Sunday, April 3, 2011

5hr dinner. It's not a meal. It's a Ritual.

What do you get when a passionate, creative chef has access to fresh local produce and wines coming from Port Stephens, The Hunter Valley and other neighboring regions? Add a dedicated team of chefs and floor staff that share that same passion to take you on a journey where you will rediscover ... Taste.

The answer is Ritual Restaurant.

Since first reading about Ritual, I have waited over 12 months to come and dine at this establishment. I would describe the restaurant as a Mary Poppins carpet bag. Nestled in the suburban side of Nelson Bay, there are no water/beach views and away from Port Stephens marina and other main eateries. It's located in a local shopping complex, next to a Blockbuster video store and a bottle shop - sound like a plain old carpet bag so far??
Unlock the latches and so many magical things flourish from it. It's all about the food using all your senses to appreciate and rediscover textures and taste. There are no menus provided, rather, tasting spoons are given at the start of each course where you taste two flavor combinations and decide on your taste preference. Like an interactive "Choose Your Own Adventure" menu where your taste buds decides the fate of your meal. So let the adventure begin.....

Amuse Bouche: Garlic Fairy Floss + Beer Nuts Sorbet

Before and after of Hydrating Wet Napkins

After the amuse bouche we knew we were in for a treat as all your conceptions of food and taste are left at the door and you're unaware of what is to come. We were shown to our table to find a white tablet in a small bowl. This looked like a pre-dinner mint and luckily we didn't eat it impulsively as our waiter soon came with a jug of hot water that hydrated the tablet into a napkin. He also mentioned that some patrons have tried eating it resulting in all moisture being sucked out of your mouth.
Tom Yum Spheres encasing Hawkesbury River Prawn
Antipasto Plate
(Olive Gel with Fetta Sauce, Sun-dried Tomato Bomb with Caper Surprise,
Crispy Artichoke Shell with Artichoke Sorbet, and Celery Chips)

There were surprises with every dish but a highlight would have been the Tom Yum Spheres. We didn't know what to expect when the table was cleared for this course as all we were given was a pair of tweezers. Perfectly spherical orbs of delicious Tom Yum soup encasing a Hawkesbury River prawn. The instant it touches your mouth the orb explodes into a bouquet of rich flavours. Oh and the tweezers were to delicately add the optional coriander flower and chili.

Tasting Flavour 1: Sesame seed, Lemon, Wakame and pickled GingerDish for Flavour 1: Slow cooked Tasmanian Ocean Trout Won-ton sandwich (R)
Tasting Flavour 2: Black Truffle Oil and Australian Organic Rainforest HoneyDish for Flavour 2: Truffle infused Scallops, Potato, Honey and Black Truffle Soil with Truffle Potato Cigar and Australian Native Violets. (L)

Parsley Sorbet Palate Cleanser + Kitchen utensil used @ Ritual = Apple Macbook
Tasting Spoons + Veggie Plate
(Cauliflower biscuits with Parsley White Sauce, Heirloom beetroot and Green peppercorn parcels,
Parmesan Crisps with Roast Pumpkin foam, Sweet corn liquid kernels with hot butter sauce)

Taste of Flavour 1: Hops, Pineapple, Cured Tomato and Brazil Nuts.Dish for Flavour 1: Hops smoked Redgate farmed quail, rolled with Brazil nuts and pineapple
Cured heirloom tomatoes, green capsicum rings and pearls of red & black organic quinoa.
Taste of Flavour 2: Blackcurrant balsamic vinegar, Eucalypt and Leek.Dish for Flavour 2: Blackcurrant balsamic vinegar marinated Saltbush lamb, Sebago filegree, Eucalypt mash, blackcurrant balsamic vinegar jus and Eucalyptus caviar.

Palate Cleanser: Apple Hookahs with Mint vinaigrette sorbet

The table was cleared once more. This time we were left with a small dish containing a small piece of plastic that resembled a hollowed out pen lid. To our amazement they were actually individual mouth pieces for the apparatus placed in the centre of our table. A middle eastern Hookah filled with apple essence. It was such a blast looking like 4 stoney's smoking off a central bong. Surprisingly it worked wonders as a palate cleanser with clear notes of evaporated apple swirling around your mouth and nose.
The Mint vinaigrette sorbet was a taste I didn't agree with, though it did do it's duty in cleansing my palate, it was a tad potent on the vinegarette side and left me feeling like I just got my teeth sand blasted at the dentist.

