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Chefs + Restaurants

First Taste: Rockpool (fish)


The biggest news in Australian dining this month is Rockpool (fish). High-profile ponytailed chef Neil Perry closed his Sydney restaurant Rockpool, which had existed since 1989, did a breakneck two-week makeover and reopened in early November as Rockpool (fish). The original restaurant was an eclectic fine-diner, but in the remake Perry has scrapped the damask, amuses, petits fours and sterling-silver crumb scrapers and has decided to focus on one of the restaurant's core strengths: its seafood. With a procurement process that has the kitchen in direct contact with fishermen, fish arrive in the restaurant still in rigor mortis. They're dry-filleted and portioned onto individual drip-trays before being stored in fish fridges until they're cooked, and the treatment of shellfish and crustaceans is similarly rigorous, with many of them kept live in the restaurant's pristine tanks in the basement.

Where Rockpool had set menus, version 2.0 is all about choice. Those fish—whole snapper, flounder and silver bream, fillets of red emperor, bass groper, John Dory, yellowfin tuna, snapper and flathead—are offered with a choice of species-specific cooking options: for example, steamed with red curry sauce, grilled with herb butter, or simply pan-roasted. The appetizer section, meanwhile, reads like a greatest-hits collection of Rockpool dishes from throughout its years, listing the likes of stir-fried scallops with pappardelle and XO sauce; spanner crab and pork hock salad with salt-and-pepper tofu; and simple numbers like raw tuna with olive oil and sea salt.

Having dropped by in the first weeks to admire the décor (gotta love the moody, massive, lightboxed Earl Carter still life photos of seafood) and the Billecart-rosé-by-the-glass policy, we found lots of things to like—among them the novelty of seeing Perry calling the pass. The prawn-toast canapé carpeted with sevruga caviar rocks, and the mud crab steamed with red curry is a revelation.

For all the luxury, Rockpool (fish) won't break the bank, but the less-expensive-than-Rockpool tag doesn't mean it has become a bargain basement. Line-caught fish is never going to be cheap, and Perry's commitment to sustainable fisheries means he chooses supplies with business practices and pays a premium for carefully-handled ingredients.

You can, technically speaking, step in and simply have a beer and a Moroccan fish burger from the bar menu and escape for less than $27 a head, though when this reporter attempted it, he was so distracted by the raw fish options, the ethereally crisp calamari, the sublime sides and the Muscat Beaumes-de-Venise custard with mango and pineapple cake that he and his co-diner dropped $115 in the process. The burger, incidentally, was fabulous.