Nel Restaurant, Sydney

In the current dining climate of fast food and share plates comes an exciting addition to the Sydney restaurant scene. Nel Restaurant by Chef Nelly Robinson has opened in an underground bunker-style venue in Sydney’s CBD serving an innovative tasting menu.

And it’s a breath of fresh air.

Nel Restaurant, Sydney
Chef Nelly Robinson at Nel Restaurant

Located in Wentworth Avenue near Elizabeth St in the vicinity of Central Station Hotel and Fino Par, the underground venue features exposed bricks, sleek copper facades and a bar with additional seating. Easily viewed from every table, the open kitchen is a central feature adding theatrical elements to the dining experience.

Nel Restaurant, Sydney
Nel Restaurant

From the moment you enter the subterranean venue and you’re welcomed by the attentive team, you sense that you’re in for a memorable time.

Inspired by Robinson’s experiences with English chef Nigel Howarth of Northcote Manor in the UK, Nel Restaurant features a seasonal tasting menu ($88 pp) which changes monthly. The menu itself simply lists ingredients which unravel into beautifully presented dishes.

The food can be supplemented by 10 matching wines (additional $80pp) with two served per dish, a concept that encourages conversations and comparisons and somewhat reminiscent of Les 110 de Taillevent in Paris.

Nel Restaurant also offers a tasting lunch menu at $35 which changes weekly.

Nel Restaurant, Sydney
Truffle Crunch, Smoked Salmon, Dill; Pickled Quail Egg, Kombu

The first dish brings the wow factor to the table with two amuse-bouches presented on a rock. The Truffle Crunch is a mini truffle macaron filled with smoked salmon and dill, a combination of sweet and savoury with a hint of earthiness. The Pickled Quail Egg resting on shaved kombu just flown in from Japan is a soft egg with a delicious umani flavour that trumps the truffle crunch. Put one in your mouth and it’s simply a flavour sensation.

Nel Restaurant, Sydney
Green Peas, Ham

Staying true to British heritage, Green Peas and Ham don’t get any better than this. The mini logs contain two different types of pig meat – head and trotters – that have been slow cooked for 5 hours, shredded, pressed, bread-crumbed and deep fried with dollops of green pea puree. Designed to be eaten by hand, they are crisp on the outside with soft flavoursome meat on the inside.

Nel Restaurant, Sydney
Scallops, Watermelon, Avocado, Lime, Soy

Next comes the first dish to be accompanied by two wines. Scallops, Watermelon, Avocado, Lime, Soy is a delicate combination of flavours with sweetness from the compressed melon and savoury notes from the tender scallops with olive oil, soy and lime topped with cucumber foam.

The dish is paired with 2011 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Riesling Terroir d’Alsace from France and 2012 Maison Louis Jadot Chablis from Burgundy, with the former pairing well with its crisp acid and fruit.

Nel Restaurant, Sydney
Venison Carpaccio, Pepper, Chocolate, Pickled Enoki

The Venison Carpaccio, Pepper, Chocolate, Pickled Enoki is a standout dish. A medley of five peppers is used – sichuan, green, pink, white and black pepper – which give the dish a unique flavour. The thinly-sliced venison is tender, and the lovely gamey flavour is offset by the rich chocolate soil. The pickled enoki mushrooms add a little acid to the dish and cut through the richness of the chocolate soil. This is truly a sensational dish to be savoured.

The 2013 Curlewis Winery ‘Bel Sel’ Pinot Noir, Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria proves to be an excellent match while the 2012 Domaine Bertagna Hautes Cotes de Nuits ‘Les Dames Hugettes from Burgundy offers a lighter option.

Nel Restaurant, Sydney
Beetroot, White Balsamic, Goats Cheese

Continuing the theme of elegant presentation, the Beetroot, White Balsamic, Goats Cheese has a mix of yellow and purple pickled beets in a light balsamic vinegar which adds a sweet element to the dish. The whipped goats cheese is light as air in texture, almost like a mousse and is encased by crunchy brik pastry.

