A nice (fancy) lunch on Xmas Eve has become a yearly tradition for my wife and I to kick off Xmas festivities. In previous years we have been to The Bridge Room and Azuma for Japanese style high tea, this year we decided to check out the lunch menu at Rockpool.
Readers may be aware that Rockpool is one of my favourite restaurants in Sydney. I have been earlier in the year for dinner (without my wife) and my wife and I have had their fantastic bar menu a few times, where you are seated with a direct line of sight into the kitchen. I promised that I would take my wife to Rockpool for the full experience and our annual Xmas Eve lunch would be a good enough excuse.
|The Rockpool dining room|
Unlike at dinner, which offers a degustation-only menu, lunch is a full a la carte menu with entrees, mains, sides and desserts. The lunch menu, which contains some of the same courses served at dinner, is a completely different experience and offers goodies such as lobster with Giovanni Fabbri spaghetti, Abalone "meuniere" and David Blackmore beef sirloin that are not available during the dinner session.
The dining room is just as beautiful by day but takes on a totally different character. At night, Rockpool is probably the darkest restaurant in Sydney, whereas during the day, there's plenty of natural light to illuminate the charcoal black dining room.
|Anti-saloons league: Summer Ice Tea ($9), Light 'n Sunny ($9)|
We decide to start off the meal with some mocktails. My wife opted for the Summer Ice tea and I ordered the Light 'n Sunny. The Summer Ice tea was a petal tea with lemon and grenadine. The Light 'n Sunny was a ginger beer with lemon juice and mint. Both were very refreshing, making them perfect summer time drinks.
|Honey & spelt sourdough, rice malt butter, fresh ricotta|
The honey & spelt bread is one of my favourite breads in Sydney. It has a wonderful crust and a nice, robust flavour. The honey added sweetness to the bread without being overly sweet. The bread was served with a rice malt butter, which was light, creamy and moreish and house made ricotta with extra virgin olive oil and tomato water.
|Crab and corn custard with fried garlic, chilli, braised peanuts, rose and crab dressing ($32)|
My entree was the crab and corn custard served in the style of typhoon shelter crab, a popular dish in Hong Kong. The custard had a silky smooth texture, like a steamed egg custard. Piled on top of the custard is a mixture of dehydrated potato, garlic and chilli, so crispy and delightful when eaten with the soft custard. Underneath the custard were strands of hand picked crab, which were sweet and delicate in flavour. There were also some braised peanuts and pomelo hidden amongst the crab.
The flavouring in this dish was similar to another one of my favourites, the signature rich and noble congee dish. i.e. lots of Chinese flavours. It's peppery. It's spicy. It's aromatic. And it's damn amazing!
|Chirashi zushi, vegetarian version ($32)|
My wife opted for the chirashi zushi (vegetarian version), an off-menu item. It's basically a scattered sushi on a plate. The chirashi zushi consisted of white rice with black and white sesame seeds mixed through, compressed cucumbers, avocado, fried eggplant, kimchi, yuzu gel and Korean chilli bean paste. Not only was this a visually stunning dish, it was a beautiful harmony of flavours. My wife described this dish as "amazeballs".
|Food theatrics: abalone meuniere being plated at the table|
|Finishing touches to the abalone meuniere|
My main course was abalone "meuniere". I like a bit of a show and Rockpool obliged by constructing this dish at the table. My eyes instantly lit up when the waiter lifted the abalone's shell, revealing a whole, substantially-sized black lip abalone. The abalone was cooked meuniere style, a French cooking method, with brown butter and parsley. The abalone was then topped with drunken condiments (Shaoxing wine, ginger, shallots, wakame seaweed). Sourdough croutons were sprinkled onto the plate and a mixed herb salad (chervil, dill, chives) was piled on top to finish off the dish.
|Abalone "meuniere" with fried bread and herb salad ($55)|
This was the finished product and I was pleased to find out that this dish was a winner, in a big way! Abalone is one of my favourite seafood (which should come as no surprise to anyone being Chinese), but abalone is often done so poorly (I dread getting rubbery abalone that takes an age to chew)! This abalone was the complete opposite; it was perfectly cooked, wonderfully tender, with a pleasant, slightly resistant texture. The abalone absorbed all the flavours of the nutty brown butter and together with the umami of the drunken condiments, the abalone was ridiculously delicious! The sourdough croutons added crunch and the herb salad freshened up the palate, to make this a wonderfully balanced course.
