All change at Rocksalt bistro

The flavours are a-changin’ at Rocksalt with a new chef and new menu – perfect timing for winter, says WENDY JOHNSON.

TUCKED away at Hawker shops, Rocksalt has changed its décor and food from its original fine-dining style to a casual, comfortable bistro style.

I hadn’t been for yonks and was delighted that it’s now open early for breakfast with a coffee counter that sees cappuccinos, lattes and espressos flying out the door.

New chef Paul Hopgood has just joined the team. After finishing his apprenticeship at Aubergine (2002), Paul travelled to the UK and helped open a gastropub in Hampshire (now award-winning). He’s also worked at Alto. Rocksalt’s team includes Geoff Brooks, front-of-house, who has been in hospitality for decades (his father owned a seafood restaurant in the same building in Hawker many moons ago).

Some favourite dishes remain on the new breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, but the chef has broken free introducing exciting new elements.

The salty, marinated olives get the gastronomic juices flowing ($6). The entrée-size Parmesan-crumbed lamb’s brains with mustard sauce ($15) were soft, creamy and light. Paul has added his own twist now creating the dish with spinach (great brain food in its own right), bacon lardons and burnt-butter sauce. Rocksalt offers wine matching and recommends this dish be enjoyed with Yarra Valley’s Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir ($9 a glass).

Our other entrée, the quail, is not on the new menu, but I would return for the Szechwan-crusted calamari with spiced almonds and mixed leaves ($16) or crab and ginger spring rolls with seared scallops and mango chilli sauce ($18).

For mains, the sumac of lamb with potato and parsnip pave and smoked paprika jus remains ($28). It’s finished with a rustic pepper stew and is matched with Barossa’s Young Blood Shiraz from Tomfoolery Winery ($8.50 a glass). I loved the veggie components and the smoked paprika, but found the lamb chewy. Rocksalt reported they were road testing a new supplier and no doubt this is now all sorted.

Other enticing mains include eye fillet with rosemary and goat’s cheese hash (nice one!), served with wild mushroom ragu and wilted baby spinach finished with truffle oil ($30) and a crisp skin confit pork belly with celeriac puree, caramelised apple and broccoli, finished with a thyme jus.

Vegetarians visiting Rocksalt needn’t fret, with two interesting mains ($25) including a potato gnocchi with asparagus in a vermouth and cream sauce topped with hazelnut and blue cheese and a vegetable tarte tartin. Rocksalt adapts several dishes for cœliacs.

Rocksalt, 4/78 Hawker shops, open breakfast, lunch and dinner. 6254 7865. BYO (corkage $10). Free parking.

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