Yeah, but I tell you what..." begins Muse's sommelier, Stephan, in defence of his recommendation of a very famous, but very young, Hunter Valley chardonnay, "you have to at least try it, because this wine is amazing." His advocacy is as passionate as his French accent is authoritative. I easily relent and he rushes off to get the bottle.
The last few rays of the evening sun are slowly transferred into the moody glow of the little lamp that lights up our table. The room around us softly hums with indiscernible voices and the occasional clink of metal on porcelain. The sound disappears up into the high angled ceiling made of louvred glass and timber struts. Stephan returns just as some black garlic and olive oil butter is served with a slice of house baked bread.
"2015 Lakes Folly Chardonnay, it's not been released yet," he says proudly. "I had to beg Rod [Kempe] to give me a few bottles because it's already so good."
It's impossible to disagree. It is amazing. And a delicious start to an amazing dining experience at Muse Restaurant, in Pokolbin.
The tasting menu reads like a 'best of' with Hiramasa kingfish to start, followed by fine dining versions of cuttlefish, chicken, and 70-hour slow cooked wagyu - each complemented by a selection of matching wines - but, my dining accomplice and I decide to order from the à la carte menu.
Whatever happens, the meal must end with at least one of us ordering the Muse Coconut. Eventually, after a few polite nudges from our waiter, and a second glass of that chardonnay, we place our order. First, venison tartare, and Applewood smoked duck ham and confit leg, followed by Petuna ocean trout, and 70-hour slow cooked wagyu for mains, and for dessert, the Muse Coconut, obviously.
The first course arrives and so do the gasps. My duck looks like it was raised from the depths of the Mariana trench. Thin prosciutto-like strips of duck ham are laid out like tentacles attached to a head of confit duck-leg that's been covered with a crisp radicchio shell. Its rich gaminess is balanced by a flotsam of sweet blackberries, almond cream, and crumbly spices that adds real vibrancy. The venison tartare is served in a beautiful handmade wooden bowl surrounded by blueberries, sliced apple and radish, and cultured goat's milk that all dissolves into a fine web of delicate flavours.
"Here is your bottle of pinot noir...an excellent choice," proclaims Stephan. I'm presented with a bottle of Tasmanian pinot grown by Stefano Lubiana that's just fantastic.
The 70-hour slow cooked wagyu benefits from the sweetness and juiciness of the pinot, as it's a little on the salty side. Its edges are seared like caramelised coal and my knife basically falls through the soft marbled flesh, but it's soaked in salt and soy, which distracts somewhat from the fresh and textured accompaniments. The trout served with spanner crab, nori, Thai basil, and heirloom tomato, on the other hand, tastes like it had just been caught, cooked, and prepared underwater, right before serving it. Breathtakingly refreshing with exquisite fishy flavours, a touch of smoke, and balanced with other thoughtful elements.
Dessert appears just as the final drops of pinot are drained out of the bottle. You have to feel a little sympathetic for the other desserts on the menu that have to compete with the Muse Coconut. Made of dark chocolate and brushed with milk chocolate to replicate the husk of a coconut, it's filled with a coconut foam flesh and vanilla coconut water and sits on a 'coconut cloud' consisting of shaved coconut and many colourful, crystalised flowers. Everything is edible and everything is awesome.
"Didn't I tell you, that chardonnay was good?" asks Stephan, after the last bits of the coconut cloud have been devoured and savoured in equal measure. "Yes," I say, "it was every bit as amazing as the meal".