This philosophy is one of the themes, and driving forces behind Neil Perry’s hugely succesful Rockpool Bar & Grill restaurants; and it is this that makes Neil Perry’s new, beautiful, heavy cookbook, highly desirable. The simplicity of the food, using the best meat and seafood in the country, stands out and screams ‘cook me!’
For those who haven’t been, Rockpool Bar & Grill is now three restaurants; in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. All three restaurants have been critcally acclaimed and awarded multiple ‘hats’ and ’stars’ by the various guides, national and international. Their signature, perhaps put crudely is ’surf & turf’ but certainly not as you may have once known it! The stars at Rockpool are the local ingredients and produce carefully and sustainably sourced direct from the farmgate/fisherman; that are quite simply ‘the best’. Each of the meats is handled differently and dry-aged on site. Each restaurant has their own ‘butcher’ and ‘fishmonger’ so that whole beasts and fish are delivered and broken down appropriately.
The chapters of the book are laid out like the menu at Rockpool Bar & Grill. It starts with the story of Rockpool Bar & Grill and then offers you a drink - just like when you sit down at the table. You then move onto the Raw Bar, the starters and pasta, the mainplates and then from the charcoal oven to the wood-fired rotisserie and then the wood fired grill; along with the condiments and sides (as one of our staff said yesterday - you could live off the sides!). The cheese of course, is before dessert. As you work your way through ‘the menu’, Neil introduces you to his team and his ‘extended’ Rockpool family - his suppliers for each course. We meet his executive chefs Khan Danis and Catherine Adams who play a large part in the success of Rockpool Bar & Grill; and of course there is the ‘Wagyu Burger’.
At 450 odd pages, this is a generous cookbook, much like the hospitality at the restaurant. Every dish is beautifully & simply photographed. The production values and the design are world class. There are lucid and helpful chapters on choosing and working with ingredients; how to choose a scallop; why Wagyu beef should be at least cooked to medium rare; how to handle seafood; Beef 101 on dry-ageing and cryovac; using a charcoal grill etc. Even the advice on how to cook a steak…
Some of the dishes have a long heritage - the seared king prawns with goat’s cheese tortellini is one of the first dishes we ever tasted at Rockpool in Sydney in the early 90s. It’s a classic and we were so glad to see it in this book. Whilst some would say that not all of the dishes are everyday recipes for home cooks - many of them are or could be - particularly with access to a good barbecue or grill. Good food is often that simple. And even if you don’t eat Wagyu every night (who does?), the chapters on sides and condiments make it an indispensable book.
The modern cookbook of course needs a backstory and great images as well. Rockpool Bar & Grill delivers these in spades. Whilst generous with the recipes, it is much more than just a cookbook; the story of Rockpool Bar & Grill, its chefs and its suppliers - all focused on delivering the best possible produce to the diner - is inspiring. It is reassuring to learn of farmers, fishermen, suppliers and chefs focused so clearly on sustainable production whilst chasing perfection.
Good cookbooks, always draw comparisons. To us, Rockpool Bar & Grill is like a version of Thomas Keller’s books Bouchon and The French Laundry; elegant beautiful and evocative books that are almost timeless. Neil Perry’s pursuit of excellence, championing of local terroir and local produce and the sheer dark beauty of Rockpool Bar & Grill probably justify putting this on the same shelf in the home library.
Signed copies are available…and we’ll leave the last word to Neil…