Bianca: Descending the steps into Nel Restaurant you could virtually be anywhere in the country, a warm and dimly lit bunker-like setting, opens up before you. With exposed pipes and brickwork and an open kitchen that takes up the entire length of the restaurant. Chef Nelly Robinson was at the pass, quietly and calmly directing orders to the staff. With a single clap, servers promptly collected plates and rushed to gracefully place dishes upon tables.
We were dining at Nel to make good use of Citibank’s dining program and it was a first at Nel for all of Team FFS. Part of the Citibank_Dining Program is a complimentary bottle of wine for all members. How could we ever pass up a bottle of booze? We instantly settled on a bottle of Tarrawarra Estates 2015 Barbera, one that we instantly noted down for our personal wine collections.
Nel offers 8 courses for $98 pp, with the option of matching wines for an extra $80 pp. We arrived at 6pm and it was empty barring two tables and there was close to no atmosphere but this quickly changed closer to 7pm as each table was filled and a low hubbub quickly enveloped Nel.
We began with 3 snacks or amuse bouche (which we now jokingly refer to as moosh boosh). The first being Goats Curd & Tomato – a Goats curd and smokey paprika filled puff/crisp with an accompanying test tube filled with tomato water and basil oil. Such a fantastical way to start the meal and really get the taste-buds going. An almost deconstructed bruschetta.
The Game & Blackcurrant – was an interesting take on a taco with a game sausage and a blackcurrant taco shell. To qualify it in a sentence it was like Mexico in two bites.
The Truffle Hunt – played to every sense as we sorted through ‘truffle sand’ to find little chicken bites. Dotted with scattered pistachio nuts. Flavour wise we instantly thought of our mum’s chicken schnitzel.
Hands down our favourite thing from our meal at Nel were the Rosemary and onion scones with onion jam and Dijon and cheddar butter. One small bite of the light and airy scone instantly brought me back to primary school and the smell and taste of piping hot sausage rolls from the canteen. I would go back to Nel for these alone!
The first of the entrée’s was the Tuna, treacle, yuzu and sesame. There was an intense hit of sourness from the yuzu granita and it was a great contrast between the other ingredients on the plate. The tuna was mild in flavour but velvety in the mouth. I found myself scraping the sesame seeds off the tuna as it was far too strong a flavour for the delicate fish.
We were now steamrolling through dishes as staff promptly and seamlessly removed empty plates and keeping a well-paced gap between each course. The Cauliflower, cheese, beetroot and curry was a wonderfully light soufflé with subtle hints of cauliflower. The cauliflower puree/pickle was rather potent and divided the table. I’m not really one for beetroot but it wasn’t too overpowering and I enjoyed the curious texture of the beetroot ‘bubbles’.
A close second to the scones was the Chicken, asparagus, chive and garlic. Before I dissect this dish, the descriptions of each dish on the menu was literally presented as stated throughout. Ingredients listed with no mention as to the technique it will be cooked or the way in which it will be served. So as every plate of food hit the table it was a continual surprise. We were instantly taken aback as this was placed before us. First it was the interesting deep serving-ware (we all have a penchant for home-wares here at FFS). And then it was the vibrant colours and smells of the dish.
We were told ‘Chicken oyster’ and Vanessa instantly made a quick detour to google. We dug in before she could sully whatever it was we were eating. But never fear, the oyster meat is prized by chefs as the tastiest on a chicken. Lying on either side of a chicken’s backbone. The small nuggets of chicken were crispy on the outside despite being submerged in the broth. They still retained some bite and chewiness but the flavour simply outweighed the texture in this case. There was a strong hit of herbs and a minor twinge of bitterness within the broth. The small gnocchi/ chive dumplings were delicious and just added a whole other level.
Our last savoury and the heartier dish of the degustation. Beef, coffee, macadamia and cabbage. A perfectly executed medium rare piece of coffee rubbed beef. Which had lingering coffee notes on the back of the palette. The little half spheres of caramelised onion offered some sourness and the macadamia puree added some creaminess and simply tied everything together.
Already having reached a limit it was time for sweeties! With the pre-dessert Almond, lemon and grapefruit. A refreshing and light dish that got sweet receptors firing on all cylinders. The vanilla meringue avoided that sometimes eggy flavouring – chewy yet crispy on the outside. Citrus notes from the yuzu cream and the crumb on the base was great to absorb all the liquid elements on the plate.
And the final dish – Chocolate, orange, quark and hazelnut. A beautiful amalgamation of chocolate and orange notes. It was a celebration of all things tart, salty and sweet. Alex adored the praline and orange roulade. The small dollops of cheesecake (made with quark) had hazelnuts incorporated within. I loved the chocolate and orange crumb. Similar to the pre-dessert, the crumb absorbed a lot the melting liquid. But really tying it all together was the chocolate ice-cream, which was surprisingly salty and contrasted beautifully with the rest of the elements.
Finishing finally with a round of coffees and some petit fours. The first was a show stopping number (We were continually wowed literally to the very last plate of food). Bergamot and earl gray. A jelly like bite full made to look like a cracked egg. Within a basket of hay and cracked egg shells.
The Coconut and Passionfruit came with its very own warning by the server. “Have it in one mouthful”. Alex and I went first and were instantly met with a passion-fruit explosion with a final hint of coconut. It was the perfect way to end a flawless meal at Nel.
We were well and truly floored by every dish, with each and every dish outdoing the last. Alex drew instant links between the food at Brisbane’s Esquire and NEL. But in all honestly, for price, satisfaction with the food and service and inventiveness. There was no competition whatsoever. I haven’t stopped recommending Nel since my meal a week back.
We’re always on the hunt to ‘try more’, would a free bottle of vino sway you into a restaurant?
Photos by Alex
*For Food’s Sake dined as guests of Citibank and Nel Restaurant. All opinions however are our own and independent.