I ought to be hitting myself over the head with a bottle of nice shiraz. In all of over ten visits to the captivating Hunter Valley region, I have never considered having a meal at Muse Restaurant, situated at the Hungerford Hill winery.
What a longstanding mistake that has been – it’s time I corrected it.
Date Last Visited: 26/9/15
Address: 1 Broke Rd, Pokolbin, NSW
Recommended Dish(es): Muse Coconut, 70 hr slow-cooked wagyu
With an endowment of two hats from the SMH’s Good Food Guide, Muse Restaurant is in a rare club of only five regional restaurants with similar accolades. Muse plays ball in a league with these restaurants, with prominent sister examples being Biota Dining in Bowral, and Aubergine in Canberra (post pending!).
The restaurant is helmed (and owned) by head chef Troy Rhoades-Brown, and he embodies Muse’s food philosophy of sourcing local, showcasing, rather than obfuscating the hero ingredient, and a strong attention to DIY. They bake their own bread, roll their own pasta, and churn their own butter, to name a few.
Naturally, you would expect that being a restaurant attached to a winery, Muse’s vino game would be up to scratch. While I can’t personally verify this – being the complete opposite of a wine connoisseur – I did note a hefty wine list was on offer. There should be a lot of choice for even discerning winos. I myself ended up ordering a Hungerford Hill shiraz (while at Hungerford Hill…) to go along with my (mostly red meat) courses – it proved to be a nice companion for the ride.
Speaking of said ride – the food at Muse comes in either a 2 or 3 course a la carte menu at $75 or $95pp. A five course tasting menu comes in at $120pp (matching wines extra), but if you want variety without breaking the bank, I suggest going for the 3-course option and share the dishes. This way, you get the variety of the 5 course for a $50 discount! In fact, that’s exactly what The Lady and I did!
Here’s some advice: try to not request a table by the window if it’s a sunny day. The rays from our otherwise lovely host star will wreak havoc with photos. If you’re looking to take snaps, I suggest a table anywhere that’s not adjacent to a window – as most tables at Muse are naturally well-lit.
In any case, our first few bites don’t count as courses, but rather consist of snacks – pictured is a mini flask of shiitake mushroom, rosemary & ginger tea. A refreshing way to prime the palate, this consomme-like drink wins even the anti-mushroomer in me with notes of savoury beefiness, mushroomy pungency and a hint of sugary sweetness, tinged with a rosemary fragrance.
As is usually the case with these little starters, I was left wanting more of this warm elixir. It’s nothing magical or splendiferous, just a nice warm morsel to kick the experience into gear.
The next set of snacks (2 down, 1 to go!) comes as a pair of spiced goats cheese macarons (one each). Savoury macarons are becoming somewhat more and more common now, particularly as I feel that sweet macarons have reached a saturation point in trendiness. How to differentiate? Completely change the flavour profile. These truly waft the aroma and pungency of goats cheese, a sensation I savoured with every bite. Particularly noteworthy was a hint of curry spiciness, which carried a smidgeon of nuttiness.
As for the macaron biscuits themselves, I can only say that they are crumbly and to my liking – I’m not too picky with macaron shells, crumbly or mushy, I actually like it all. The best thing? They’re not sweet!
The third snack to get us ready for prime time lunch rhymes is a piece of black sesame wafer w/coriander mousse. This is a crunchy, paper-thin morsel dusted with black sesame & mushroom powder and dolloped with coriander mousse. Two bites later, and it’s gone.
I couldn’t really taste too much black sesame, and I suspect it was really there more for a subtle earthiness than anything else. That, as well as adding colour. The coriander mousse didn’t do much for me – a gob of light creaminess and that was it. As for the wafer itself, it is a tad too oily, but that was okay as I only got one piece. While a uniquely created snack, it was a bit weak on flavour.
Now let’s get onto the more substantial stuff.
