Several months ago we were lucky enough to attend a truffle lunch in the Yarra Valley, where we were seated next to a rather prominent family in the Melbourne food scene. At one stage, the conversation turned inevitably to restaurants, and I overheard a snippet along the lines of "...I can't believe the kind of junk they serve at Rockpool...". I'd already been, and thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Rockpool, but being an unqualified git, I held my tongue and had some more truffle butter (oooh, yummm... Sorry - distracted there!)
Having now returned to the scene of the alleged crime, I can quietly but confidently say that the person who made that comment was suffering from a severe case of faecal encephalopathy. Rockpool's bloody good. And I don't care if that's not the trendy opinion!
If I had to sum it up in one word: "meaty". Thankfully, I can use more than one word. From the moment you enter, you can feel the approaching "meatiness". (I'm also determined to have that word inserted into the OED). The entrance is lined with bottles of red wine, spirits and finally, an illuminated meat case, inside of which hang several large sides of beef. Now that's my kind of "light at the end of the tunnel"!
The menus are presented on a simple A3 page, the back of which is adorned with a large portrait of your impending main course, standing in a lush green pasture. Again, encouraging. One thing to watch out for when booking your table is any kind of time limit. Several of our friends have visited Rockpool only to be rushed through their dinner due to booking a "pre-show" table. Try to ensure that you book a table for the whole evening, as rushing this one just won't do it justice.
You may also need a while with the menu: it offers a plethora of options, and unlike other restaurants in this price bracket, there's no degustation option. Thankfully, all the wait staff are very well informed and more than happy to explain and advise you on your options, so be sure to make use of their help.
Similarly, the wine list is a little scary. (Just what is a "wine list philosophy", anyway?) I'm always a fan of a list that puts Encyclopaedia Britannica to shame in terms of shear mass, but I do get a little apprehensive when faced with a decision that's going to set me back a week's rent. Again, make use of the expertise at hand, and don't be afraid to say "what the hell is that thing I can't pronounce?". I was actually a little disappointed with the by-the-glass options: my plan had been to have a glass of white to start, and then a half-bottle of burgundy (of which the options are numerous). However, there were only a handful of whites available by the glass, and none of them particularly interesting. Instead, we splurged a little on a bottle of 2006 Domaine Bouchard Pere et Fils Les Teurons, a Premier Cru Burgundy, which matched surprisingly well with most of the meal.
Out of the mists of the entrée listings, we chose a simple plate of Joselito Jamon Iberico and then a slow cooked egg with bone marrow with red wine sauce. Many would say that a plate of ham for $50 is a rip-off. They're all chumps. Eat it - you'll get it. Some say it's the best ham in the world. There's nothing I can say that will really explain the flavour of this stuff, but think about a prosciutto with a certain concentrated sweetness to the flavour, and you're starting to get there. The slow cooked egg is another of our favourites: a delectable combination of smooth textures and deep, rich flavours combine to give more of a sensation than a taste. A Neil Perry classic.
For mains, you really have to say "Let there be beef". And Lo, there was Beef. And It was God. I mean Good. No, I think I actually do mean God. Alicia had Mishima beef braised in stout with roasted pearl onions and Dijon mustard. Mishima is the original breed of Japanese beef which was later bred with others to produce Wagyu. It naturally achieves a Wagyu-equivalent 6+ marbling score, as a result of feeding only on grass, so you can imagine the melt-in-your-mouth texture of this slow cooked offering.
I opted for a classic 250gm grain fed eye fillet, wanting to test out the "junk", as it were. Was it the best steak I've ever had? Probably not. Was it the most expensive? Definitely not. Was it awesome? Yes. There's not much you can really say about this dish - it's presented bare, with only a wedge of lemon for company on the plate. Sides of bearnaise and horseradish cream are brought separately, with a selection of mustards and condiments. There's nothing here to distract you from the beef, so don't be distracted: just get into it, as it's bloody good sh*t.
Make sure you don't forget to try a few offerings from the list of sides, too: I particularly recommend the potato and cabbage gratin ($12), served in the pan with a crunchy top I would love to emulate. Watch out for this in the next few podcasts!
Dessert was shared, as is becoming our tradition: a warm rhubarb and strawberry compote with sabayon and strawberry sorbet. I only tried a mouthful or two, as I was still recovering from my "beefattack", but the sabayon was immediately the star of the show, smooth and light without being too sweet. A refreshing end to a wonderful meal.
Downsides? It's pretty hard... Even the patented 'dog' scheme was pushed to it's limit. Service was generally very good, although things did get slower towards the end of the evening (that may also have been the bottle of burgundy!). My main quibble would be the spacing of the tables. It's a very large space so it's easy to feel a bit like the cattle you're eating, crushed into the yards at muster. The distance to the next table is such that conversations are quite shared. I tend to eavesdrop in restaurants (quite accidentally!) at the best of times, so this made it all but impossible to avoid hearing all about the finest details of our neighbour's clothing purchases that day. Riveting stuff. I know, it's petty. But I had to come up with something!?
So should you go and drop a month's rent on a hunk of cow? Unequivocally, yes. (As long as you're not vegetarian!). Is it the best steak in Australia? My uninformed opinion is probably not, but for what you pay, I say it's well above par. With a more modest wine choice, you could probably get out for under $150pp, but if you can afford to splash out, I'd recommend it - you won't find wine list like this very often. And to those sceptics who say it's silly to spend so much on a slab of moo, I say fine. Go save a cow: eat a vegan.
-Plate of Joselito Jamon Iberico ($50)
-Slow cooked egg with bone marrow on brioche with red wine sauce ($21)
- Mishima beef braised in Stout with roasted pearl onions and Dijon mustard ($39)
- Rangers valley dry aged grain fed eye fillet ($69)
- Potato and cabbage gratin ($12)
- Satueed mushrooms ($15)
Warm rhubarb and strawberry compote with sabayon and strawberry sorbet ($19)
2006 Domaine Bouchard Pere et Fils Les Teurons ($185)