REVIEW: Neil Perry's New Rockpool Is Bigger, Bolder -- And, Most Importantly, Better

The new Rockpool has a brooding, masculine elegance

In a bite

Moving an icon of Sydney fine dining to a new location after 24 years, then opening for fixed price lunch, is a masterstroke for Neil Perry. This is exciting, innovative, polished food with wine and service to match, in a grandly plush setting.

Celebrate your next deal here.

Prawn cake with fragrant herbs, peanuts and aromatic prawn broth

Setting the table

In a career spanning more than three decades, Neil Perry became one of Australia’s greatest restaurateurs, with three restaurants in Sydney, three in Melbourne and a Rockpool Bar & Grill in Perth. He’s also the brains behind Qantas’ pointy-end food.

When Rockpool first opened in The Rocks in 1989, it was at the forefront of the nation’s love affair with East-meets-West fusion, but as time wore on, the restaurant looked like old Duran Duran music videos.

The shift to the majestic 112-year-old sandstone Burns Philp building brings it into the 21st Century with a dramatically dark, broodingly masculine space of cast iron columns, black velvet curtains, a pressed metal ceiling and black leather tub chairs that’s impeccably lit. And despite the room’s conversational buzz, the acoustics are discrete.

Lunch is a chance to dabble in the brilliance of head chef Phil Wood for half the price of dinner. It’s a simple three-course a la carte menu – a choice of four dishes for each course and a $10-$12 charge for sides.

Perry says speed is of the essence: “We don’t want the Rockpool experience to be drawn-out and cumbersome, like fine dining can often be. We’re throwing tradition on its head a little and delivering a new and entertaining concept, which is still incredibly special but not too challenging and over-the-top.”

Dinner is an unusual adventure that begins with several “complimentary” tasting dishes such as chicken wing, egg batter and konbu butter; prawn heads, daikon and soy; and lobster mousseline tartlet; before you choose your own main course and dessert. There’s a strong Asian influence to many dishes.

Neil Perry and Rockpool’s head chef, Phil Wood

What to eat

Like a good FM station, the menu combines classic hits with new pop.

Stir-fried squid with bacon and squid ink noodles is in the former category and comes with splash sheet, aka large napkin, to stop the squid ink recolouring your Hugo Boss. It’s surprisingly earthy, the bacon’s smokiness riffing against the slightly Asian hints from coriander, chilli and fried croutons, while the prawn cake with an aromatic prawn broth, sensual, silken and aromatic, is the future and the new menu’s finest dish. The vacherin with pandan custard, coconut parfait, jasmine sorbet and lime granita is summer bliss – a sort of Splice-like combination wrapped in a meringue collar.

Date tart, which dates back to 1984, ends dinner, or can be sampled as a $4 petit four for lunch. Don’t go back to work without trying it.

Charcoal roast quail with red curry, sweet potato and Chinese cabbage

What to drink

How deep are your pockets?

You can start with a glass of Blind Corner’s sparkling chenin blanc from the Margaret River for $13, go French with NV Vilmart et Cie champange for $27, or cut to the chase with the ’04 Taittinger ‘Comtes De Champagne, Blanc de Blancs’ at $55 a glass.

The 1200-bin list includes 40 wines by the glass, excellent half bottle options and a range of sake. It’s well set out by varietals and region, from Australia to New Zealand, France, Italy and Spain, starting at $60 for an Australian Riesling from Best’s, peaking at $4125 for a 1969 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache. Yes, there are several back vintages of Grange and Hill of Grace sitting either side of the $1000-mark, but something classy like the 2010 Bindi Growers ‘Composition’ from Victoria’s Macedon Ranges is decent value at $105.

Sommelier Emma Plumridge is wise counsel, so let her guide you.


The new, reinvigorated Rockpool is proof that there are always new tricks in a well-bred old dog. Neil Perry’s career has always been about pushing, challenging and reinventing the boundaries of contemporary dining. And he’s done it again.

Lunch is a bargain, the flexible dinner, remarkably good value in an era of new austerity.

Rockpool should be on every Australian food lover’s essential dining list.

Stir-fried squid with smoked bacon and squid ink noodles

Need to know

11 Bridge St, Sydney (02) 9252 1888
Lunch Mon-Fri; dinner Mon-Sat
Seats: 100; private dining room: 12
Lunch: $52/$69/$79 1/2/3 courses
Dinner: $125/$145/$165 1/2/3 courses

[Restaurants are rated out of 5 knives and forks. Rockpool scores 4.5]

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