One thing I’m not going to complain about at Muse are the portion sizes. Entrees practically approach main-sized portions elsewhere – a recipe for a happy belly and taking a good run at the blog’s name – though a hearty, big brunch at Kin By Us didn’t help my case, but I digress. Our first entree of note is a confit of Berkshire pork jowl. Pork cooked in its own juices is hard to beat, but you know what isn’t difficult? Cutting that pork. My knife effortlessly carves through, and oh yes, it’s just as delicate on the palate. Tender, juicy, flavoursome when combined with that gorgeously dark black garlic cream, pretty much everything I’d want in a pork dish like this, really.
Further character is imparted on this dish with the inclusion of crumbed brioche, adding a bready, buttery texture. The mussels provide a secondary, juicy seafood partnership that did not suit the dish, albeit enjoyable on their own merits. The same could be said of the cauliflower – I’ve never thought pork and cauliflower would make a good pairing, and this dish doesn’t really change my perception of that. The cauli is just…there?
A delicious entree, even though I was unsure about the meaning of each element on the plate in relation to each other.
At this point, you might be wondering where the bread is. Fret not, it is served, in the form of rye, and comes with fermented brown garlic butter. Alas, I don’t know what possessed me, but decided to pass on taking a photo before The Lady tucked into it. The rye is not particularly noteworthy, but the garlic butter is whipped, garlicky heaven. Be sure to ask for seconds. Now, moving along!
The second entree we chose was the cuttlefish & king brown mushroom “noodles”. A black on black motif is the order here, with a strikingly dark cuttlefish crackling hiding (nay, protecting!) a bed of cuttlefish noodles. The crackling is expectedly as crunchy as it looks, a process of mastication as enjoyable as any packet of Red Rock Deli. Not too much flavour here. I did wish it would be seasoned with something but alas, it’s purely a textures game.
As for the noodles, they are startlingly chewy, and intensely starchy. It’s hard to believe that these aren’t actually real noodles (unless they are, and it’s a reverse-prank). In that respect however, they are actually too chewy, with the result that they lacked the springiness/hardness I like about noodles, and also didn’t carry too much flavour apart from hints of yuzu and miso.
It’s a dish that looks better than it tastes, and as far as entrees go, I would be looking for another option – such as the pork jowl.
This said, with the end of the entrees comes winds of change, and what better way to do that than with one of my favourites of almost any fine dining meal…
…the humble palate cleanser! Muse’s version is an apple sorbet w/goats whey & rhubarb jelly. A little more work and creativity than a simple sorbet, Troy builds onto a chilly refreshing and delicious sorbet, a gelatinous rhubarb jelly sporting a lovely pink hue. It’s all a very refreshing package, the only improvement I would suggest is to bring a bit more flavour into the jelly itself. The sorbet is carrying the team and it shouldn’t be that way!
All in all, a necessary breather because what’s about to come next is going to blow my mind.
Spoiler alert. Oops.
Say hello to Muse’s best savoury course (yeah, I’m calling it already) – its signature 70 hour slow cooked wagyu. This is a monstrous portion of beef, but its size doesn’t detract from its quality in any way. An incredibly well-marbled, fatty cut this is, any cow that died to be plated at Muse has not died in vain. It’s not as tender as you might expect, still requiring a little bit of knife work to get through. When I do, the rewards are ample – truly beefy cow right here, and with oodles of flavour to boot from that same delicious black garlic cream found earlier, along with the sweet & saucy gravy generously poured all over.
The sides are also quite delicious – I’m talking about the potato mash, which is effortfully piped onto the plate rather than merely spooned on. Creamy, starchy goodness that’s a classic pairing with beef.
Of course, all this gets a little bit heavy, especially when you consider that grilled eggplant is the lightest thing on the plate. My glass of shiraz I ordered earlier on? Definitely gave it a bit of a workout here – I’m glad I got it.
So yes, the portion is massive, it’s one of the heaviest beef dishes I’ve had in awhile, but if you’re sharing this, know that it’s worth it. The go-to savoury at Muse.
