A Conversation With nel.’s Nelly Robinson

On the 25th of February, the Fiancé and I celebrated our 6th anniversary. It’s weird, being engaged. We’re in this limbo, where we have been together for 6 years. “How long have you been together?”, someone may ask in the future. “Well, we just celebrated our 2nd anniversary, but we were together 6.5 years before we were married, and we’ve known each other since we were 14…”. It’s a bit of a mouthful.

Anyway, we celebrated our 6 years at nel., a restaurant in Surry Hills. We wanted to go for a degustation, so I asked the mighty Sydney Food Bloggers where we should go. I received an overwhelmingly large number of suggestions, and (after some research) decided on nel. The food was amazing, the service was fantastic, and the wine was great.

I was lucky enough to get an interview with Nelly Robinson, owner and chef of nel.

Why did you decide to create a restaurant that specialises in degustation?

When I arrived in Sydney I noticed there were a whole lot of places offering ‘shared plate’ style dining and I decided that degustation was needed!


Great! It’s definitely needed. What is your inspiration for the menu?

My inspiration is always the same – childhood memories and travel! On the current menu we are serving a BBQ tandoori kingfish with smoked yoghurt, lobster soil and cucumber raita. This dish reminds me of a goof old ruby-murray/curry from my the UK plus my travels in India where I discovered that traditional coastal Indian cuisine was so different to the western servings of heavy, creamy, thick curries.

I tried to BBQ tandoori kingfish, and it was amazing! So i’ve heard you do a monthly menu. I was wondering: why a monthly menu instead of seasonal menu?

The reason we create a monthly menu is to it keep our guests interested in what we do at nel.
We have regular guests that dine with us every month and knowing that the menu is constantly changing ensures that they never see the same dish twice. We also get bored quickly, and love to experiment with food.

Nelly Robinson nel.
How do you decide which wines should accompany each dish?

We have an amazing front of house team but our sommelier Thibaud has worked in some incredible restaurants and resorts around the world. His knowledge of wine is outstanding so when I create a dish, it’s like a lightbulb goes off in his head and he instantly thinks of a wine that will match. We then create the whole menu and taste test as a team to make sure the match is perfect.

Can I join for the taste testing? No? Okay. And what’s on this month’s menu?
With Easter around the corner, we wanted to bring back the childhood excitement of the traditional easter egg garden hunt. We created a dish where diners have to find the quail Scotch egg — that’s all I can say, I don’t want to ruin the surprise!

No fun! But that’s such a cute concept. How far in advance do you plan each month’s menu?
We plan the menus two months in advance. We love experimenting and trying different techniques so it’s a long process to the finished product. Myself, Fabian (my sous chef), and Jason (my pastry chef) work closely together to create menus that wow!

You can catch Nelly at Taste of Sydney at Centennial Parklands from 10-13th March.

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