Few restaurants have been able to endure the ebb and flow of trends like Sydney’s Rockpool Bar & Grill. The 220-seat industry stalwart, which first opened its doors in 2009, has become an icon of Australia’s hospitality industry, synonymous with first-class service, the best produce and the city’s finest steaks.
Under the helm of Corey Costelloe, the long-time executive chef turned culinary director at Hunter St. Hospitality (Rockpool Bar & Grill’s owner), the restaurant is proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks with its very first dégustation menu now available to the public.
“I’ve been at Rockpool for 14 years,” says Costelloe. “My executive chef has been here for 13 years, my sous chef 14 years and a number of staff are over the 10-year mark. We all have a lot of ideas that we felt the need to express and the dégustation format really allows that.”
The brand-new offering will deliver six courses to 22 diners each session, with four sittings available from Thursday to Saturday. From the intimate setting of the restaurant’s mezzanine room, guests will enjoy each plate in the surroundings of one of the restaurant’s coveted private dining rooms.
“Rockpool is a grill restaurant – it’s a steakhouse at heart and the new menu keeps that in mind,” says Costelloe. “We are still cooking the majority of the menu over the grill, so you’ll get the charred, smoky flavours and aged beef that our guests expect. The menu remains Australian-produce driven – we’re not going to be putting flowers on the plate.”
The current menu has two iterations of that sought-after beef. The first is the steak and bone marrow on toast – a trade secret among chefs that work at Rockpool. The drippings from the steak resting trays are reduced and spread onto sourdough toast which is then topped with thinly sliced aged beef that’s been seared on the grill. The result is an umami explosion. “The bone-marrow paste has an almost Vegemite-like flavour that can’t be replicated. It’s something that we save for chefs who work here or friends in the industry. It's exciting to put that on a menu for our guests,” explains Costelloe.
The second is the Robbins Island Wagyu sirloin with roasted corn and chimichurri. “Translating the steakhouse experience to a dégustation plate meant we had to add the sides to the dish. At the moment it's a centrepiece of Wagyu sirloin served with a roasted corn sauce – as corn is hitting its peak season – with chimichurri made by our Colombian-born executive chef, Santiago Aristizabal.”
There’s also a fresh take on the country’s finest seafood with Three Raw Tastes of the Sea, – a dish that offers a rotating selection of sashimi depending on what’s been caught. “Tonight we’ll be doing prawns because I just got a call from a fisherman in Coffs Harbour,” says Costelloe. Plus, there's charcoal-roasted Abrolhos island scallops topped with herb butter.
And it’s not a Rockpool menu without the classic Buffalo Cheese Tortellini dish. “It initially wasn’t on the menu, but a few of my regulars demanded it.” Created by Mike McEnearney in Rockpool’s formative years, the dish uses a gnocchi dough to encase buffalo curd. “We get the buffalo milk from Burraduc Farm and make our own curd. Then we top the tortellini with sautéed king prawns, pine nuts – which complement the burnt butter – and raisins that we soak in tea to take out the sweetness. It’s an iconic Australian dish and Mike should be proud.”
Dessert is an event, with a trio of sweet treats making their way to the table including the créme caramel. “We only make the crème caramel while we can get our hands on cream from CopperTree Farms. It works well while we wait for the summer fruits to come in.”
Each dish on the menu is elevated with a wine pairing that has been hand-picked by the restaurant's sommelier team from Rockpool Bar & Grill’s heady wine list. Costelloe claims it’s the country’s largest: “There’s something like 2500 bottles of red on the list alone.”
The new dégustation adds a new chapter to Rockpool’s already rich history and broadens the experience available to the diner – something that Costelloe is particularly proud of. “You can get a burger at the bar, have a quintessential Rockpool dining experience on the main floor or have the dégustation up on the mezzanine. I love that we have so many layers within the one venue.”