Moxhe

Terry Durack
Neighbourly and welcoming: The cosy interior at Moxhe.
Neighbourly and welcoming: The cosy interior at Moxhe. Photo: Cole Bennetts

65B Macpherson Street Bronte, New South Wales 2024

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Opening hours Sun-Mon Closed, Tue-Thu 5:30 – 10:00 PM, Fri-Sat 12:00 – 2:30 PM 5:30 – 10:00 PM
Features Accepts bookings, Licensed, Bar, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Degustation, Family friendly, Romance-first date
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef David Coumont
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone (02) 8937 0886

Belgium, you have given us so much. The Smurfs, Tin Tin, Plastic Bertrand, Hercule Poirot, Peter Paul Rubens, Kim Clijsters, the saxophone, Trappist beers, pralines, waffles, and that little statue who piddles into fountains.

And now, Moxhe. Belgian-born chef David Coumont doesn't want Moxhe to be pigeon-holed as a Belgian restaurant any more than, say, as a Bronte restaurant. But, really. As soon as he puts mussels on the menu, it's Belgian. If he sends out fries with a little bowl of mayonnaise for dipping, it's Belgian. If he dips speculoos biscuits in Belgian chocolate as a petit fours, then I'm sorry, it's as Belgian as a sprout from Brussels.

Having trained with the ground-breaking Michel Bras in France and cooked locally at the likes of Cafe Paci and Fish Face, Coumont brings a degree of professional finesse not often seen in a little 34-seater eastern suburbs dining room. He and his partner and co-owner, Helen Diab, a former restaurant manager of Berowra Waters Inn, have put together a neighbourly, welcoming mere-et-pere diner, with its cosy front dining room, blackboards of daily specials and wines by the glass, and unclothed wooden tables set with fresh flowers and flickering candlelight.

Mud crab with fresh herbs on toast.
Mud crab with fresh herbs on toast. Photo: Cole Bennetts

The short-but-sweet menu starts with steamed mussels (aha!), pipis and clams, then goes on to a whole mud crab with spices and vanilla, crisp-skinned kingfish with cauliflower puree and grapefruit, and French toast with pineapple sorbet.

As well, the blackboard menu lists a selection of oyster-whisperer Steve Feletti's finest, and a daily special of crab toast. But first, there's a delicate amuse-bouche of thinly sliced raw kingfish belly with lemon vinaigrette and fresh chives – cleansing and clean-tasting.

If nobody will share the market price mud crab with you, then do the crab toast ($22). It's really quite stunning in its uncluttered freshness and lightness; just sweet, sweet crab on the thinnest and crispest tartine of toasted Belgian rye.

Crispy skinned kingfish.
Crispy skinned kingfish. Photo: Cole Bennetts

Smoked eel croquettes ($17) are inspired by the Belgian classic croquettes au crevettes gris, the crisp, well-constructed shells filled with an almost-too-molten, smoked-eel infused béchamel. They're still croquettes, though -   easy, appealing, but limited.

There's something bravely spartan and monastic – and Belgian - about John Dory with vongole ($36), the pure white skinned fillets lightly steamed over a curry fish stock and teamed simply with a midden of plump little clams and grilled shanks of cos. It's a relief to find a good piece of fish that isn't loaded down with bells and whistles such as salmon roe, aioli, pork belly and edible flowers.

Grass-fed Greenstone Creek (NZ) sirloin ($34) is good and crusty, grilled to the requested rare-to-medium rare. A light, bright beef jus infused with beetroot, and two fried polenta logs and a clump of watercress make it a very together offering.

Apple tart and vanilla bean ice-cream.
Apple tart and vanilla bean ice-cream. Photo: Cole Bennetts

The small wine list of 10 whites and 10 reds is bolstered by daily chalkboard specials of the road-less-travelled variety, including an intense, minerally, pure-tasting 2013 Bodegas Mengoba godello y dona blanca white from Spain's Bierzo region ($10/$42).

Plates are fragile, cutlery is slender, and even substantial dishes are cooked with a light hand. Coumont puts a new spin on ye olde apple tart, rather literally, by twirling house-made puff pastry in a layered galette interspersed with apple compote and fresh apple, finished with a scoop of luscious vanilla ice cream. It does for the apple tart what the cronut did for the doughnut. Not flashy, but clever, tweaky, and a bit different. Just like those Belgians, really.

THE LOW-DOWN
Best bit: Local hero in the making
Worst bit: Some awkward corner tables
Go-to dish: Mud crab, fresh herbs, toast $22

Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.