I normally avoid restaurants that are chains, headed by celebrity chefs, housed in casino complexes and specialise in steak.

However, my first experience at Rockpool and I’m converted. Neil Perry’s RockPool Bar & Grill in the uber-slick corporate confines of Crown Melbourne is a resounding HOT.

As you walk through the entrance corridor you’re surrounded by shelves of artisan, gourmet products and Neil Perry’s cookbooks, then a peek into the oyster shucking station and huge hams strung up in the coldroom. Around the corner and you’re faced with an open kitchen housing an efficient team of around 20 chefs, with a large TV screen to monitor their work (and presumably not for the diners’ entertainment).

The setting manages to be dark and sexy while being a huge cavernous space. Dark and sexy also means that my photos are not the greatest, so apologies in advance.

I was a little fearful of what the menu would offer besides slabs of meat, meat and more meat. I needn’t have worried. The placemat-sized menu has a long list of cold starters, hot starters, pasta/risottos, mains and steaks and in fact it was really difficult to choose what to eat.

In the end, we went for one parpardelle with rabbit braised in white wine and tomato, peas, herbs and green olives ($25), one grilled wood fire grilled pigeon with roasted red peppers, red grapes and radicchio ($49) and one 350g 36 month grass-fed 64 day dry aged rib eye on the bone with horseradish cream ($58) with a glass of 2008 Franz Haas Pinot Grigio ($17).

Our meals did take a while to arrive but fortunately we were not too hungry and expectations were expertly managed by our waiter, who was just the right balance of friendliness and professionalism.

The pasta, while being an entree size, was generously proportioned and quite a reasonable meal with some of the complimentary soft bread.

My pigeon was unbelievably melt-in-the-mouth tender and while the photo just makes everything look like red-on-red, it was a brilliant dish. Towards the end I picked it up with fingers and a wet towel appeared magically before me for my dirty hands. Now that’s service.

RM is extremely fussy with his steak and it’s rare for him to be satisfied with the way his rare steak is cooked (pun intended). Here his rib eye was perfectly seared and in fact it was such a miracle that he insisted that he take a photo to record the moment.

Rockpool Bar & Grill, Crown Melbourne, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank

Our two sides of roasted pumpkin and sweet potato ($10) and a dish of cavalo nero and parmesan ($10) were both good, although personally I wouldn’t order the cavalo nero again because the vegetable is just too bitter for my liking.

So far, so brilliant. Although we were full, we powered onto dessert. After the black forest cake’s recent outing in Masterchef, we couldn’t resist ordering the black forest trifle (inspired by the Fat Duck’s BFG) ($20). What came out was a huge glass bowl of chocolate sponge, liquored cherries and silken cream. I have no idea how one person is expected to eat it and it was perfect shared between us.

Rockpool Bar & Grill, Crown Melbourne, 8 Whiteman St, Southbank

All in all, a fabulous experience. RockPool Bar & Grill is not cheap but I think worth the money for the high quality, ambience and outstanding service.

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