To satisy my current obsession with Wagyu, I decided I needed to go and try the daddy of all Wagyus at Rockpool Bar and Grill in the Crown Casino complex.
I went with a couple of friends, all three of us intent on trying out the Grade 9+ Wagyu. We could have got one or two Wagyus and shared them, allowing us to try other dishes, but nobody wanted to share only a portion of a Wagyu. It turned out we made the right decision to try one each. More on that later.
Upon walking through the barely noticeable main door near the lift, we were greeted with this wonderful smell of grilled steaks. We were all salivating already. We walked down the long corridor, passing photos of the Wagyu cows and also the cold room where the Wagyu was hung. I informed the hostess that I had a booking at 9:30pm. It was still only 9:15pm at the time so we were told our tables weren't ready. She suggested we go for a drink first. So I proceeded to walk towards the bar when she stopped me and said that it was very busy already and maybe we should go elsewhere. What the? I've been to much busier bars and people manage. Anyway, off we trodded for 15 minutes.
When we came back, at 9:30pm precisely (we were eager to start eating haha), again we were told our tables weren't ready. Anyway, this time we went to the bar and got drinks. The bar area looks very nice and we got some drinks and sat around. Browsing through the drinks menu was fun in itself, seeing all the wines they had available. I noticed that they marked up all their wines by at least 100%. Hence we skipped wines and had beers all night.
Finally, at 10pm, another hostess led us to our table and took our drinks as well. She placed back the drinks for each person correctly. They also put your bar tab onto your main bill, a nice touch I thought.
Our waiter, with his very cool French accent, gave us menus and served us the ice water we had chosen instead of sparkling water. I don't believe in paying for water, even at high class restaurants. Anyway, we proceeded to make up our minds for entrees and desserts, with mains already covered. A quick question to the waiter as to how best to have the steak confirmed that medium rare was the go. So three medium rare Wagyu grade 9+ sirloin steaks it was. At $110, they are extremely expensive, but we all wanted to try what they were like, having enjoyed grade 7 steaks at other restaurants.
After placing our orders, I couldn't resist but go by the kitchen and take a few photos. A couple of the younger assistants were happy to smile at the camera. They must be used to people taking photos of them all day. I asked them how it was working there, and both said it was good.
Our entree of Sydney Rock Oysters arrived and the waitress explained that there were two types, each with a slightly different flavour. I had one with lemon and one with Mignonette sauce. Both ways of eating them were delicious and the oysters did have slightly different flavours. One was more creamy and richer in flavour while the other tasted more of the sea. I forgot what the two types were so maybe someone can tell me?
I had told our waiter that we would share the Hand Cut Linguine with Spanner Crab and Spicy Prawn Oil. I was surprised when three plates came out. They had split the dish for us already. That's a good initiative. Usually we have to ask for extra plates despite telling waiters that we are sharing the entrees. The linguini was cooked perfectly and the crab added great flavour. I was expecting the whole dish to be spicy as it says it has spicy prawn oil. But instead, the dish was fresh and light with a lemony tang to it. It was the perfect start to whet our appetites for the steaks.
When the steaks arrived, they were served simply with just a wedge of lemon. A waiter came round to tell us about the Bernaise sauce and also offering various mustards. I opted for the seeded mustard. I tried a small bite of the steak by itself, then with Bernaise sauce, then with lemon. After the trials, it was clear the steaks needed nothing else and was best eaten by itself. The steak is the best steak I've ever eaten. It was so soft and the fat was delicious. The smoothness is just amazing. It was grilled to perfection, with pink meat still inside and a slightly charred crust. The flavour of the meat was evident in every mouthfull. We were glad we each chose the steak as having half a steak would just not be fulfilling enough. We all chewed each mouthful slowly and savoured the flavours that got released the more you chew it.
We had side dishes of Onion Rings and Sauteed Mushrooms. The onion rings were good, but the mushrooms were great. I'm not much of a fan of mushrooms, but these were sometimes firm, sometimes soft and full of flavour. It was the perfect accompanyment to the steak.
