Within months of its opening, Three, One, Two (312 Drummond St.; 61-3/9347-3312; dinner for two $110) snagged multiple Best New Restaurant awards from the Australian press. Everyone loves to love a sharp, quirky gem infused with the chef’s personality. Especially if that chef is the fabulous Andrew McConnell, who has won quite a following at Circa at the Prince hotel. With white-napped tables, cowhide rugs on terrazzo floors, and whimsically torn faux-suede curtains, the setting at his new place is crisp and sexy. And McConnell’s focused cooking strikes just the right balance between adventure and comfort. The best strategy: order his nine-course degustation, which kicks off with crunchy Tunisian brik, pastry rolled around fromage blanc and figs—cleverly served in a Romeo y Julieta cigar box. An entrée of Chinese white-poached chicken with feather-light corn quenelles, pickled shimeji mushrooms, and a gingery watercress sauce pays elegant homage to Hong Kong, where McConnell once cooked for M at the Fringe. The roasted pheasant, by contrast, tastes like British gourmet-granny fare, with its bread sauce, salsify, and perky accent of sorrel. For dessert, a terrine of sliced apples, simmered just short of forever until reduced to a pure essence of fruit, then chilled, is lifted right off the plate with burnt-butter ice cream and a sweet-salty caramel sauce. What’s not to love about that?
Rockpool Bar & Grill (Crown Casino, 8 Whiteman St., Southbank; 61-3/ 8648-1900; dinner for two $150) is the opposite of a small, chef-centered restaurant—but then nobody expects understatement from Neil Perry, the ponytailed übertoque who has better name recognition in Australia than the prime minister. Here he is wokking prawns on telly, there he is designing a menu for Qantas and launching yet another product line. For his Melbourne debut, Perry chose a glitzy location and spent millions furnishing the cavernous, copper-hued room with spotted-gum tables, a showy polished-steel exhibition kitchen, and a dramatic partition, made of 2,000 pieces of sailing rope, that divides the bar from the dining room. Whereas his Rockpool in Sydney is famous for its razzle-dazzle Pacific Rim fusion, here Perry draws on American steak houses. OD’d on steak houses, you say? No worries, mate. Besides the awesome Blackmore Wagyu beef, the menu presents a veritable roster of crowd-pleasers: live Tasmanian scallops on the half-shell with a sprightly ceviche dressing; a perfect lobster-and-avocado salad highlighted with hazelnut-lime foam; slow-roasted chicken from ecologically pristine Kangaroo Island, and biodynamically raised local lamb, simply grilled with garlic and rosemary. Locals are still deciding whether Perry’s gambit rocks their world ("too flashy," "too Sydney," some say) but that doesn’t prevent them from bragging that Rockpool’s arrival finally proves Melbourne’s culinary supremacy over the rival city.