Rockpool Bar & Grill
+613 8648 1900
To fellow Australian gourmandes, Neil Perry is very well-known. For our international friends, let me briefly introduce him. Neil Perry is a Sydney-based superchef, the man behind the very famous restaurant, Rockpool. In addition to these responsibilities, the prolific Perry has penned several cookbooks, is in charge of the Qantas Airlines first-class menu, released a range of dressings and sauces, written a few cookbooks, had a couple of very informative television programs, and bears more than a passing resemblance to Steven Segal. (Who, incidentally, played a cook in his highest-grossing film, Under Siege.)
When I went up to Sydney in 2005, I was lucky enough to visit Rockpool and absolutely loved it. See here). Consequently, I was very excited when, earlier this year, I heard that he was opening a new Rockpool right here in Melbourne! I have since visited it twice, and I came to the sad realisation that my excitement was completely unnecessary. It just wasn't that good. The food, as expected, was lovely, and gave me no reason to complain. (See below for photos). But the service was really below standard.
I am usually very reluctant to give negative reviews of a restaurant, and having done a lot of work in customer service, and some work in hospitality (nothing as difficult as waiting on tables in a fine-dining establishment, but enough to sympathise with those who do), I am undemanding of staff who are serving me, especially during busy periods, and don't see cause for complaint unless the staff are outright rude or neglectful. So let me explain.
The first time I went, was in February with a group of friends for one of their birthdays. Before we'd even gotten to the restaurant, we'd received some dodgy vibes. My friend had made a booking 2 months in advance, and specifically requested a large table on the terrace. A suitable table was free, and the booking was confirmed. However, a week before we were due to go to dinner, my friend received a phone call from Rockpool, saying that we were to be moved to an inside table. The reason? A larger group had asked for a terrace table, "and you can't smoke on the terrace anyway, if that's why you're asking". AHEM! Luckily for us, my (assertive) friend stood her ground, and we managed to keep the table which she'd reserved 7 weeks earlier.
The service at the restaurant didn't improve much either. I arrived with my partner shortly after the rest of the group had already gotten to the table and were perusing their menus. There was a waiter hovering around our table, topping up waters and so on, but we weren't given menus, or offered drinks. In fact, he came over to take our order before the 2 of us had even received menus! (It was at that point that I asked for my own menu, realising that I wouldn't get one unless I asked for it outright).
So, after we all finally had menus and had placed our orders, the waiter brought out the bread. (See the above photo). Delicious bread it was, too. He came around with the bread basket, portioning out one slice per person. About halfway around the table, he dropped a slice of bread on the floor. And no, he didn't pick it up and put it on a plate, so don't worry. He actually didn't pick it up at all. He just continued around the table, doling out the bread. Having dropped a piece, he was one piece short, and left the last person at the table without bread. He then walked away. And didn't come back with an extra piece! Again, we had to ask him to please bring a piece of bread for the poor girl at the end of the table who didn't get her bread. I'm not sure if the waiter didn't notice, or just didn't care. Either option is unsatisfactory. It's not fine-dining ettiquette, it's just common sense. And on a slightly grosser note, that stray piece of bread that fell on the floor? The birthday girl felt it squish under her foot later on in the evening. Lovely.
The entrées came and went without incident, and were extremely tasty. I managed to get photos of some of them, which I will share with you now. (This dinner was some months ago; and the menu changes pretty much daily. Forgive me if my memory of some of the dishes is a little fuzzy).
Tortellini filled with Biodynamic goats cheese, prawns, sultanas, pine nuts.
Duck ragu with pappardelle. (Fabulous. I have spied a similar recipe in Perry's latest book, Good Food, which I am very keen to attempt at home).
The main meals and sides were dealt with very clumsily. They arrived simultaneously, ferried by 3 waitstaff, who had no idea which of us was having which meal. This is not necessarily a problem, you understand, but rather than finding out where each plate was supposed to go, they simply plonked the plates down higgeldy-piggeldy on the table, not explaining what half of them were, and left us to our own devices. The 7 of us had to swap the plates around ourselves, and figure out what each thing was. Furthermore, we'd ordered waay too many sides, and couldn't finish half of them. When we had ordered, our waiter had not recommended that we order less side dishes, or indicated that we had ordered a LOT of food. (The side dishes are unexpectedly large - surely the waiter would have been aware of this). It really was a waste of some lovely food.
I can't quite remember what this fish was. I think it was ocean trout, cooked rare (fabulous!), with an eggplant-based sauce beneath. Ordering seafood at a Neil Perry restaurant, no matter what it is, is generally a good move.
Of course, I managed room for dessert. I had a chocolate and ginger brownie, which was very satisfying.
Nick had a mille feuille, which was absoultely divine.
So, as you can see, I was very disappointed with my first trip to Rockpool Melbourne. Substandard service at premium prices. I had read that they had had staffing problems at the beginning, which is unfortunate, but it's not an excuse for such lacklustre service. It is one thing for staff not to be fully-trained, especially when a restaurant has just opened; it is quite another for them to be so obviously neglectful. I'm not sure what the general consensus is, but personally, I don't have a problem with waitstaff not knowing all the intricate details of the menu, or being a bit slow or inexperienced. I'm happy as long as they are friendly, attentive, and make some sort of effort. That night, the waiters did not.
*As I mentioned, I did visit the restaurant once again after that night, but I shall save those photos for another post. I am interested, however, in people's impressions of Rockpool Melbourne. I know that Ed over at Tomatom loves their Wagyu burgers, and would love to hear more opinions; glowing, terrible, or anywhere in between.*