I loved this dish so much that I would rate it as one of the best dishes that I have eaten all year!
|Aphrodite halloumi, roasted shallot, Emme cheese, iceberg lettuce, chilli, bronze fennel ($35)|
My wife's main course was grilled Aphrodite halloumi, roasted shallot, Emme cheese sauce, asparagus, iceberg lettuce, chilli and bronze fennel. She thought this was the best halloumi she has had in a restaurant for some time. It was grilled til golden brown and crispy on the outside and soft in the centre, not the rubbery kind you might find elsewhere. The Emme cheese (a hard Goat's milk cheese similar to emmental) added another flavour dimension to the dish -nutty, sweet and tangy.
|Potato dauphines with kombu butter ($7)|
If you are going to order a side, make it the potato dauphines (available only during lunch)! These dauphines are seriously to die for - nuggets of creamy potatoes with golden crisp shells (kind of like deep fried potato mash!). The dauphines were bathed in a umami-licious kombu butter!
|Strawberries and cream ricotta parfait, chantilly cream, coriander sorbet ($25)|
Strawberries and cream ricotta parfait was classic in flavour but on-the-money in execution. A smooth cream ricotta parfait was paired with strawberry compote, strawberry jelly, a quenelle of light, airy chantilly cream and a dash of moscato, which was poured at the table. The coriander sorbet was interesting and worked well with the strawberries and cream (please excuse the ripples on the sorbet as it toppled over as the moscato was being poured over the dessert so I had to rescue it for the obligatory photo shot).
|Valrhona chocolate and macadamia, coffee prune, banana and licorice ice cream ($25)|
I wish I could tell you more about this dessert, but the problem was, my wife ate all of the main component, the Valrhona chocolate (so much for sharing!). The components that I did taste: the banana and licorice ice cream, the coffee prune, macadamia and peanuts were all delicious and worked well together. My wife assured me that the Valrhona chocolate was indeed amazing and described the dessert as, "although the flavours were big, the dessert was light".
|Jade Sword and Jasmine Pearl tea from Jing tea ($5)|
We were quite full by the end of the meal so we each ordered a pot of Jing tea to help with digestion (Jing is my favourite tea brand for the home and we order heaps of it online from the UK). I went with Jade sword and my wife went with Jasmine Pearl. The Jade Sword was clean and refreshing and the Jasmine Pearl was fragrant as well as refreshing.
|Date tart ($3 each)|
Any meal at Rockpool has to end with the classic date tart for petit four. I have had this quite a number of times now that Rockpool started offering a bar menu and I never get bored of it. That velvety custard, those Californian dates, that light, crumbly biscuit base and that thin cakey layer are heaven to me! The date tart for me is the best petit four anywhere in Australia, hands down!
|I could not pass up the chance to get a snap with Phil Wood!|
I know this is a big call, but this meal at Rockpool was my favourite meal in Sydney, not just this year but perhaps EVER, for overall experience! This meal had everything that I look for from a meal at a fine dining restaurant. The food was outstanding, faultless in execution.
The service was friendly, knowledgeable, and attentive without being overbearing (the lunch service is no where near as busy as dinner though, so the staff can spend more time with each table). The staff were very accommodating to my wife's dietary needs and we felt very well looked after from start to finish (which is not always the case at 3 hat restaurants, where service can sometimes come across as being overly rehearsed and stiff).
And we were lucky enough to meet and briefly chat with the friendly, laid back executive chef, Phil Wood (and get a pic too, of course). This meal was like an early Xmas present for the both of us after a busy 2014 and what shapes up to be an even busier 2015. Talk about saving the best for last!
Highlight: Abalone meuniere... I die!
Lowlight: Not being able to taste all the components of the Valrhona chocolate dessert because my wife ate all the chocolate!
Overall: Rockpool is my favourite out of the 3 hatted restaurants in Sydney. The Modern Australian cuisine with Asian influences will forever be a favourite of mine. Every meal I have had at Rockpool has always been a special and memorable occasion. 9.5/10 (Outstanding)
Contact no: 02 9252 1888