GRAZING WITH THE FISHES AT 'ROCKPOOL' IN SYDNEY
Maybe it was because we had seen the Pixar-Disney cartoon, ‘Finding Nemo’ just before visiting Sydney. Somehow the phrase, “sleeping with the fishes’ sprang to mind when I reserved a table at ‘Rockpool’, a popular dining room in that city. We were lucky to get into the last sitting on a Saturday evening.
Neil Perry and Trish Richards formed a business partnership in 1989 and after considerable refurbishment, opened the restaurant 'Rockpool' at 107 George Street in the historic ‘Rocks’ suburb of Sydney, Australia. The original three-storey building imitated the Renaissance Revival style with stone walls, a rendered facade and timber floors. Part of the building later became The Shipwrights Arms - remaining a hotel with a name change in 1900, when it became the Chicago Hotel. Later this location became the 'Rock Push Restaurant'. The current décor is modern but retains much of the old colonial atmosphere.
The restaurant motto is 'The Cornerstone of good cooking is to source the finest produce'.
They claim to have compiled a comprehensive “ocean to plate” seafood programme for top quality. Their fishermen, fishing for the Japanese export market use a ‘stress minimising catch methodology’ followed by Japanese fishermen for hundreds of years. The fish are line-caught, immediately brain-spiked (ikijimi) and ice-slurried. As a result, the fish is less damaged by stress, preserving the best flavour and texture.
Believing that filleting fish under running water leaches flavour from the fish and damages texture, all their fish arrive whole, under ice, and are dry filleted each day. The fillets are kept in a static cool room until needed.
Shellfish are kept alive until ordered, to maintain purity. Four separate tanks with separate filtration systems have been installed, only running enough livestock in each tank so that the system is not overloaded, to reduce stress on incompatible species, either for reasons of temperature or by preventing predation by other fish.
Unassuming entrance to 'Rockpool'.
"The winemakers who bottle under the Rockpool label have the same philosophy as the restaurant itself. These wines express true regional characteristics and are amongst the finest in the country." - Neil Perry.
Our Mystery Sommelier.
Was this Tom Sykes? We will never know unless a Sydney-sider writes in to tell us.
Pre-dinner drink. Croser 2000 Sparkling Wine.
I believe this was by Brian Croser of Petaluma fame; he turns out a nice sparkling white too.
I always make the mistake of ordering drinks too early. As it turns out, we had the degustation menu with matching wines, which meant that the champagne-style Croser was, perhaps, one glass too many? It went nicely with the pasta though.
Canapé of Goat Cheese Tortellini, Tea-soaked Raisins & Pine Nuts.
There was no hint of 'goatiness'. The sweet raisins balanced out the creamy sauce and al dente pasta.
DEGUSTATION WINE & FOOD MENU
Lenswood Sauvignon Blanc 2002 South Australia.
Fruitier than a ‘tart on 42nd Street’ with the aroma of raisins, dry to the palate and of lingering finish, this Adelaide Hills wine matched well with the raw fish.
Tastes, Fresh from the Sea.
This was a sashimi platter of tuna, sea bream, mackerel, squid, salmon and sea bass.
Rockpool Riesling (J.Grosset) 2002 South Australia.
Riesling was the original white wine grape in the Antipodes with some vines more than 100 years old. It was more recently that grapes like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc became popular in Australia. This example was the hand-made product of a Riesling Master - Jeffrey Grosset. The young wine was evocative of floral green apples and lime, which matched the acid of the Thai-style salad.
Salad of Mud Crab, Lobster and Master Stock Chicken with Cashew Nut Nam Jim and 'Sorn Dtom'.
Fennel, chilli and coriander dominated and complemented the shellfish-chicken combination; the soft meat was counter pointed with the crunchy texture of cashew nuts.
Delatite Gewürztraminer 2002 Victoria.
'Gewürz' means spice and the high altitude vines from this estate certainly produced spicy wine with low acidity, a wine that was not overpowered by the hot sauce in the next dish.
Pacific Oyster and Mud Crab Omelette with Spicy Crab and Prawn Sauce.
