Creativity is an important force in food and beverage.
While plenty of restaurants and bars get by on doing things exactly how mama used to do it, the culinary world also craves experimentation and new ideas. Whether it’s in presentation, combination of flavours and ingredients, or simply the setting of the restaurant, many diners are look for something to engage the mind as well as the tastebuds. It is what drives people to seek out new techniques such as molecular gastronomy, or to dine in restaurants under the sea.
But is creativity enough? We find the answer in our recent visit to Muse Amuse.
A Promising Start
The first impression we had of Muse Amuse was a good one. In the heart of the old Singapore, in a conservation shophouse, was a restaurant that had a minimalist Scandinavian vibe. White walls, bare floors, metal fixtures and wood panels and furniture seemed like an esoteric choice for a place in Chinatown. Interesting.
There was an extensive city garden where fresh herbs were grown for the dishes, a pond spanned by stone steps that led to a small bar area, and a second floor room that seemed like a living room (which we learnt was intended for events).
We took what we saw as a sign that it was trying something new, unconventional. We love places that push the boundaries, so we were equally hopeful for the food and beverages.
A promising prelude
The first dish was the Uni Pie Tee ($15 for 2 pieces)- Hokkaido sea urchin, homemade rice flour shells, stewed radish and carrot, roasted hazelnut, cashew, almond and peanut crumble. It was promising, with a nice confluence of savoury, creamy and sweet flavours. The uni was a nice touch to an otherwise common dish, but put a toe across the line into overpowering; a smidgen less would have balanced the dish.
The Golden Kibun ($15 for 3 pieces) was also reasonable. Kimchi and seaweed arancini, butternut squash puree and gochujang mayonnaise make for a decent take on the Italian rice balls. The kimchi in particular gives it a sour-spicy nuance that we quite enjoyed, though once again dominated the dish. At 15 bucks for 3 pieces, we found that this was a little expensive.
Less enjoyable was the Tartaro ($18) a Asian take on the classic French beef tartare; hand chopped 200 day grain fed wagyu, sesame oil dressing, korean honey pear, red chilli, egg yolk sound like an interesting combination. Yet, the beef was much too chewy. The flavours of the wagyu was swallowed up by the heavy flavours of sesame and chilli, vanishing into nothingness.
The Chicken Roulade ($15), a sous vide chicken thigh with cauliflower puree and fried potato strips, was similarly lacking in texture. It felt dry and tough despite it being a sous vide of one of the juiciest parts of the chicken.
The 6 Day Baby Back Pork Ribs ($16) were excellent. The loin ribs were marinated twice in homemade BBQ sauce, giving a rich smoky-sweet flavour with just a tinge of spice. The meat was so tender that the flesh was practically sloughing off the bone. Delicious.
Our next meat dish, the Aurora USDA Beef Angus Ribeye ($78) was tasty as well. The beef was served medium rare with a thai basil sauce, and was perfectly succulent. A smooth, tender texture that made it a pleasure to eat. The basil sauce added an interesting dimension- a kind of peppery spiciness that improved the dish tremendously. At $78 per steak, it asks a price similar to that of a high-end steakhouse. As delicious as it was, we think that the asking price was a little steep.
The Royal Ratchaphruek ($12), touted as Asian ratatouille, was next. Lotus root, sweet potato, zucchini, eggplant, carrot and potato served with a rich tom yum broth. There’s no arguing that the presentation was exquisite. Packed tightly into a tiny circle, it unfurls into a flower as one eats it. The root vegetables lent the dish a satisfying crispness, and the contrasts in texture amused the tongue. We hardly detected any of the ratatouille influence- it seemed to us to be tom yum soup. It was, however, an excellent tom yum soup. Full of the rich spiciness and tartness that the traditional dish is known for.
The Gula Melaka Panna Cotta with Sea Urchin ($12) was superb. Panna Cotta with uni might sound strange, but it was the one of the highlights of our meal. Like the pie tee, it was sweet and sweet, but here, the richness works even better, giving our meal a satisfying conclusion. We particularly appreciate the inventiveness of adding the sea urchin- most inspired. We would order this again.
…and hitting low
Having wandered through the main courses, we proceeded to partake of the cocktail menu. Our first drink was the Teh Halia Earl Grey with Gingered Candy ($25). A mix of ginger cognac, Cointreau, chamomile, fresh grapefruit juice and earl grey tea. The presentation was gorgeous, with baby’s breath, tea leaves and cinnamon arranged artfully on the golden concoction. It turned out to be a mellow, pleasant drink with a competent balance of flavours. The earl grey and chamomile gave it a light, calming quality that was given a lift with the spicy ginger. Sadly, we were left wanting for cognac; in all the elaborate preparation, the spirit itself was left waiting in the wings.
We liked the Tom Yum Bloody Mary ($25)- vodka infused with tom yum broth, and garnished with kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, calamansi and bird’s eye chilli. True to its name, it tastes like tom yum with a kick from the vodka. It actually tasted like the Royal Ratchaphruek earlier- which is the crux of the problem. The dish had an amazing texture that added depth and helped to tame the fires of the extremely spicy broth. In cocktail form, this was not present, and we were left drinking alcoholic tom yum soup. It was tasty, but we preferred it in soup form!
Rose syrup infused gin was combined with Cherry Heering and elderflower liqueur in the Bandung Blush ($25). A huge sprig of rosemary seemed to sprout from the glass, and pipettes of fresh milk were placed next to it, resembling a pair of bird’s eggs in a tree. In paying homage to the local favourite, this was a resounding success; it absolutely tasted like bandung mixed with gin, with an added herbal aftertaste. We were told that the squeezing in the fresh milk improves the drink, and it did. Without it, the drink was a smidgen too sweet. With the milk added in, the cocktail was much better balanced, and the texture was silky smooth. Our question was, why not just mix it in in the first place and save us the trouble and mess of doing so ourselves?
We were decidedly not fans of the Chrysanthemum Wolfberry with Dried Chrysanthemum Buds ($25). This was a mix of floral tea infused brandy, elderflower liqueur, vermouth and benedictine. This left a strong impression, but not a good one. Before we even took a sip, we found the garnish is over-elaborate. Cinnamon, chrysanthemum buds and lemon are interesting individually, but put together, they create chaos. The strong scents fight each other for primacy, and carried the conflict into the glass. All the flavours were powerful, and overwhelmed the tastebuds. The drink was overwrought- needing focus, balance and elegance.
Summing it all up
We like the inventiveness of both food and drinks. There were a lot of interesting ideas, such as the Uni Panna Cotta and the Teh Halia Earl Grey. At times, however, the boundaries were pushed a little too far, making the dish over-elaborate- the Bandung Blush comes to mind. Other parts simply didn’t work well- such as the Tartaro and the Chrysanthemum drink.
There’s plenty of potential to Muse Amuse. With that kind of explosive creativity, there’s a lot of room for it to mature- to acquire balance and finesse.
If it sounds like we’re damning it with faint praise, then perhaps it’s not too far from the truth. We’ll be glad to come back in a few months to see what new changes and innovations will emerge. For now, however, we are content to wait.