Ah, the Hunter Valley. Only a two hour drive north from Sydney and a perfect destination for a quick weekend away with friends. It might be frowned upon when you’re back in the city, but this is the wine region and there is absolutely nothing wrong with starting on the alcoholic beverages right after breakfast as you head out door knocking across several choice cellar doors. And so in planning our weekend away, we sought out a place for dinner that would be befitting of capping off a day of wine and cheese tasting. Some quick internet research by a member of the group and Muse Restaurant and Cafe located at the Hungerford Hill vineyard is promptly chosen.
As we arrive, our table is not quite ready but we’re swiftly led to a lounge area infront of the open fireplace. When we finally take our seat, we find we’ve been seated right next to the large open kitchen which gives us the opportunity to take in the action of the kitchen. As opposed to the preconceived notion of a manic kitchen working through service, we’re quite surprised at how smoothly the kitchen operates. Instead, everything works like a smooth clockwork with dishes appearing on the pass as if there was no effort involved and then efficiently whisked away to the waiting diners with the wait staff.
The Muse meal offering is distinguished into a cafe and a restaurant menu. The cafe menu is offered during the daytime while the restaurant menu is offered for the evening diners. By definition, you would think that the cafe menu would have been a simpler and lighter menu but in reality it’s no less complex than the restaurant menu, and in fact, there is a larger variety of choices – some of which I wished I had to opportunity to choose from as we had made a dinner booking.
The Muse Fireplace
There’s nothing like a roaring fire welcoming you in from the cold winter night. Logs of firewood were placed alongside which meant that every now and then a waiter would walk past and grab a log to stoke the fire.
Caramelised Onion Brioche
I have to admit that I was a ever to slightly miffed to find that the house breads here were charged – very unusual when most other restaurants provide bread on-the-house. However, upon tasting the caramelised onion brioche all for was forgotten as it was absolutely gorgeous with the double-dose of sweetness from the onions and the sweet brioche bread.
Amuse Bouche: Scallop & Snapper Boudin
A small portion of scallop and snapper boudin that was lightly fried and served with a generous dollops of a tomato and mustard based sauces.
Canadian Sea Scallops, Pressed Pork Hock with Jerusalem Artichoke cream, Jus & Celery Shoots
I swear there was no collusion amongst us, but with each couple choosing to share their entrées, we each ended up choosing the same dish. The lightly seared scallops were a complete contrast with the savoury pork hock but nicely brought together with the smooth Jerusalem artichoke cream.
Green Tea Lemon Sorbet with Fresh Apple
A little palate cleanser from the kitchen between our entrées and main – the green tea element of the sorbet was less pronounced with the sour lemon taste being the predominant flavour here. We were all extremely impressed by the super fine brunoise of green apple underneath.
Black Olive Crusted Fillet of Snapper with Grape Tomato, Braised Finger Fennel, Sea Snail & Chive Vinegar, & Beurre Blanc
As the main dishes came out, the generosity of the servings here became immediately apparent. I didn’t get to try this, but judging by the clear plate at the end, the only thing left was the remnant streaks of the rich beurre blanc, I would say that it was a hit.
Grimaud Duck Breast ‘Served Pink’ with Braised Black Caviar Lentils, Parsnip Puree, Kale, Sweet Red Wine & Muscatel
My choice for the night as I generally go past any dish that incorporates duck. Served pink, the duck breast was still delightfully moist. The lentils was a bit of a throwaway portion of the dish that I would have been perfectly happy without though – with it being served on the side, I forgot about it until I was down to my last piece of duck by which time the lentils were room temperature and not as appetising as they probably could have been. On the other hand, the neutral parsnip puree and the sweet red wine sauce with muscatel was the perfect foil to the richness of the duck meat.
Dry Spiced Mandagery Creek Venison with Pumpkin, Binnorie Goat’s Cheese, Sweet Pea, Macadamia & Pedro Ximénez
Venison is so easy to overcook which results in a overly gamey taste – but this was simply perfect medium rare. Nicely flavoured with the dry spice rub, this was contrasted with the sweet pumpkin pieces, pumpkin puree, sweet peas Perdo Ximénez sauce while the richness of the meat was complimented by the goat’s cheese.
Char Grilled Reserve Black Angus Fillet with Baby Truss Tomato, Black Fig, Potato & Blue Cheese Foam, Soft Herbs, Dijon Butter & Quail’s Egg
Such a pretty looking plate! I love a good mustard with my steaks so in my opinion combining the Dijon mustard with a knob of butter was pure genius – definitely something I will be trying out on my next steak at home. The potato and blue cheese foam was an interesting combination, but gave a nice richness to the plate to balance out the relative lightness of the figs and tomatoes. The quail egg was a bit out of place, but who can say no to a soft-boiled quail egg – especially one that a most delectable runny yolk?
Playing with Nitro
As we were finishing our mains, we were instantly distracted with the whirring sounds of a mixer behind us and a distinct plume of white smoke coming from the evaporation of liquid nitrogen being introduced to the mixing bowl. Such a brilliant piece of kitchen theatre as all of us were immediately intrigued by this and requested the dessert menu to find out what ice cream this would turn out to be.
‘Turkish Delight’: Rose ‘Nitro Ice Cream’, Pistachio & Chocolate Marshmallows
Being frozen in a split-second with the liquid nitrogen meant the rose ice cream was beyond smooth and simply divine. Each component in itself was delightful with the pronounced rose flavour in the ice cream, the soft pillowy chocolate marshmallows, the powdered pistachios and the sweet rose flavoured jellies, but magic came in combining them which gave you the experience of eating a proper turkish delight without actually eating one.
And look who we met…
Peter from Masterchef Season 3! Timing wise, at this point his elimination had not been aired on the show and we find out from Peter that it was only his third shift at Muse. Great to see that he for one had made the move towards changing his career to one involving food.
|Muse Restaurant & Cafe
1 Broke Road, Pokolbin, Hunter Valley, Australia
P: 612 4998 6777