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Muse on Allen – Food for Thought


04-Jan-2013
Though open for just over three months, ‘Muse on Allen' restaurant and bar has already garnered some outstanding reviews, one by our own influential and authoritative food critic David Burton. Celebrating my partner Sue Davies' birthday, we were most pleasantly surprised to see David dining there again, so soon after his published review. Muse on Allen offers a welcome addition to the Allen Street range of eateries which features many value ethnic eateries and pub-style dining, by presenting cuisine in the up-market bistro and fining dining category. This is reflected in the pricing with starters that average just under $20.00, main courses at the mid $30.00s and desserts at up to $15.00. This is more expensive dining than most of its neighbours, but then the food is a considerable step up in sophistication, and that's something that is desired by many seeking a meal out.
Muse can refer to goddesses in art and poetry, and the connection to cuisine being an art form is far from tenuous. My interpretation is that if diners muse or are thoughtful about the dishes, and how they have been created, they will understand the quality and style of the food, and indeed see the approach of the chefs. The chefs and owners of Muse on Allen are Jozsef Szekely and Samuel North, good friends, who previously worked at The Matterhorn and The White House respectively, so one can understand that the food has been designed, crafted and put together very carefully. Reading the menu and upon eating the food, we liked the clear-cut flavours and ingredients that provided a broad range of taste experiences without overwhelming the senses with a complication of flavours that could muddle the palate or worse - clash. The execution by the kitchen was classic, contemporary and simplicity, and the result of the chefs' art.
 
The Dinner
Our party shared Oysters, both raw, served with ponzu dressing and Tempura style, and under both guises, the freshness of the sea still came through the concentrated Asian sauce and the cooking process. If we were going for a big night, I would have looked at the Sashima grade tuna, with ginger caramel, grapefruit, pork crackling, or Slow cooked pork-belly, carrot and orange puree ginger-braised cabbage, cider apples – as alternative starters.

Different mains were ordered by our group of four. Pan-roasted terakihi with clams, corn veloute, spinach came out just-cooked and finely firm, the subtle flavours of the fish given a piquant burst from the clams. My Duck breast, confit of duck leg, parsnip puree, buttered spinach, drunken dates had real interest from the two forms of duck meat, both rich and earthy, moistly tender and again cooked to the ideal stage. The dates must have been soaked in spiced rum, as I saw an exotic spicy lift in them. The Roasted lamb rump, fennel, buttered asparagus, confit potato, coffee jus was a superbly cooked dish, the meat comfortably rare, tender and subtly flavoured. And the Sous-vide black Angus beef fillet, cashew puree, ruck liver mousse, sautéed mushrooms, served medium rare, and just-there, was another superbly judged piece of meat, the kitchen fully respecting the quality of the produce.

The desserts were bargains. Yoghurt and honey panna cotta, poached seasonal fruit, pistachio with an intrguing combination of lightness and richness. My Crème brulee, Bailys, cinnamon doughnut, jam delightful in its lightness and familiar hokey-pokey and caramel nuances. And the Whittakers dark chocolate parfait, honey comb raspberry sorbet, again restrained and inviting rather than overbearing, with a very fine texture. After the mains, we feel replete, but the desserts were very easy to accommodate and left us wanting a good coffee, which we ordered and received.

We were reasonably measured in our wine selection with a white and red to accompany us through the whole meal. A Charles Wiffen Marlborough Riesling 2010 now developing some lovely secondary hints of honied toast to the limey fruit, and distinctly off-dry. The perfect ‘Summer of Riesling' wine, very easy to sip on and possibly a better match with the other entrees, too sweet with the oysters, but a match with the fish. The Vynfields Martinborough Pinot Noir 2010 was a very workable wine with all the red meat main courses. A touch of reduction on the bouquet, this opened up in glass to reveal rich, concentrated dark berry fruits with nuances of spices, and plenty of weight and extract to handle textural food. I'd ask for it to be decanted next time, just to give it a kick-start. The wine and drinks list is larger than compact, offering a good choice of domestic wine with overseas options for interest. Prices are on par with anyone that is reasonable and there is something for everyone. It's very sensible, and ideal at this early stage in the business.

The waiting staff were obliging, engaging, but not intrusive in any way, with efficiency underling all they did. Well-informed, they were happy to ask the kitchen if they could not answer any queries about the food. Muse on Allen has a dining room that steps up two levels as one nears the Allen Street end. The bar is separated from the tables by a discrete white lattice framework. And the environment is softly lit, but spacious. It's a very comfortable place to be in. Condiments are not on the table, but offered on service, but the food was seasoned well, no doubt to the ideal standard and specifications of the kitchen. And good stemware was a classy finishing touch.

Our group, especially the birthday girl, enjoyed our meal at Muse on Allen, and we'll be returning in the near future. Jozsef and Samuel are working hard and well, doing it properly to build their business. It shouldn't take long before Muse on Allen becomes a name that crops up regularly in good dining circles in Wellington, and then, it'll be harder to get in.
 
Muse on Allen Restaurant and Bar
16 Allen Street, Wellington (off Courtenay Place)
Tel: 04 384-1181, Email: info@muserestaurant.co.nz
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