Braaimaster judge impressed by Gqeberha restaurant Muse

Celebrity chef Pete Goffe-Wood swapped the coals for a restaurant meal with fellow judge Benny Masekwameng in Nelson Mandela Bay during the filming of the new series of the Ultimate Braai Master late last year

20 January 2022 - 07:09
By Pete Goffe-Wood
The interior of Allan Bezuidenhout’s Muse. 
Image: Supplied The interior of Allan Bezuidenhout’s Muse. 

In all my years of travelling to or through Gqeberha I’ve never really experienced a good top-end meal. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had fabulous food over the years but it has always been steakhouse or bistro-type fare. But that all changed late last year when chef Benny Masekwameng and I were fortunate enough get a table at Muse.

Muse is a small, 30-seater, modern, intimate space. It has rich dark walls that give it a warm, welcoming feel. It is a corner unit and is glass fronted on two sides so while the restaurant is small, it in no way feels cramped. There are a number of modern design elements such as retro-vintage Edison light bulbs and a mounted three-dimensional cubular piece, as well as a beautiful, understated wooden wall hanging with the restaurant’s name etched into it. Another fabulous feature, suspended over the small service bar, were stunning light fittings using regular box graters as light shades.

Chef Allan Bezuidenhout’s food is equally modern and unassuming in appearance. There weresome theatrics with dry ice that was not pretentious, and where this was used, it was perfectly executed and the aromatics unleashed were very much in keeping with the dishes presented.

The menu was longer than I expected for such a small place, but everything on it sounded delicious. To start, we chose the mussel tortellini with lemon cream sauce, black garlic and roasted tomato (R75) and the duck samosa with slaw and plum sauce (R75).

These dishes were preceded by gorgeous ash bread rolls that were jet black,  served with a compound butter. When you begin a meal with bread of this calibre, it definitely sets the tone for what is to follow.

The tortellini, the first dish with the dry ice flourish, was light and expertly cooked; the aromatics unleashed by the ice were seaweed and fennel, giving off a waft of the sea. The beautifully steamed mussels were encased in a thin black squid ink tortellini that was perfectly al dente and the accompanying lemon cream was rich but superbly balanced by the acidic lemon juice and the thick black garlic and roasted tomato sauce which had a faint tingle of chilli. This was the ideal counterfoil to the richness of the cream sauce. My only criticism would be that I wanted a bigger portion but that’s the glutton in me.

The duck samosas were equally delicious: crisp pastry and a moist shredded duck filling that was perfectly seasoned and spiced. It was served with a crisp, sharp dressed slaw that was the perfect accompaniment to the fatty shredded duck meat filling. The element that brought the entire dish together was the stellar sweet and sour plum sauce.

When you begin a meal with bread of this calibre, it definitely sets the tone of what is to follow

There were other superb-sounding starters on the menu such as the bone marrow with pulled beef, jus and brioche with bone marrow butter and the chickpea fries with mushroom mayo and fire-roasted tomato salsa.

The main courses were definitely more geared towards the carnivores, though there were a couple of mouthwatering vegetarian options. I did find it a bit strange and somewhat unbalanced that there was no fish option for a main course.

We had an excellent waiter, Sebastian, who was very knowledgeable about the menu. Seeing that his recommendations for starters were spot on, we took his lead with the main courses and weren’t disappointed. The star of the entire evening was undoubtedly the smoked pork belly with sautéed cabbage, warm baby potato salad, parsnip purée, bacon jam and maple soy jus (R150).

Bezuidenhout informed us that the butcher smokes the pork for him. Whomever that butcher is, he certainly knows what he is doing. The belly was magnificently cooked and simply fell apart. It was in no way over-cooked as it remained moist and the fat had been expertly rendered down. All the other elements on the plate played a supporting role in helping to elevate the smokiness of the belly and create a superbly balanced dish.

The sign of a good menu is when you struggle to pinpoint exactly what you’d like to eat, where every option sounds so delicious and enticing, that it’s as much about what you choose to eat as what you choose to forego.

For desserts, again, we were happy that we’d taken Sebastian’s advice. The caramel fondant with chocolate ganache, Maldon sea salt, almonds, popcorn and vanilla ice cream (R60) was absolutely sublime. The perfectly cooked, “oozy” fondant was not overly sweet and the savoury notes from the sea salt, almonds and popcorn made an incredibly rich dessert perfectly balanced.

The entire menu is superbly supported by an interesting wine list that ticks all the boxes and has been put together by someone who enjoys their wine.

We had a mercurial Kaapzicht Kliprug chenin blanc 2019 (R225) that proved to be a superb accompaniment to our starters, followed by a  rich Tokara cabernet sauvignon 2018 that was the perfect pairing for both the lamb rump and the smoked pork belly (R210).

One of the outstanding features — of both the food and wine offering — was the value for money. The wine list is balanced with some gems that are very well priced. Had we experienced the same calibre of food, wine and service in Johannesburg or Cape Town, I would have expected and been happy to have paid double what we were charged.

• Muse is located at 1B Stanley Street, Richmond Hill, Gqeberha. Contact 041-582-1937.