The creative owner of one of Sydney’s top restaurants, nel., has released a special Disney-inspired menu that has set tongues wagging.
Entering renowned Surry Hills restaurant nel. is a little theatrical in itself – down a flight of stairs from street level to a low-lit dining space of raw exposed brick walls and pipes, with the kitchen and service area in full view.
British-born chef Nelly Robinson is known for his interactive dining experiences. With a desire to keep things interesting for his patrons, Nelly creates a unique degustation menu every eight weeks. His restaurant has achieved critical acclaim and accolades for offering something fresh and innovative among Sydney’s fine-dining circles.
Currently on Robinson’s menu is ‘Once Upon A Time’ – an amazing feast for all the senses which draws on his favourite animated children’s films.
After settling in to our teak and black leather chairs, our waiter places a small candle on our table. “For a bit of romance,” he suggests.
The restaurant is fuss-free, with minimal decorations and no tablecloths. It makes perfect sense because the real star here is the food, service and the clever presentation, which I am about to discover.
As we read through the special Once Upon a Time menu, I’m noticing the ‘romance’ candle is burning through rather quickly. Just in the nick of time, our waiter returns carrying a basket of bread, inspired by Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and explains that said candle is in fact not wax at all, but made of French Lumiere butter mixed with turmeric – and we are now encouraged to dip our cheese bread morsels into the pooling puddle of thick, buttery goodness.
From here, I realise it’s best to not ask too many questions, to not over-analyse, but like any good fairy tale film, to be transported with the whimsy of the experience.
Each of the 11 dishes on the menu are each inspired by movie characters or films – and none are presented in straight black and white style. The ‘Telling Porky Pies’ (a truffle and gruyere cheese gougère ‘wooden nose’ that’s served with mushroom) is presented in a custom birdcage. The ‘Bippity Boppitty Boo’ is served in pumpkins, making us feel like we’re dining from Cinderella’s coach.
Disney melodies play softly in the background, as groups of friends, couples and a grandmother and her grandson all enjoy the unexpected wonder that arises when each course is artfully presented. It’s tempting to glance over to other tables to see what dish they are up to and what lies ahead in the next ‘act’, but I remind my curious, journalistic mind that is like fast-forwarding through a gripping movie to reach the end – where’s the fun in that?
As our waiter presents ‘Bambi’s Mum’, he warns “This is a little bit controversial”.
A plate of slow-cooked venison has been rolled in peppers and is served with beetroot and parsnip. He takes a rifle casing and sprinkles, in dramatic fashion, a mix of seeds over the dish, “sprinkling the shot that finished her off,” he laments.
Chef Robinson explains: “I think everyone cried when Bambi’s mum got shot…. well, I know I did. I love these films from my childhood and know so many people who feel the same way, so I decided to create a one of a kind experience for my diners,” he said.
Dishes start with ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’ and finish with the ‘Seven Moods’.
A Mad Hatter’s Tea Party kicks off the sweet ending, with hibiscus-infused Earl Grey tea served in a traditional china cup and saucer that could well be little ‘Chip’ from Beauty and the Beast, served alongside charcoal scones with beetroot cream and a red velvet cake with mascarpone cream.
Not wishing to create a ‘spoiler alert’, it’s best to keep some of the other dishes (and their clever presentation something of a mystery. But I will say, save room for the Asante Sana Squash Banana dessert (banana mousse, saffron banana, tamarind caramel, puffed wild rice and green apple sorbet).
Once Upon a Time – A Degustation will run until 29 June. The eleven-course meal is priced at $118per person, with an optional $90 per person for beverage matching.
Bookings available online at nelrestaurant.com.au