69 Canberra Ave Griffith, ACT 2603
|Opening hours||Breakfast and lunch daily; Dinner Mon-Sat|
|Features||Licensed, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||Citibank, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
Let's talk about Muse, the new eatery in Kingston. There are a couple of questions – is it a cafe (it's popular at brunch)? Is it a proper restaurant (it's very relaxed and laidback)? Is it a wine bar (there is definitely a lot of drinking)? It's definitely a bookshop at one end of the room. And there's a growing sense of a literary salon, with a regular series of authors and journalists in conversation about their work – Charlotte Wood one evening, Michelle Grattan the next.
It's all part of the growth of the East Hotel on the far end of Kingston. The Bisa family, which owns the hotel, have turned things up a notch, opening the colourful, quirky Joe's Bar next door while Dan Sanderson and Paul Eldon created Muse as a wine bar, bookshop, cafe and salon. The look is cool, filled with light and plenty of space. The lower level is airy, with books lining the wall and stacked neatly on big tables. On the upper deck is the dining section, dark wood and white with a piano in one corner. There's a big communal table in the middle of the room, scattered with magazines and newspapers; smaller ones line the wall with banquettes.
There are small tapas-style dishes to nibble and big plates for dinner. Thin golden slices of locally made haloumi ($10) are baked, tender rather than squeaky, and sweet as well as salty. They're perfectly moreish.
A ribbon of kingfish carpaccio ($18) slips easily down as well – these are good small bites, perfect for sharing over a glass of wine.
Perhaps the standout is an autumnal roast pumpkin ($12) dotted with creamy ricotta, the meat of the pumpkin softly falling apart and glazed from the pan.
Wines are extensive and interesting but the list is exclusively Australian with plenty from the Canberra region. There's enough variety to make for conversation, and there are wine flights at $20 which offer a taste of different grape varietals and vintages and a chance to linger.
The more substantial dishes are equally accomplished. Sliced spring vegetables tangle happily with tender pappardelle ($24) in a bowl, a fresh and light pasta dish that speaks of warmer weather while remaining hearty enough to keep a chilly night at bay.
Pork belly with a garnish of chilli ($25) is nice enough without setting the world on fire. A very competent Indonesian-style chicken leg ($25) on a bed of rice is more interesting. Surrounded by a forest of raw veg – bean sprouts, coriander, carrot, and spring onion – it's a mix of healthful greenery and tasty, spicy meat.
Sanderson (a former Canberra Times contributor) has all the right moves on the floor, a gently attentive presence who keeps things ticking along effortlessly. There's a quiet spot of banter with a bunch of friends, a discussion of the provenance of the haloumi with a couple who are having a foodie date night, a wine chat with the girls sitting by the window.
To finish, a wedge of croissant pudding ($12) – thick and rich and buttery – served with a translucent poached pear. A small bowl of sago studded with blueberries and strawberries ($12) is more suited to a balmy spring evening, the bubbly sago a lightly sweet touch to end a big meal.
The books are a lovingly curated collection of everything that would appeal to a Canberran you know – plenty of political tomes, memoirs and history books leavened with literary novels and quirky titles (The Book of Fine Linen). They're a mix of prices, too. It's the kind of place where you talk about Ta-Nehisi Coates a lot.
Eldon and Sanderson built Muse in the image of a bookshop that Eldon used to run in China – a well known literary hangout that also served coffee, drinks and food. But they've also created a rather lovely Canberran nook, tapping into the mix of politics, brunch and books that many of us find irresistible.