Some call it Molecular Gastronomy, others avant garde, I call it a totally awesome experience and an absolute must for all bucket lists. It is definitely one of the best meals/experiences I have ever had.

It was interesting to see that the experiments Chef Kenzler mentioned during our meal were introduced to the menu 3 months later for Lobo's meal (keep reading below). Ritual only serve 12 guests each night so make sure you book well in advance and be prepared for a taste adventure.

Till next time ... we eat!!! Shanks.

Ritual's 'My Country' Banquet January 2011

Christmas and New Year. What an exhausting time. Most years I plan a small getaway with a few friends in January just to recover from the frantic festive season. And after Shanks came back with stories about Ritual, it was not difficult to convince my foodie friends that this year, Nelsons Bay had to be the destination of our trip.

Three weeks before the weekend away. "Sorry we are all booked out for the weekend, but I will put you on the waiting list in case anything changes". Ten years (what it felt like) sitting by the phone waiting for the call to come through. Two days before "Yes we can fit you in for four on the Saturday. See you then". Phew!

Many thanks to Ritual for squeezing us in. As Shanks said they usually only serve twelve guests per night, but that Saturday they went above and beyond, and pumped out enough food for sixteen (they even borrowed a chair to be able to seat us all!). Unreservedly the best and most unique dining experience I've had to date. Anyway, on with the show!

A Telugu Indian New Year tradition rings in the new year with a festive dish that celebrates the six different tastes. Ritual has used this concept and given it a Aussie twist, using the poem My Country by Dorothea McKellar as inspiration for its dishes. 

Don't feel overwhelmed. Kelie emails you the menu at a later date, so there's no need to be madly writing down what everything is. Just sit back and enjoy the ride. 

CW: Garlic fairy floss on rosemary skewers; chef explaining the inspiration for the nights menu;
Chickpea and polenta fries with an aioli custard; Entree tasting spoons - Yuzu pickled ginger and wasabi, Sherry and chocolate.
Napkin Tablet
CW: Tom yum spheres; Edible wall art; Wall art spoons:
- Bangalow pork crackling with sour plum
- Rye crisp, smoked cheese, caper and crispy chicken skin

(top) Honey cured SA Kingfish encasing salmon roe, wasabi and squid ink herring roe served on a yuzu and ginger sauce, slow cooked baby fennel, sesame and wakame rice sand, pickled and fresh heirloom radishwith beer coral. Mandarin, squid ink and wasabi tempura kingfish (representing a Jewelled Sea).
(bottom) Millefuille of Oss smoked eel, chocolate infuesed choko, potato and cherry. Cherry chocolate river and smoked eel tapioca. Roulade of cherry and Bangalow pork with chervil (representing Ragged Mountain Ranges).

CW: Palate clenser of parsley sorbet;
Mains tasting spoons - Whiskey, sage and kumquat. Beetroot, green peppercorn, mushroom and feta;
Golden beet cappuccino (golden beetroot and green peppercorn); Sage flower with burnt butter ice cream.

Edible wall art #2
L: Crispy artichoke shell with artichoke paste
R: Strawberry scent with Celery seed rice crackers.
(top) Roulade of Macleay Vallet Rabbit and salted Nagamie Cumquat, blow torched with cumquat and whiskey marmalade, Tzatziki, scattered barley and Sebago rosti. (representing a land of Sweeping Plains)
(bottom) Lentil and mushroom soil, beetroot marinated saltbush lamb backstrap on a beetroot and feta dip with foliage of rocket, potato crisps and spinach leaves. Dehydrated beetroot crumbed, mushroom pate filled, saltbush lamb cutlet with leaves of spinach and golden beetroot chips. Pickled heirloom beetroot orchids (Representing Orchids Deck the Tree Tops and Ferns the Warm Dark Soil).

CW: Palate clenser of mint vinaigrette sorbet (served with watermelon shisha);
Edible wall art #3 - Hunter Valley Blumembert, pineapple pillows and Lemon Basil
- Pink peppercorn, dark and white French organic chocolate fudge;
Dessert tasting spoons - Rhubarb, citrus and eucalypt.
- Harrisa, chilli and cardamon (representing a Sunburnt Country).

