nel. Restaurant would definitely have made my list of top 5 eats of 2016 – if only I’d gotten round to putting up this post before the end of the year!
I have been to nel. Restaurant 3 or 4 times now – in fact it was DS that first found it when it opened a couple of years ago. I’ve gone back so often because of two reasons – the menu changes every 6 weeks (!!!) and I think it’s such good value for fine dining. The current 10 course menu is $108, with an added $90 per person for matched wines.
The guy behind nel. Restaurant is Nelly Robinson, one of the coolest and most charismatic chefs I’ve ever met and worked with. Nelly is such a legend, the type of guy who you always have great banter with and he always has something inappropriate to say. I first met Nelly at Taste of Sydney last year and he’s been coming along to all our events since then!
I was super excited to try this festive edition of his menu in December – it’s still his current menu online but no doubt it’ll be different once they reopen in a few weeks!
First up – three snacks, all mysteriously named. Number 1 was Melon, jamón iberico which is totally not like the usual melon and prosciutto comb. It comes on a bed of moss that is covered with liquid nitrogen – you pop the little ball in your mouth and it explodes with a cool, liquid melon-flavoured centre matched perfectly with the jamon that’s wrapped around it. This was so unexpected and fun!
Our 2nd course was another snack Tuna, mango – beautiful tuna tartare with a mango sauce and some crispy pastry on top.
The third snack was Beef, parmesan which was like the cutest, tiniest little sandwich I’d ever seen! It was incredibly packed with flavours, such a tasty little morsel.
The next course was a surprise bread course! I love when they throw in stuff like that. We got our own little tiny loaf of brioche cut into four slices, and then a perfect semicircle of pate (although it may have been foie gras?), decorated in quite a festive, Christmassy fashion.
On to the mains! The first main dish was Crab, macadamia, pea, tomato which is again quite a theatrically presented dish – you get these test tubes of tomato sauce to pour over the whole dish! A very light and summer dish.
The next course I found very interesting. It was Carrot, garden vegetables, red leicester. The flavour combination was quite strong and I’m not sure I really loved it…I had to google red leicester to find out that it’s a cheese! That part is found in the crackers that sit on top of the veggies – they literally taste like those childhood cheese crackers we used to have during recess at school. Both DS and I looked at each other and were like…wow, that takes us back!
And that’s the great thing about all Nelly’s dishes actually. He takes inspiration from his memories and childhood, for example one of the first dishes I ever had was a dessert called ‘Don’t Eat Yellow Snow’ because his mum had always told him not to eat yellow snow (for obvious reasons…) so it was a crushed meringue dessert with a syringe of passionfruit to create your ‘yellow snow’. I also remember the tandoori kingfish they did at Taste of Sydney, which harked back to Nelly’s childhood eating Indian food.
Anyway, back to this dish – the orange puree was the carrot puree which was incredible strong in flavour. I mean, I like carrots but maybe not that much. Then I was a bit confused about the mousse-like substance in the middle, which I assumed to be a sort of vegetable mouse? This is a great vegetarian dish though, just maybe not one of my highlights of the night.
Next up was a dish served in one of Nelly’s custom made bowls – Veal, ricotta, saffron, tomato. Apparently Nelly found a random person in the middle of nowhere making ceramics. Now they make the dishes for nel. Restaurant! This dish was a bit unexpected as well – it’s actually little veal ravioli! The sauce is a very strong, quite tart flavoured accompaniment to the dish which worked well, although it was a bit heavy.
So, having edible gold in your meals (as opposed to dusted on chocolate pralines or on cupcake icing) seems to be a growing trend! I ate golden popcorn at a friend’s wedding last year, and now I’m eating golden quinoa! The Quail, rhubarb, duck, red cabbage is a dish that incorporates two popular small birds with some incredibly bright coloured accompaniments. It kind of weirded me out that I was eating golden crunchy things (like, actual gold). However, overall this was a great, substantial meaty dish. Sometimes degustation portions end up being too small – but this was definitely bigger than usual, which DS was happy about!
On to the desserts! Both of them were absolutely incredible and so, so enjoyable. The Ricotta, plum, caramel, verbena was the perfect wind down dish after the duck and quail. It was incredibly subtle. You’re eating one bit of the dish and going, oh okay… Then your next mouthful you’re like, oh I GET IT! THERE’S THE PLUM! DS and I are huge fans of plums and prunes, so we totally loved these flavour combinations.
The cryptically named “summer efflorescence” definitely wins the prettiest dish award. It’s actually a strawberry & lime sorbet (such a great flavour combinations! Gelato Messina definitely needs to do this!!!) on a bed of rosé champagne chiboust, crystallised flowers, lychees and wild strawberries. Like, whaaaat?! That already sounds incredible, and I loved how colourful it was. A very light and easy to eat dessert. I love that we didn’t have any of the classic desserts like cake or chocolate. These were so innovative that you don’t even miss those other flavours!
And finally, to end the night, they brought out the cutest little box for our petit fours – ‘Little Nel’s Sweet Shop’. Oh my goodness, I just love the theatre of this! You get four little sweets to either have there or take home in a cute little red paper bag. We opted to take them home so we could continue enjoying the experience at a later time and remember our meal at nel.! We got a Jersey milk caramel with an edible wrapper, a marshmallow, a little jelly lolly and a little pastry.
Finally, did I mention the service is always impeccable? Our waiters were all extremely knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. Oh and Nelly also comes out at the end of the night to say hi to everyone! Truly one of the best restaurants around in Sydney – I can’t wait to go back when the menu changes again!
75 Wentworth Avenue