As a general rule of thumb, nothing good ever happens in a bunker. Known for storing canned goods and providing shelter, it’s not exactly a location that people enter enthusiastically.
Unless, of course, an innovative, degustation-only restaurant awaits. That’s just the case with nel., a Surry Hills restaurant that’s reinventing the degustation wheel from a basement on Wentworth Avenue.
Just who would be audacious enough to do such a thing? The answer is Nelly Robinson. The young English chef started his culinary career at 15, taking on an apprenticeship at the Michelin-starred Northcote Manor. He was mentored by chef patron, Nigel Haworth and worked with the likes of Warrick Dodds, Mark Birchill and Lisa Allen. After completing his training, he headed over to Stanley House, stepping into the Head Chef role at just 22.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Nelly soon found his way to Sydney and at the age of 29, opened nel. Here, he stamps a unique personality on his menu, combining both British and international influences to present eight courses that celebrate the very best of Australian ingredients.
In order to stay true to the seasons, nel.’s menu changes every six weeks. However, each dish can be considered a contemporary interpretation of modern Australian flavours, created using both modern and traditional techniques.
In the past, menus have opened with classic combinations such as melon and jamon Iberico, and oyster and finger lime. As with all considered degustations, the main plates generally move from light to heavy and back again: daikon, watermelon, avocado and feta give way to crab, macadamia, pea and tomato, before moving onto snapper, ginger, grape and sepia.
Main proteins could range from kangaroo to pork, and have previously included a Wagyu beef flank with nutmeg pomme puree, oyster mushrooms, charred green asparagus and scented mushroom foam.
No matter what you end up eating, you can watch all the action unfold in the open kitchen, where Nelly, Executive Pastry Chef Jason Brown, Head Chef Fabian Mucke and their brigade are centre stage. The white-tiled kitchen is complemented by exposed bricks walls and chic Scandinavian furnishings, making you forget you’re underground.
If making a single choice seems like too much, opt to add matching wines to your degustation – drops from Hungary, Germany, New Zealand, Australia and France are all on offer.
With an affordable price tag, nel. is bringing degustation back to the people. Casual enough for a midweek meal, but special enough for a celebration, it’s redefining bunker dining.