Today we wish our beloved flagship restaurant a happy 25 years.
Exactly how to define our ionic diner and what does it all mean? A quarter of a century…we’ve done so much, inspired and been inspired; times have changed dramatically and we’ve gone with the flow, sometimes not. It’s hard to explain exactly what a little ‘Rockpool-ness’ is, but it’s certainly a dash of determination, a pinch of decent cooking and a good glug of fine wine…that, and a tough skin.
Let’s take a look back at 25 experiences, people, situations that go just a touch of the way to telling our story…
There will only ever be one. Rockpool. Just one…
2 people that are more Rockpool than anyone, Trish Richards and Neil Perry. Cousins, business partners, friends and co-owners. When you become a part of the Rockpool family, you truly do. Sure, there’s the odd bad joke from Neil and the odd scary 5 minutes in the office with Trish when you’ve overspent on glass washer detergent this month, but Neil and Trish have long exercised a loyalty to their staff like no other. You feel safe in their hands. Happy birthday you 2 – we hope you are extraordinarily proud of what you have created and how you have lived and loved it through the years.
Hats. The 3rd one has been back for a few years now, but it’s no secret we shave had our struggles with the ‘hats’ over the years. We gain one, we lose one, we get frustrated and curse into space at those who giveth and taketh away – their ability to change the bottom line and whether such awards should carry such power. It has been a love hate relationship, no doubt about that.
In 2002 we were named 4th best restaurant in the world. Neil travelled to London to accept the award alongside industry peers and such luminaries as Alain Ducasse, Thomas Keller, the late Charlie Trotter and Heston Blumenthal. Lasting friendships were forged with the greatest chefs on the planet and many would come to visit us in the years following as we cooked the now infamous Ultimate Dinners for Starlight. They still come…
It was 1988 at a long boozy lunch at Claudes restaurant when Neil Perry and winemaker Jeffrey Grosset got talking wine. Some time the following year, Jeffrey Grosset delivered his first case of Rockpool Riesling to George St and we’ve been pouring it ever since.
Restaurant critics (see point 3). Yes…hi Leo, Terry, Simon, we’re looking at you. We’ve loved you and ummmmm, not loved you so much in equal measure over the years but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, they say, and sometimes, just sometimes, we manage to turn you around too.
The chefs. There has been some serious talent across the pass. Phil Wood leads the brigade these days and far from the rising star we often call him (because he looks so young!), Phil is now well and truly established as one of the country’s top tier. Mikey, Kylie, Ross, Andy, Khan, Catherine, Amanda, Dave, the list is truly endless and a bottomless pit of talent.
Alessi pepper grinders. I’d like to say 8 is the number that has been flogged from table tops in the last 25 years but we can probably safely add a good zero or 2 to that. Classy, timeless, still with us.
The ramp at George St. Walk through the front door. Your gaze would head up the Rockpool ramp, tables dressed along the side, kitchen in full hum to the left. It was a little like walking our very own ed carpet or heading up the steps to receive your academy award. It made people feel a little special.
The return of the trolley. The champagne trolley, the cheese trolley. We are bringin’ it back at Bridge St!
The managers. Multi-tasking geniusses who can handle the weirdest situations on the planet and act like it was nothing extraordinary, built of rock and mortar with an incomprehensible ability to withstand stress…all in a days work, as such. Frase, Narelle, Terry, Tom, Silvio, Richard, Linda…this list extends my memory. Legends, all.
Seafood. We’ve become known for many great dishes and events over time, but Rockpool was always and is still, very much about delivering the best seafood available. It’s our ‘thing’! From the sweetest un-dipped prawns to abalone, lobster, Murray cod, Dory and more. The best fishermen, the best suppliers, sublime cookery. That’s us in an oyster shell!
The Oyster Bar – it was there in 1989 in all its retro, shiny, mirrored fabulousness. It was there many many years later, an incarnation that was far more subdued in manner yet brighter and whiter and very very Sydney. It will always be a part of what we do.
