LIZ LOVE: Muse Kitchen, Pokolbin

LET’S DO LUNCH: This kitchen does more than enough to enhance Muse’s excellent reputation. PICTURE: JONATHAN CARROLL

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The dynamic duo has done it again. At the revamped and relocated Keith Tulloch winery, Troy and Megan Rhoades-Brown have created an admirable bridge between the formality of their exquisite Muse Restaurant and the casual Muse Cafe at their Hungerford Hill site.

A bright light-filled room looks out through large windows onto a paved dining terrace and formal rose garden. There is more than a little country kitchen/provincial France in the white rubbed, rustic timber tables and chairs, and polished floors. The theme continues via the French-inspired and seasonal menu featuring traditional bistro dishes with a twist.

Expect French onion soup, rillettes, croque monsieur (using pork hock) and a chicken, sage and truffle pot pie. There’s something for all appetites and pockets, from organic ciabatta with caramelised onion and potted duck liver pate with toasted bread and accompaniments, to more substantial main courses.

Naturally, Keith Tulloch’s wines dominate the wine list. And even when ordered by the glass the wine is presented for tasting before being poured. Other places: please take note.

Fried zucchini flowers are a good place to start. These crunchy little numbers are stuffed with a creamy salt cod brandade and paired with a punchy parsley aioli, small salad leaves jumbled with heirloom tomatoes, cornichons, finely sliced radish and capers, a scattering of olive ‘‘soil’’ and a wedge of lemon. A similar salad also comes with the quickly fried, lightly spiced, yielding baby squid just waiting to be dipped into a borage-flavoured aioli.

My partner declares the milk-fed lamb the best lamb dish he has ever eaten. In keeping with a commitment to ingredients that are seasonal, artisanal and relatively local, Troy sources his lamb from Milly Hill near Armidale. The steak knife is redundant; this has been slow cooked for 2½ hours, then flash grilled to scorch the skin, with pink meat you could cut with a spoon. It comes with a thatch of sweetly caramelised onions, Dijon mustard, a small, leafy salad and a foil-wrapped package containing chat potatoes roasted in duck fat. Perfection could only be improved by a few slices of black winter truffle to lend their aroma when the package is opened, but it’s too early in the season.

Petuna ocean trout from Tasmania (Tetsuya’s choice for his signature dish) is no slouch either. It’s cooked slowly, confit style, the skin crisped just before serving, for a velvety result. Roasted, sliced fennel, trimmed orange segments and gremolata are ideal accompaniments.

You could call a halt now, but the dessert list is too inviting. Figs, I can’t get enough of them, but they’re almost at the end of their season; that’s a good enough reason to have them here. The house-made honey ice-cream is a marriage made in heaven with the caramelised, crisp-edged, ripe black figs, and the shortbread crumble adds textural interest.

I think it’s time for a stroll around the rose garden and a visit to Keith Tulloch’s tasting room in the building opposite.

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