For desserts, I chose the Rum Baba. The Rum Baba I had at Philippe Mouchel's Brasserie was delicious already, but this one was even better. The cream chantilly helped to break up the rum a bit. I couldn't stop smelling the dish, the rum just smelt so good.
The Praline Mille Feuille was surprisingly delicious too. We all expected it to be those bad Mille Feuilles that you can get at bakeries. This one was not one of those. The pastry was flaky and crispy. The cream filling was a highlight. It wasn't some bad cream thing, it was hazelnut mixture that tasted fantastic.
The last dessert of Creme Brulee with prunes and armagnac was probably my favourite dessert. But if it is my favourite, it's just because the desserts were all so good. Like Amelie Poulain, I got the honours of cracking the creme brulee with great pleasure. Ever since that movie, I can't help but smile every time I crack creme brulee. This creme brulee was so smooth and beautiful. The prunes at the bottom was a nice flavour contrast and the Armagnac just made the whole thing so fragrant. I just love the smells of alcohol in food when done properly and not too excessively.
To the service. I've read many other people's blogs about Rockpool and some have had great service whilst others have had some of the worst service. On this occasion, I had fanstatic service. There wasn't much to fault, but here is my observations. I found the hostess at the front desk a bit aloof and totally devoid of warmth and humour. Maybe it's a tough job being out there, who knows. But my two interactions with her just left me cold. In constrast, the hostess who took us to our table was warm and bubbly. When she saw me taking photos at the kitchen, she mockingly posed in front of the camera.
Our main waiter, who I talked to a bit and found out that he was here on a one year working holiday and had worked at Vue de Monde a month earlier, was very professional but also personable. He joked that he was glad that we at least left the lemon wedges on our plates and joked about how full we looked after dessert. He refilled our water seemlessly whilst we talked and dishes arrived and were explained. He placed down our foods with explanations when required, such as how someone would be coming round with mustards for our steaks if we required and also the Bernaise sauce on the table. Things were cleared efficiently and everything ran so smoothly. Even when another waitress described the Rum Baba as the Creme Brulee, she picked up her own mistake and corrected it jokingly.
The only small fault was that no waiter asked to put my coat in the coat closest, despite my coat just hanging there on my chair. Also, on our bill, we had been charged for two Mille Feuille. However, when I pointed this out to the waiter, he quickly got it fixed and showed me the new bill, pointing out the fixed error. He was really good all night so we tipped him well.
To the ambience. We were sitting right in the corner of the room, which we all really liked. We had a great view to outside on the Yarra. We also got to absorb in the whole room, whilst having enough privacy to talk and laugh quite loudly. I wouldn't like to be seated near the walkways where the waiters and people going to the toilet walk past you all the time. That would be a bit annoying I would think. Otherwise, there was a buzz in the room without it being too loud. The sounds of the steaks cooking the whole night was great. The lighting was low but not so that you couldn't see. Each table had a small lamp as well as a spotlight onto the table from the ceiling.
So to sum up my whole experience in one word, fantastic. I had no problems with the service and loved the food. The ambience was smart but yet still casual and not stuffy at all. Of course the prices of the food is at the very very high end. I always see-saw between whether it was worth it to have a steak that cost $110. In the end, I think it is. I could never justify eating this steak regularly, but as something to be had occasionally, it is worth every penny to try such an amazing steak.
I will only deduct half a point for not being seated till 10pm since I know that the restaurant cannot control these things precisely. But part of that half point deduction was also for the hostess who turned us away from the bar the first time. Secondly, another half point deduction as no one (not the hostess or the four waiters who visited our table throughout the night) offered to put my coat away even though it was hanging messily on the booth chairs as its hard to get a jacket around those chairs. I know I could have asked, but I wanted to see what they would do.
Overall Rating: 19/20, Food, service and ambience were all fantastic.
Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20: Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.