Alessandro Nelli and Michelle Warren have endured plenty since opening Little Red Robin, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and wine bar located in what previously was a back alley of Lane Cove, in November 2018.
First, it was tolerating two years of dusty, muddy and noisy construction of The Canopy, a new shopping and dining precinct opposite the restaurant. But just as that was completed, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and, like many others, they were forced to shut for 10 weeks.
During that downtime, Nelli and Warren took a pause to reflect and assess, deciding they wanted to see the restaurant “grow and evolve”. The result: highlighting degustations over à la carte.
“When we came back from lockdown we started very cautiously with a set menu … we started seeing a lot of people enjoying that style of dining, so we want people to come in, know what’s about to happen and not have to navigate a menu,” Nelli tells Broadsheet.
Head chef Alberto Ranalli has been charged with creating two versions of the degustation menu – one short (five courses plus snacks) and one long (nine courses plus snacks and petits fours) – to give diners some versatility.
At the same time, it’s a chance for the kitchen to show off its creative flair via dishes that might include Western Australian marron with ’nduja XO and bone marrow; Jerusalem artichoke with white chocolate and almond; and blood orange with yuzu and shiso.
There’s also the option to pair each degustation menu with matching beverages. Diners who opt for the long degustation beverage pairing can select between an exclusive wine pairing or a premium beverage pairing, which includes not only wine but also fun alternatives such as a crisp, acidic saké from Osaka and a German rosé vermouth.
Alongside the degustation menus, Little Red Robin has a petite bar-snack menu designed to match the extensive European-leaning wine list, saké and inventive cocktails such as the Beets by LRR, made with beetroot, apple, sancho pepper, white chocolate and vodka.
Neilli says they want to keep the vibe inside the narrow, dark wooden bar casual – a feeling that has been lost somewhat since the Covid-19 restrictions kicked in.
“I just didn’t want to be locked into a more formal setting. I still want that approachable wine-bar vibe where somebody can drop in for a glass of wine and something to snack on … with the restrictions, the space has taken a little bit more of a formal tone,” he says.
Little Red Robin
4/85 Longueville Road (entry via Birdwood Lane), Lane Cove
(02) 9418 9529
Wed to Sat 4pm–midnight