What about the Mary Hill lamb then? Coming from the high that is the wagyu, this is definitely an inferior dish, relatively speaking – however that goes only insofar as my preferences do. My favourite part is the skin, which is rendered extraordinarily crispy for lamb. The meat itself is less stellar – while tender and sporting a chewy, fatty mouthfeel, it lacked a lot of flavour, a far cry from the beefsplosion earlier. The piped goats milk, as well as the herb “pesto” on the side did not provide a great deal of assistance.
Oddly enough, there were some pockets of lamb with strong hints of salinity. This made me feel the chefs were a little desultory with their seasoning.
One somewhat redeeming element of the dish are the lentils. Cooked to a bold al dente (read: very hard), these are some damn fine legumes and quite possibly the most flavoursome element on the dish.
That’s saying a lot, because – let’s face it – they’re just lentils. Still, if a vegetarian dish could be built around them, I’m sure vegos will be cheering!
Now, for what is arguably the best part of the meal – it’s time for a sugar hit!
Muse has several desserts, but two were ordered on this occasion, specifically for their polar opposition in theme. The spiced caramel custard & chocolate sorbet is definitely targeted at lovers of decadent, chocolate desserts. It’s a troupe of textures – crumbly meringue, crunchy almonds, smooth & creamy sorbet, crispy brioche and creamy brown butter. You want it? Chances are this plate’s got it. From a mouthfeel perspective, this dessert’s a little messy with all that texture, but it’s one of the few places where you can get away with it.
In terms of flavour, the caramel’s not as strong as I had anticipated, or hoped, and thus the primary dominating flavour is chocolate and honeyed sweetness. While I’m not hating on chocolate, it’s not great when it’s all that’s in play.
Or, maybe I really don’t enjoy chocolate that much? The Lady certainly loved this dessert, so take it like this – if you dig your chocolate and nuts to bits, then this dessert will do no wrong. As for me? I walk a different path:
This is the Muse Coconut. Alternatively, it could be named “dessert of the year”, or at least be a strong contender for it – because it is a dessert that almost demands the usage of adjectival superlatives in its characterisation.
So what is it? See that ‘coconut’ there? It’s a dark chocolate & roasted coconut husk, filled with coconut mousse & vanilla coconut water. The faux coconut lies in a cloudy bed of frozen coconut cream, with coconut sugar & crystallised sugar flowers. So yeah, if you don’t like coconut, go away. However if like me, you do, then this dessert is nothing short of mindblowing. The notes I took for this dessert on the day read “coconut is best, go coconuts for it”. While that is exceedingly unhelpful, my memory of this dessert is so strong that I didn’t even need those pesky annotations.
You know how I constantly go on and on about palate cleansers often being one of the highlights of a meal? The Muse Coconut is like a giant version of that, not to mention Troy’s ingenuity at making something that tastes just as appealing as it looks. The ratio of creamy coconut mouse to crumbly chocolate, the copious amounts of refreshing, milky coconut snow, the creaminess…
…I’ll stop. Just. Get. The. Damn. Dessert. It is 80% of the reason why I love Muse (yeah, the wagyu beef is only 20%) and at times I consider driving up to the Hunter just to have this.
While I was still coconuts from the last dessert, and deciding whether I should re-order it, petit fours of chocolates w/malt custard arrived. Oops, I waited too late, but I got a consolation prize at least? Gooey custard centres and chocolate? I can exit with this.
Like any and every establishment, Muse Restaurant is not perfect. Entrees are a bit hit-and-miss, mains can be incredible or merely good, but those desserts – oh wow. If you need me to guide you in any which way: just make a reservation already. Its imperfections are more than made up by its accomplishments.
You’d be coconuts not to go.
This post is based on an independently paid-for visit to Muse Restaurant.
Have you had the Muse Coconut before? Let me know what you thought!
- An exceptional wagyu main is a luscious, savoury beacon of beef
- The Muse Coconut
- Lovely, cordial service
- Presumably an extensive wine list
- Entrees are a little hit and miss
- Would Muse be as good of a restaurant of its signature dishes were to be taken off the menu?
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F7 | S5 | A2