This was a scrumptious little package of my favourite things – oyster, crab and egg. I even like all three ingredients raw but brought together took them to another plane…hmm…maybe that is why we have chefs de cuisine.
Alkoomi Chardonnay 2000 Western Australia.
This was from a cool climate region of Frankland, producing typical tropical fruit flavours, which went well with scallops.
Tasmanian Bay Scallops with Foie Gras Sauce, Salt and Pepper Tofu and Ginger Crème.
The sweet scallops were decadently topped with foie gras froth while the tofu made a healthy (sic) foil to the rich sauces.
Paringa Estate Pinot Noir ‘PE’ 2001 Victoria.
This Mornington Peninsula challenge to burgundy is a very credible wine with stylish berry and plum flavours. Alas, perhaps a little young and yet to peak when the plums turn to figs. Even so, it stood up well to the squid ink noodles.
Stir Fried Squid and Prawn with Squid Ink Noodles, Smokehouse Bacon, Chilli and Coriander.
This was the best dish of the evening, which is saying something considering the high quality of the food anyway. This was the considered opinion on our table and our neighbouring diners. The next table even drew a ‘heart’ and signed ‘kisses’ to the chefs with the remnant sauce!
Garry Crittenden Sangiovese ‘I Series’ 2001 Victoria.
This was the surprise wine of the evening - a red wine with a fish dish! This varietal from Dromana Estate was surprisingly restrained for an Australian. It has savoury, earthy, spicy aromas and touches of cherry. The palate was medium with good intensity of dry flavour and a lightly acidic finish.
Herb Crusted Blue Eye with Potato Cake, Char Grilled Fennel and Fennel Sauce.
Crisp coat outside and just cooked flakes of succulent fish inside with one of my favourite vegetables made sense of the choice of wine; plural accolades to the sommelier for this pairing.
Rockpool Shiraz (J.Wilson) 1999 New South Wales.
Blackberry and plum over camphor with solid fruit in the mouth and tannins; maybe needs a little more time but was tamed by the smoked duck.
Who is J. Wilson? Mudgee-based wine-maker, Jane Wilson was recognised at the 2003 Mudgee Wine Show, winning a trophy for Best Shiraz. Long before becoming a wine-maker she was a veterinarian. Along with her husband, David Lowe, she is now a principal of the Lowe Family Wine Co, which is a small to medium sized producer, drawing grapes from vineyards in the Hunter Valley, Mudgee & Orange. Although they produce wine under their own label, they also specialise in small batch winemaking for contract clients e.g. Rockpool.
Tea Smoked Duck with Roast Pear, Bacon and Tamarind Sauce.
The crispy skin and moist meat with all the fat rendered away was melt-in-the-mouth delicious. The sweet pear balanced the salty bacon and sour tamarind - (yes, you guessed it) - sweet and sour crispy duck.
Vasse Felix Noble Riesling 2002 Western Australia.
In a previous article (see ‘Grazing on Bugs in Brisbane’), I stated that Australia had no world-class dessert wines - I was wrong. This is the “Land of Sweet Sherry for the Sheilas”; but seriously, there are many adequate dessert wines Down Under and this is one of them.
Baked Californian Date and Custard Tart.
“Strawberries and Cream”.
This mélange of marscapone cream, strawberry sorbet and jelly was a different take on the summer fruit bowl.
The Cast to be congratulated:
RESTAURANT MANAGER & SOMMELIER
On 30th April 2003 Rockpool was placed 8th in World in the UK Restaurant Magazine's compilation of "WORLD'S 50 BEST RESTAURANTS". Our fine dining experience, even at the last sitting on a Saturday night, makes it evident why this establishment keeps winning awards.
Another catchphrase at Rockpool is, "We set out to do everything to the best of our ability today, then try even harder tomorrow". I cannot begin to imagine how much better it could ever be.
Photos and Text Copyright Melvyn Teillol-Foo, 2004.
Restaurant history excerpts from http://rockpool.com
/ copyright Rockpool, 2003.