The dish is paired with 2013 Cullen Amber from Margaret River in WA, a funky wine made from Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc where the grapes were left on skins and fermented for up to 30 days, and 2013 Miraval Rosé, an excellent wine from Côtes de Provence.

Nel Restaurant, Sydney
Kangaroo, Charred Leaf, Carrot, Dijon, Blackcurrant 

Facing the kitchen, it’s easy to forget your dining partner and become absorbed in all the action. Chefs warming plates with a blow torch, pureeing of vegetables, brik pastry filled with goats cheese from a whipping siphon and the prompt call of “service” when the food is ready.

For the next dish, Kangaroo, Charred Leaf, Carrot, Dijon, Blackcurrant, the loin of the animal is used, cooked sous vide for 3 hours at 40C then lightly seared in a hot pan. The lettuce is rubbed with oil then charred on a grill. The carrot puree is heated and the whole dish comes together with a truffle foam and blackcurrants.

The kangaroo meat is served just pink tender and full of flavour. The Dijon-laced carrot puree has a subtle hint of spice from the mustard while the charred leaf adds a little smoke.

The dish pairs perfectly with the spicy notes of the 2012 McHenry Hohnen Zinfandel, Margaret River from WA. Equally delicious is the other pairing, the 2011 Cantine Vietti Nebbiolo Perbacco Langhe from Piedmont in Italy.

Nel Restaurant, Sydney
Peach, Elderflower, Buttermilk, Chilli Nuts

A pre-dessert or a delicate table ornament? The Peach, Elderflower, Buttermilk, Chilli Nuts is served in a glass bowl like a vase. Compressed peach, elderflower sorbet and chilli flakes for a touch of lingering heat make it a good palate cleanser.

Nel Restaurant, Sydney
Pistachio, White Corn, Cherry

Dessert is described as a deconstructed black forest gateau with Pistachio, White Corn, Cherry on a chocolate soil and a secret ingredient which we won’t reveal so as not to spoil the surprise. It’s sweet and textural, putting a fine end to the meal.

The last two dishes are paired with 2011 Dourthe Wines Grand Terroirs Sauternes from France and 2014 Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Riesling from the Clare Valley in South Australia.

Nel Restaurant, Sydney
Eccles Cakes, Lemon Curd, Lime; Chocolate, Passionfruit

The surprises continue till the end, and the Eccles Cakes, Lemon Curd, Lime are served warm and burst in the mouth with a delightful lemon curd flavour.

The Chocolate, Passionfruit are tiny flavour bombs made from passionfruit puree in liquid nitrogen, coated with fine Guatemalan chocolate and topped with pomegranate dust. Pop it whole in the mouth then bite, it releases a delicious liquid along with the melting chocolate.

Nel Restaurant is a dining experience that remains long talked about. The concept flirts with fine dining but brings a more relaxed experience without the price tag. The ambience is sophisticated yet comfortable and unpretentious. This is adult dining with grown up food, impressive techniques and impeccable service – a breath of fresh air in a Sydney underground venue.

Nel Restaurant
75 Wentworth Avenue
Sydney, NSW, 2000
Tuesday-Saturday 6pm-late.
Thursday-Friday 12pm-3pm

About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is a drinks writer, author of GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL GARDEN, SHRUBS & BOTANICAL SODAS and founder/editor of Gourmantic, Cocktails & Bars and The Gourmantic Garden. She has been writing extensively about spirits, cocktails, bars and cocktail gardening in more recent years. She is a spirits and cocktail competition judge, Icons of Whisky Australia nominee, contributor to Diageo Bar Academy, cocktail developer and is named in Australian Bartender Magazine's Top 100 Most Influential List. Her cocktail garden was featured on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia and has won several awards. She is a contributor to Real World Gardener radio program and is featured in several publications including Pip Magazine, Organic Gardener, Australian Bartender and Breathe (UK). Read the full bio here.