- Harissa caramel soil and cardamon sherbet road. Harissa and cardamon mousse with apricot nectar gel. Harissa caramel biscuit, cardamon parfait, harissa filo topped with dried and poached organic apricots.
- Rhubarb liquer lollipop rolled in baked coconut. Rubarb and eucalpy meringue pie. Coconut bark encasing creme fraiche and dehydrated rhubarb and citrus zest. Rhubarb marshmallow rolled in citrus sherbet and a coconut cone filled with liquid nitrogen frozen droplets (Representing the Stark White Ring Barked Forest). 

Ritual Restaurant is located at Armidale Avenue, Nelson Bay.

Ritual Restaurant on Urbanspoon


  1. definitely looks like a very interesting meal. sounds like it's a lot harder to get a seat at Ritual than it is to go to Tetsuyas. glad to hear the 5 hours was worth it for you. i haven't really had molecular gastronomy before and always wonder if the the trickery adds to the meal or if it's just too overly done and takes away from the food itself.

  2. wow so many cool dishes! love the idea of garlic floss and the apple hookahs! lol

  3. My goodness what a feast! Looks great!

  4. wow such fabulous presentations! and lols at the macbook in the kitchen!

  5. Fantastic blog! Wag

  6. How incredible is that garlic fairy floss? In fact, the whole meal looks amazing.

  7. What an amazing place, one which serves you food according to your taste rather than one which dictates what you shall eat! I love that you both had different experiences but that said, I'd be disappointed if I didn't get that trout wonton and the rabbit terrine, they look sensational!

  8. Shhhhh, don't tell anyone else or it'll be impossible to book in again for a long, long time! Seriously, this is an incredible find, loved the two impressions and the fantastic photos!

  9. What an experience! No wonder you waited so long to try it. Great find! :D

  10. Garlic fairy floss, very cool indeed.

  11. Interesting name.. so many great dishes.

  12. SFF: I think I had a hard time just because a large party took up the entire restaurant that night. Plus much, much, much, MUCH more affordable than Tets.

    Molecular gastronomy is looking at the mechanisms of phenomena that you observe during the cooking processes. Why do vegetables lose their colour when cooked, why are some meats cooked slow and long and others served barely cooked. It brings the science back from food science and the chemical makeup foods, to the cooking techniques that we use and the reasons why they work.

    The use of chemicals is only a very small part of molecular gastronomy, rather it gave us Sous Vide cooking, the 62 degree egg and methods to make authentic Italian style pizza at home, and the study of temperatures that Maillard reactions occur. To read more look up Herve This or Cooking for Geeks.

    Helen & Sara: Garlic fairy was the best! That and the Tom Yum Soup were both standouts for the night.

    Maria, Betty & Wag: Thanks! We all walked out content but not stuffed. It wasn't a 'roll out the door' night! And there was plenty of time to try to get the photos right. =)

    Suze: Yes as much as I am fighting it, Macbook will rule the world some day.

    OhhLookBel: Just from the sheer number of components in the dish, it was bloody amazing! Such great attention to detail.

    GB: They would look after you very well here. They called to confirm my reservation 3 times and each time asked about any food allergies.

    Yaya: A find like this, how could we keep our mouths shut? =)

    NQN: Definitely worth the wait. Now I have friends booking a table, then worrying about accommodation afterwards.

    Thang & McRita: Aye ritual indeed! It normally takes about 3.5hrs (much like a standard degustation) but they were flat out that night trying to serve 5 more people than usual. Plus Carl the chef was very generous with his time and let us pick his brain for 40min after the meal.

  13. Love the concept of tom yum on a spoon, great idea for my next party bash.

  14. Wow...I mean, wow, I really don't know how else to describe it. Definitely a hidden gem, and not in your usual hot tourist drag at Nelson Bay as you describe it.

    The garlic fairy floss had me suitably intrigued to start with but then the apple hookah! Seriously, wow.

  15. I have wanted to try this place for such a long time now!!! I hope it will be soon! Thanks for the post :)

  16. Can't wait to go! Booked to go for my partner's birthday ^^