It’s raining when I arrive at Nielsen Park, but it doesn’t seem to be deterring the diners. With Clayton Utz, Lexus & Lilianfels-branded umbrellas at the ready, they traipse across the picturesque grounds of the national park to arrive at The Nielsen restaurant and kiosk.
New owners Sydney Restaurant Group, have left the historically significant Federation building’s vaulted ceiling and multi-coloured glazed panes as the room’s key features, adding only simple bistro-style chairs and dark wood tables.
Even on a drizzly grey day, the 1920s windows frame a wonderful view.
With a stable of ten venues, including the highly awarded Ormeggio at The Spit, LuMi Bar & Dining and Aqua Dining, Sydney Restaurant Group bring considerable experience to the table. They’ve recreated this long-standing dining space as a casual, coastal Italian eatery. The menu is in the hands of Head Chef and Co-Owner Jeff Sue, who was previously the Head Chef of Ripples Milsons Point. Despite the concise menu, Sue has still ensured there’s something here for everyone, regardless of whether for you seaside eats means battered fish and chips, or something fancier.
The wine list is equally wide-ranging. “We have a Group Sommelier, and try to make a list that’s appropriate for each venue,” Restaurant Manager Roberto Mazzoncini explains. Sitting alongside premium vintage Champagnes you’ll find a good portion of bottled wines sitting between fifty and eighty bucks, including the well-priced 2016 Giant Steps Chardonnay ($76). It’s an elegant but austere Chardonnay, with the fruit coming up when we get stuck into Pambula Rock Oysters ($4/each) with sharp white balsamic and eschallot vinaigrette.
Mazzoncini, who has come over from Chiosco by Ormeggio, makes good recommendations without being asked. The eye-catching Kingfish Crudo ($20) is certainly a good steer. The intensely, grassy green broad beans and the tartness of the blackberries celebrate the best of the season while leaving a good hole to appreciate the delicate flavour of the kingfish.
Vegetable-based dishes, like Cauliflower ($19) drizzled with smoked Cheddar fondue then dusted with finely chopped macadamia nuts and pomegranate seeds, are likely to please more than just vegetarians.
Belgian Endive ($26) is even better; counterbalancing the well-caramelised baked endive’s bitterness with juicy orange segments, creamy goat’s cheese and crisp flaked almonds.
It’s almost enough to make me suggest you skip meat entirely, but it would be a shame to miss the Rangers Valley Wagyu Bavette ($40). Presented tagliata (sliced) for easy sharing, this is a tasty, well-cooked bit of beef. Like the other dishes, it’s presented without heavy starches, but that’s not to say the dish gives you nothing to play with. Along with juicy ribbons of zucchini, there’s an excellent jus, horseradish cream and grain mustard, each in precisely the right proportion.
Controlled portion sizes means you’ll likely have room dessert. The Lemon and Yuzu Mousse ($15) eats like a cheesecake. It’s a comparatively big portion, and the dessert menu’s crowd pleaser for a reason, though with raspberry sorbet and coulis, torched meringue and milk crumbs, it lacks the pared back minimal simplicity that attracted me to the rest of the menu.
Overall though, a super-classy, pared-back modern Australian menu that will no doubt make The Nielsen an easy favourite with aquatically inclined Sydneysiders this summer.
NOTE: You can find previous reviews of this space under different owners HERE, HERE and HERE.
Greycliffe Avenue, Nielsen Park, Vaucluse
Ph: (02) 9337 7333