I’m not usually one for fine dining. I’m all for delicious meals, but fancy restaurants give me the heebie jeebies – confusion about which forks to use, how to hold your wine glass and how to pronounce amuse-bouche, are not usually my idea of fun. Or at least, that was the case until I went to Muse on Allen.
Muse has perfected the art of offering what is arguably Wellington’s best menu in an unpretentious, accommodating environment. For a Thursday night, Muse was comfortably busy, filled with patrons who seemed to know they were on to a good thing and were perhaps a bit reluctant to let others in on the secret delight hidden away across the road from some of Wellington’s most popular clubs.
It’s hard to believe that head chef and owner, Samuel North, is only in his early 20s, yet already has such a clear and sophisticated idea of how food should be. Everything on the menu was recognisable, yet presented in a new, innovative way. With understated confidence, they’ve even carefully selected their own branded fine wine glasses. (I’m definitely an advocate for the red wine vessel larger than my face.)
Our waiter recommended we try a few dishes that best demonstrated what Muse is 'about’, and suggested a wine to match each – removing any potential decision-making anxiety right at the outset. As two-time winner of Wellington On A Plate, we were all for letting Muse take complete control of our taste bud tour.
Our first shared entrée was thus the amuse-bouche – a salmon mousse with crispy kale – which definitely amused my taste buds in the best kind of way. It was followed by seared saku tuna, compressed watermelon, watermelon air, ginger ($22), paired with a glass of Gladstone Sauvignon Blanc ($12). The flavours were interesting and light, with an innovative combination of textures – crispy ginger, watermelon air, and tender tuna.
Following the entrées were the slow-cooked pork tenderloin, pancetta, granny smith apples, dolce gorgonzola, confit potato ($36), and sous vide lamb rump, braised lamb shoulder, gnocchi, artichoke, peas, micro basil ($38), paired with a Riesling. Both mains were stunningly presented and equally delicious. The acidity of the apples adding a nice zing to the oh-so-tender tenderloin, while the lamb dish was just a beautiful orchestra of flavours one would be hard-pressed to nitpick. Also, who knew peas could be so exciting?
For dessert (yes, there’s more!), we sampled the Whittakers chocolate marquise, kaffir lime, pineapple, coconut ice cream, chilli ($18) and lemon meringue pie with caramelised meringue, lemon sorbet, curd, hazelnut ice cream, butter crumbs ($18). Again, North's dishes managed to navigate and delight every cardinal direction in our mouths. The Mexican-inspired chilli and chocolate combination was beautifully mollified by the coconut ice cream only to have the pineapple and lime sneak in for an extra pop of zest. The lemon meringue pie was no sooner laid down at our table than my dining partner had finished it.
It's fair to say that a night at Muse is less of a dinner out and more of a culinary awakening.