Restaurant review: Muse on Allen offers five star experience
Although the excellence of the cuisine at Muse on Allen has been never been in doubt, chef-owner Samuel North says customers were forever giving him advice about how to improve his decor, inherited from the former Satay Kampong.
Change the lighting, was one suggestion; another might have been to get rid of the room-divider cobbled together from bits acquired when Red Ginger closed.
And so in May last year, being an impetuous 25-year-old wunderkind, North took the advice and did a complete makeover.
He got his friend Sarah Meikle to accompany him to a wallpaper shop, and with the help of his landlord and a builder, re-opened the space between the dining room and the bar, and relocated the drinking space to a wee Irish-style snug in the corner, created with the installation of a grand spiral staircase at the front door.
Having made your royal entry, your eyes then feast upon a feature wall of deep royal purple floral wallpaper, with padded chairs to match.
Perhaps because mauve has long been considered naff by the middle class, interior designers seem scared by purple, but Muse's purple leather armchair-dining chairs are regal thrones no less, from which to peer down at the hoi polloi from the mezzanine floor.
There are no white tablecloths, but they offer linen napkins. As a test for our dignified waiter from Rome, Mateo Cozzolino (who has been here since Muse opened three years ago), I crumpled mine in to an untidy heap and left it on the table when I went to the loo. Naturally, when I returned, it had been neatly refolded into a elegant triangle.
This is complicated food, and I welcomed Mateo's habit of introducing every dish component by component.
He took my friend's order for "pan-fried market fish, caper and tomato emulsion, crab tortellini, ricotta, caviar" and noting her crustacean allergy, passed it on to the chef, who cut and rolled a new version of the tortellini, replacing the crab with snapper. Now that's service.
As advised, Nga Waka pinot was the one to drink with the "beef tartar, sous vide egg yolk, capers, mustard, crisps". Mateo was able to explain that the tiny egg yolks were in fact hen's yolks cooked sous vide and then piped from a tiny nozzle. The beef is correctly chopped into gobbets, not minced, and deftly infused with caper and mustard. "Crisps" are homemade potato crisps, made thicker so as not to break up when you bite into one. That's a thoughtful detail too.
Two years ago a chef of no less calibre than Michael Meredith judged Muse on Allen the winner of the Wellington on a Plate restaurant award.
I've been meaning to re-review the place ever since, so am thankful I kept putting it off until now, when the decor finally matches the wine list, service and food.
We were there on a Wednesday night and it was about half full, so the place must be going all right for North, who is acting very bullish: he's expected to be opening his second Wellington restaurant soon.
ONE THING TO TRY
Venison Denver Leg
Currently North is a national finalist in the Silver Fern Farms Premier Selection Awards 2015, to be announced in three days time. I can see why, having experienced the venison dish he has entered: "Silver Ferns Farm venison denver leg (rare), venison croquette, beetroot, fennel, venison jus." Cleverly, he bridges the beetroot and fennel flavours with star anise and balsamic. Follow Mateo's suggestion for the wine match – a black, treacly Brookfields Syrah 2013, hugely rich and very Barossa-like for Hawke's Bay.
Muse on Allen
16 Allen St
Ph: 384 1181
Open Tues-Sat 5.30pm-late
Price range of mains: $36-$38
Cost: $142 for two (excluding wine)
Wine list: ★★★★★