hit the table. A wobbly, soft-yolked egg was perched elegantly on a slice of buttery brioche, sitting in a puddle of red wine butter sauce and surrounded by silky soft bone marrow and caramelly onions.

The world momentarily stopped with my first mouthful; the egg pierced over the bread with a smear of thickly rich, sweet sauce and floaty bone marrow. This is a dish that tells and inspires stories - it's indescribabl full of flavour, texture and emotion, oddly enough. This is my happy dish.

From happy dish to beefy dishes, the steaks and sides are herded out to the table. Our selections range from the Greenham's dry aged yearling grass fed 400g+ sirloin on the bone; to my Cape Grim dry aged 36 month old grass fed 350g rib-eye on the bone; to David Blackmore’s dry aged full blood wagyu rib-eye.

Cape Grim dry aged 36 month old grass fed 350g rib-eye on the bone

My medium-rare rib-eye on the bone arrives alone, gloriously charred and adorned with nothing but a wedge of lemon. There seem to be odd signs of foul play: my steak has been sliced thrice perpendicular to the bone and there's some dried seepage of the meat's juices, but I'm sure there's a valid explanation. Unperturbed, I pick up my fancy-schmancy steak knife and tenuously cut a small piece away, skipping my chosen hot English mustard condiment for the first mouthful.

My heart melts a little. Each chew through the charred surface releases juicy flavour that enthusiastically nudges the brain saying: "Am I not the best steak you've ever had? Am I not? Yes? Yes?" I distract these thoughts, trying the meat with mustard then the lemon, the latter of which compliments the salted seasoning of the meat well.

David Blackmore’s dry aged full blood wagyu rib-eye

I'm also distracted by a sample of the wagyu rib-eye, which is another steak realm altogether, literally melting in the mouth with fatty goodness. Yet further distraction comes from the array of sides we've ordered to share, each sounding quite standard on the menu but a few steps closer to the stratosphere in real life.

The creamed silverbeet is a vibrant green puree, heavy with both cream and salt. "Mac and cheese" is a playful, yet again heavy and salty, baked dish of a ribbed rigatoni in creamy, strong cheese sauce. A generous bowl of kipfler potatoes sauteed in wagyu fat and rosemary seems lacking in flavour of the revered fat but beautifully propped up by the swoony rosemary.

Onion rings (left) and kipler potatoes sauteed in
wagyu fat and rosemary (right)

Lastly, the onion rings. Oh, the onion rings. I want to take a bowl with me to the movies and annoy the crap out of nearby people with my crunching. The thin, golden batter is unbelievably crunchy, taking the simple thick-cut onion ring to a level of sublimeness. The bowl gets passed up and down and up the table again throughout the meal, proving the real value the of gold rings.

Surprisingly, between the table we don't manage to finish all our sides, perhaps the sheer richness and satisfaction from the steaks doing more than enough. That or everyone's secret desire to have a fling with the dessert menu - it is about enjoying oneself in this lifetime afterall.

After an appropriate digestive pause, an array of wildly different sweet temptations arrive to our now emptied private area. Hello to louder, still tasteful conversation and flash photography. Without persuasion, my companions have picked the other desserts in my top three.

Chocolate jaffa mousse cake, Rockpool circa 1992

The ganached turret reveals light, orange-infused chocolate mousse layered on equally light cake - somehow combining to be quite a rich dish. One mouthful takes me back to childhood days of chomping on impossibly hard jaffas.

Apple galette with brown butter ice cream and candied hazelnuts

I'm hit with a pang of dessert envy when I see the apple galette. Although my passionfruit pavlova is perfectly gigantic and comfortingly standard with fresh cream and passionfruit pulp, it doesn't compare to the sophistication and delicate presentation of the galette. It's a subtle dish that's perfect for full-but-still-want-sweets situation as was current.

After dessert - which we manage to polish off completely - we tarry awhile, taking in the opulance and general feeling of contentment. I may not be able to afford that new pair of killer platform heels now, but at least I'm momentarily happy. If this is being a typical, irresponsible Gen-Y brat, then label me that.

Rockpool Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon


chocolatesuze said...

mmm steak hey did you get my email?

Henry Moore said...

That's my wife on the menu!

You're right about the hens egg entree, it was the best. Happy dish indeed. Ah, good times.

Tina said...

Hi 'Henry' - Good times indeed, especially when we have outdoor heaters in this world - thanks.


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