It's hard to say where Sydney's dining scene is headed at the moment, but one thing's for sure — fine dining is fading. While the opening of swanky-but-casual eateries like Restaurant Hubert, Mercado and Bistrot Gavroche in Sydney and Ôter and Entrecôte in Melbourne suggest an era of European bistros, the latest to flick away the fine dining title is Neil Perry's Rockpool Est. 1989, reopened this week as the more 'casual' Eleven Bridge.
July saw Neil Perry and Trish Richards announce that it was the end of an era for their flagship restaurant. After 28 years, according to Perry, the decision was made to close the highly awarded restaurant after he became fatigued with the fine dining scene, stating, "We're moving away from that traditional concept of fine dining but maintaining all the elements that are crucial to great dining: excellent produce and service, and a contemporary style." The proximity of their second Sydney venue, Rockpool Bar & Grill, which is located just around the corner, has also been spouted as a reason for the change.
In a rather quick turn around, the venue saw its final dinner service on Saturday, 30 July, and has reopened in just one week as Eleven Bridge. It's been marketed as a more casual reincarnation of the Rockpool brand. Don't be fooled though, this is not the kind of place where you can roll in wearing ugg boots and an oversized tee. A $42 chestnut and Jerusalem artichoke pie isn't your regular casual nosh.
"Evoking the traditions and glamour of the great dining rooms at the turn of last century, we will be stepping away from the degustation model and returning to a restaurant ideal that puts the diner back in charge," says Perry.
Following Perry's long-celebrated lead, Eleven Bridge's menu is described as 'Modern Australian' and features some interesting, bold concoctions — think chicken and scallops with bacon and coffee dashi ($49), or tea smoked lamb pastrami with eggplant and raisin salad ($59). It's Perry, so seafood constitutes a fair chunk of the menu with a plate of 'fish and chips' going for a cool $49 — it's snapper with tartar hollandaise. For the adventurous, there's Chinese roast pigeon with fried Brussels sprouts and black mushroom pickle ($72).
Some of the Rockpool classics also make an appearance on the new menu, including the much-celebrated date tart with its original recipe from 1984. And Perry's emphasis on local and sustainable produce continues on the Eleven Bridge menu, keeping to as much organic produce as possible.
In terms of staffing, nothing has changed much, with executive chef Phil Wood and sommelier Sebastian Crowther still running the show (with an award-winning, 1200-strong wine list), and the front-of- house team is lead by Silvio Brentan.
Eleven Bridge might just be the perfect place to experience food from one of Australia's most lauded chefs, without emptying your wallet completely (sort of).
Eleven Bridge sits at, you guessed it, 11 Bridge Street, Sydney. Lunch is served Monday to Friday from 12-3pm and dinner Monday to Saturday from 6pm. Bookings (02) 9252 1888 or via Rockpool's website.