When Rockpool Est. 1989 announced in June it would close and reopen as a new restaurant there was protest and intrigue. It was probably unjustified. The changes are not dramatic.
“All of a sudden people thought I was opening a bistro,” says Rockpool’s founder and executive chef Neil Perry about the initial reaction to the announcement that Eleven Bridge would be a la carte (instead of degustation). “It's still a very fine restaurant. Great dining, a great wine list, great produce, craft, a great room and service.”
The biggest changes are to the name and menu format. “I wanted to solve the name problem first and foremost. We brought the 1000-pound gorilla to town when we brought Rockpool Bar & Grill to Sydney.” Perry says when the second Rockpool Sydney venue opened in March 2009 people were arriving at the wrong restaurant, 20-people functions were being booked for the wrong place and people were shocked to read menus that were more expensive than, and different to, what they’d expected. “It was really difficult. People were stressing and running from one restaurant to another.”
The other major change to Rockpool Est. 1989, along with the name, is the shift in menu focus. “We wanted to move away from the set menu to a la carte,” says Perry. “We wanted more flexibility in the dining experience.” While you can now order by course, the offering is the same in direction, style and cuisine to what was available at Est. 1989. “It's exactly as we've always done,” says Perry.
The only other real tweak head chef Phil Wood says, is the service. Wood and the other chefs pour miso soup over poached John Dory and fresh tofu in front of diners. Two dishes, abalone cooked in brown butter and whole partridges steamed in bread, are carved at the table. A Wagyu tartar with apple, Chinese cabbage, pine nuts and sesame is mixed once delivered.“We're upping the ante on the level of service and interaction our floor staff have,” says Perry.
As for the price controversy, Perry says it’s a beat-up over nothing. “The entrees and main-course prices are almost exactly the same as when we stopped doing a la carte at Rockpool [Est. 1989] in 2005.”