Behind the scenes. It takes a lot and many to run a restaurant. Out on the floor, behind the high profile managers and chefs and hostesses dressed in black, there are hard working individuals polishing glasses, running dirty plates through dishwashers, stocking toilet paper, taking deliveries of fruit and vegetables and whole bodies of animals (that damn hatch!). There are human calculators adding up the bottom line and asking questions (hi Sue); men and women sitting on phones taking reservations and juggling tables, booking in private parties, explaining menus; waiters ironing shirts; PAs booking flights back and forth across the country and simply making stuff happen. It’s exhausting out there!
Mr Hai. This is no list to focus on individuals. There are many many fantastic staff that have done their time, served well and left their print on the Rockpool stones, but Mr Hai left an impression on every single person he met and particularly those lucky enough to work with him. A kitchen hand who was so much more, our Vietnamese friend had quite the history and was with us from the very beginning until he died after a long battle with cancer some years back. Nothing was ever too much trouble and you would trust this man with you life. When he wasn’t creating precision order in the wet room he was out showing the rest of the team how it was done over late night poker and whisky sessions on a Sunday night. Always remembered.
The hatch. This one is for the delivery guys…and the poor chefs who stood below as the produce hurtled down. From the footpath, it looked like a fabulous old hidden doorway leading into a dungeon below George, full of mystery and stories and aged with legend. It was, in fact, a highly utilized, death defying trap door down which unknown quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, seafood and dry goods travelled daily. No regular old through the front door stuff for us!
The signature dishes. They are many but there is a small group of Rockpool dishes created in the early years that remain on menus today – from George to Bridge and even gracing the menus of our other restaurants – the stir fried spanner crab omelette, date tart, Korean style tuna tartare…
The Rockpool chairs. Stephen Roberts designed them for us and they were with us till the end at George St, mere months ago. They deserve a spot in Australian design history in our opinion, but for now, will be a point of conversation at many a private dinner party across the nation.
The sommeliers. Richard, Emma and all those that poured before you – what great dedication you show to your craft, and cheers to you guys for getting us on the Wine Spectator awards radar and keeping us there.
In 2009 we turned 20. An incredible milestone for any restaurant, anywhere. So proud, we were…
Our suppliers, growers and producers, past and present. These guys make us tick. They inspire us, grow for us, educate us. Way, way back at the very beginning, there were a few young guns out there starting to push the boundaries and things started to get exciting. As chefs, we were asking more questions of our suppliers and they were starting to get answered. It was brilliant. John Susman of The Flying Squid Brothers, Matt Brown of Matt Browns Greens – these guys became instrumental in sourcing quality product and there was suddenly no looking back. Serge Dansereau, chef at the Regent at the time was another instrumental individual, reiterating to all that we didn’t have to take second best and that buying local was the way forward. Today – we have the cream of the cream looking after us and delivering to our door and sometimes we go straight to the source. It goes a long way back and we could never possibly mention them all – but Will Studd, John Susman, Barry McDonald, Vittoria, Victoire, Iggy’s, Vics Meats, Simon Johnson, David Blackmore, Cape Grim, Feather and Bone, Christies – these, but a drop in the ocean and that’s before we even start mentioning the wine makers. Thank you all, from the very centre of our heart.
One beautiful producer who inspired us early is the incomparable Gabrielle Kervella. Gabrielle farmed goats that she loved like her children, made the most beautiful cheese from their milk, and we went on to create one of our most beautiful dishes with it – the original Rockpool goats cheese tortellini.
The customers. Where would we be without you? You make us or you break us and you have made us, and made us happy. Our customers are second to none. Some visit a day, others a lifetime and we simply couldn’t do it without you. We like to say we are in the business of creating memories and feel we have created many a god one for these fine loyal folk. We look forward to many happy years with you.
In our 24th year we bid farewell to our first and only venue at 107 George St, The Rock and headed up the road to Bridge St. George St – we share beautiful memories and you’ll never be forgotten but Bridge – you’re a new time. We’ve been rebirthed and we look forward to the next 25 with you.
25 candles for us today.
Terry Durack wrote in a recent review of Rockpool…”it feels very…right”.
We couldn’t agree more Terry, couldn’t agree more. Happy birthday Rockpool!