Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When Alice meets Adrià

“Eat this one first,” says Vicky, introducing herself as a ‘guide’ (not waitress) for our meal at Ritual Restaurant in Nelson Bay, north of Newcastle. She’s not wearing a headband, but there’s a definite Wonderland feel about her comment.

She brings a slim dish of three bite-sized morsels. They don’t look like anything I have ever cooked – or eaten.

Carl and Kelie Kenzler have arrived at this point – running this tiny restaurant seating just 12 diners, in a country town shopping strip – from widely different places.

In practice Kelie uses her scientific knowledge from her background in marine biology, while Carl applies his cookery skills and together they come up with some truly amazing concoctions. It works like this.

Once Kelie has selected the foods she feels should balance each other, according to their flavour molecules (I told you it was tricky), Carl’s role is to develop the recipes. In some dishes he partners eucalyptus and blackcurrant,  in another parsnip, pear and vanilla – but the aim is  never to shock or alarm, simply to alert the tastebuds. To surprise you. And they do that, for sure.

Chef Kenzler’s batterie de cuisine is not mainstream either – a soda syphon for gases, a dehydrator (for ice cream shards) a domestic fairy floss machine, and a thermomix. Most of them don’t come cheap. In addition to grappling with the logistics of preparation, his artistic eye envisions the colours, placement, shapes and design of the food on the plate.

‘Molecular cuisine’ is not quite the right term, for what they are attempting, they say, despite the couple’s familiarity with the careers of Ferran Adrià, Hervé This, and the one they lean towards most, Heston Blumenthal, chef-proprietor of Fat Duck, at Bray in England.

“He really does look at how things work, how to make the entire experience the most memorable. He is an amazing man,” they tell me.

”Just call our cuisine avant-garde,” Kelie decides.

Surprised locals are warming to the ‘Tasting Journey’ that presents 10 or more mini-courses and forty foods over a couple of hours. Palate cleansers prepare for the next combination, there are ‘interim dishes’, and occasional ‘edible menus’ where your choice of flavour combinations decides which dish will be served next. A culinary detour, if you like.

The complex set menu changes according to the season, and organic produce is used if possible. Even the paint on the walls is chemical-free.

Challenging food prejudices is not easy, and winter in beach towns means the dining scene gets quiet, so the couple use their expertise in other ways with Carl sharing his skills with young chefs at the local TAFE college.

More recently the couple have moved their menu towards providing ‘multi-sensory experiences’. Whatever that is.

After my mind-blowing meal wandering through 'wonderland', I reckon I can trust this couple to do that sensationally too.

Guess I’ll just have to go again to see what they are up to. Soon.


Ritual Restaurant, Armidale Avenue, Nelson Bay, NSW, 02 4981 5514, Tasting Journey, evenings by reservation only, set price for menu only or matched with tasting glasses of wines.

The special invitation-only twelve-course multi-sensory dining experience, the Twelve Days of Christmas menu, is available from 12th to 24th December, 2011.

Please tell us, what is the most unusual place you have dined at?


  1. Wow! If nothing else it would be an exciting experience. Don't know if we'll get up to Nelson's Bay but we do have friends in that region and will let them know of this restaurant.

  2. It is certainly worth a visit, John.