Little Fish, Big Pool
Neil Perry, that doyenne of chefdom, TV cooking show favourite and Iron Chef contender, is poorly. He blames his kids.
“They’re always sick,” he says with a wry smile.
“In the mornings I no longer give them a kiss. I put out my hand and they get to kiss that instead. I just can’t afford to be ill these days.”
Too right. With a string of eateries spreading along the Eastern seaboard, television appearances and a long list of books, Neil Perry needs all the strength he can muster.
And, of course, he’s coming to Perth. Ever since the June announcement that he would be opening a Rockpool Bar & Grill at the Burswood complex in early 2011, there has been a buzz that is only gaining in intensity as this year draws to a close.
“When you first land in Perth, you really notice that the light is very different over here,” says Neil.
“It’s really quite beautiful, and when you go down to the South-West it’s just an extraordinary place. And I haven’t been up North before so I look forward to traveling up there.”
Neil has visited Western Australia before, but never so much as he has over the past few months, when he’s been sourcing local staff and suppliers for the new eatery. Despite some of Neil’s mainstay menu items, such as his much-feted wagyu burger, being sourced from the Eastern states, much of what the Perth kitchen will be sending out will be local.
“Out of the entire menu we’ll bring over our 36 month grass-fed beef from Tasmania, and David Blackmore’s wagyu beef (in Victoria) because we buy whole bodies and they really are quite unique to the Rockpool Bar & Grill brand,” says Neil.
“But we will be sourcing our yearling out of the South-West here in Western Australia from Della Gola Farm, and we are really excited about that. We tasted some of it and we thought it was great. We’ll be dry-ageing that for about forty to fifty days and we’ll be doing ribs and T-bones and sirloin from them. And that will complete the three – we only ever carry three types of beef.”
When hunting down a good yearling producer, Neil’s top priorities were that the animals had to be grass-fed and that the taste of the meat when dry-aged met Neil’s exacting standards. Family-run, Della Gola Farm came highly recommended by Neil’s good buddy Vince Garreffa from Mondo Butchers, and when put to the test the meat did not disappoint, with Neil describing it as being sweet and tender with the long clean flavour of grass.
As for the restaurant’s lamb and pork, that continues to be a work-in-progress.
“We’re speaking to (Margaret River farmer) David Hohnen at the moment and looking at his lamb and his pork, and the difficulty there is just getting the volume because he’s such a small producer. So we’ve sort of talked him around and I think he’s going to do it with us, so we’ll buy his pigs and his lamb. And we’re really excited about both those products, they’re fantastic. All grass-fed and all free-range. The pork is just incredible.”
As with all of Perry’s produce, freshness and sustainability is paramount. And despite being better known as a steakhouse, the Rockpool chain has received a string of accolades for their seafood in recent months. The plan is that the fish on the Perth menu will be sourced locally, dry filleted daily and flat-packed, then stored in custom-made service fridges.
“We’re a big supporter of sustainability and line-catching,” says Neil.
“So we’ll have a chat to some small fishermen and Government bodies over here and see what fish are currently sustainable. There’s a few local fishermen, such as Jim Mendolia, who have shown interest in hand-lining some fish direct for us because we have our own fish filleting. And also with the complete understanding that we’re really quite keen to take whatever they catch, rather than ask them to target certain species. We need to utilise every kilo of fish that comes up over the side, not only that typical attractive white-fleshed, mild-tasting fish that we’re all kind of addicted to. And we love octopus and squid, so if that’s in abundance over here we’ll certainly be using it.”
Western Australian wine producers will naturally get a look-in, with many local wineries such as Leeuwin, Cullen, Moss Wood and Xanadu already featuring on the wine lists in the Sydney and Melbourne restaurants.
“We’ll focus really strongly on local Western Australian wines because we recognise that you guys are great producers of wine”, says Neil.
The restaurant itself is going to be big – a 200-plus seater that will incorporate a bar with private dining facilities that will live where the former food court in the Burswood complex used to be. Construction is currently underway.
“Regarding the design, we reflected on the beautiful light and the naturalness of Perth,” he said.
“So there’s a really raw kind of feel to the restaurant. Some of the curtains are made of raw hessian and there are beautiful timber floors and a wonderful nickel canopy that runs along the whole kitchen and bar side of the restaurant. And then when you look into the open kitchen it will be quite extraordinary. It’s the best kitchen that I’ve got actually because it’s all on one level. And at one end is the chef’s desk, and on top of that is our communication tool that we use for all of the Bar & Grills. So whether I’m here or in Melbourne or in Sydney I’ll be able to see the pass in Perth and all the food coming up and being run out. I actually get to see all the restaurants and how they run.”
But not everything will be locally produced.
“All our restaurants have the same chairs, because we’ve got the greatest chairs to sit on,” Neil says with a laugh.
“So why would we change that?
“I think what will be most significant about the Perth restaurant is the focus on Western Australian wines and produce. I also think people will recognise that we’ve done a bar and grill that very much belongs to Perth and isn’t a cookie-cutter of Melbourne or Sydney”.
Rockpool Bar & Grill will open at the Burswood Entertainment complex in January 2011.