When Rockpool Est. 1989 changed to Eleven Bridge, it didn’t just lose its ultra-formal degustation-only menu and its confusing name (Rockpool Bar and Grill is few blocks away), it also lost its bar menu. It didn’t go down well with the customers or with Eleven Bridge’s executive chef, Phil Wood. “I loved it,” he says. “It’s a great way to dine. The produce is the same, the technique is still the same, but the food is just a bit more informal.” Now, due to popular demand, it’s back. Wood gives us his favourite dishes.
Hot and Numbing Chicken Sanga
It comes squat in the middle of an enormous white plate, and because it resembles a burger, it looks simultaneously trashy and opulent. “I wouldn't call it a burger,” Wood says, giving it a quizzical look. “That's the shape of it, but the chicken is room temperature, so it's more of a salad in a bun. It's not a patty, either. Do you need a patty to have a hamburger? I don't know. Whatever, it’s really delicious.”
The buns are like Chinese mantou (steamed buns or bread); crunchy, light and golden. Wood does them in-house; they are steamed and then deep-fried. Inside there’s either sweet bacon and kimchi; fried eggplant dressed in chilli; or the chicken. The Sichuan-style chicken (that’s where the tongue-tingling numbness comes from) is the star, but to give it balance and texture Wood has layered in some house-fried potato crisps and cucumber.
Wood’s pairing suggestion: “I would go a sherry, because it’s got those Chinese hot and numbing flavours. Sherry is like Chinese Shaoxing wine (used in the chicken preparation) so it would be nice. That, or a lager or pilsner.”
Baked crab stuffed with milk, and salted duck egg
“They do these whole crab heads in Hong Kong. It's this weird, Chinese crab mornay; they're really delicious. So this is essentially a crab mornay, but it's seasoned with seaweed, sesame seeds and green onions.” The blue swimmer crab meat is mixed with the sort-of-mornay sauce, stuffed back into the head-shell and “we Panko it, fry it and then bake it. Delicious”. It’s odd-looking, too – a crab head shell half covered in batter with a cute salad. “I always find it really weird that people are so comfortable eating food out of a crab head. Imagine if you presented a cow head with a steak in it, people would freak out.”
Because the crab stuffing is intensely rich, the side salad of fennel, pickled cabbage and salted-duck-egg mayonnaise is a good antidote.
Wood’s pairing suggestion: “A riesling, but a Boulevardier [whisky, sweet vermouth and Campari] really goes with anything. I like heavy cocktails, they’re efficient.”
Hand-rolled strozzapreti with a Moreton Bay Bug
“I love this, it's hand-rolled strozzapreti with a crustacean butter and a charcoal-roasted Moreton Bay Bug.” Crustacean butter: a stock made with Moreton Bay Bug shells and prawn shells that’s reduced with cognac, brandy, white wine and lots of butter. That buttery mixture is mixed with more butter, parmesan cheese and kombu. “It’s a super, super rich sauce.” Like a cross between a ragu and har mee (Malaysian prawn noodle soup).
Wood’s pairing suggestion: “A chardonnay, definitely, because of all that rich intensity.”
Sesame chiffon cake with strawberries and lychee
“The full dessert menu is available at the bar. I’d like to highlight the fact people can just walk in at 10.30pm to the bar and have a date tart or one of these.” He’s referring to the sesame chiffon cake with white chocolate and lychee cream and sweet beetroot reduction.
Thanks to Valentine’s Day, it’s also extra pretty. “We changed it for the day but we really liked the composition and the way it ate, so we kept it.” It’s a good choice – it’s adorable now, like the rose-covered home of tiny camp gnome.
Wood’s pairing suggestion: “We make a Martini with jasmine-infused gin and red vermouth. That would be good, it's not super fruity but a bit floral from the jasmine flower. It would be awesome with the strawberries.”