Impress With: Troy Rhoades-Brown
When people call to book a table at Muse Restaurant in the Hunter Valley, it’s often the first step in making their weekend plans. Only once their table is secured will they book their accommodation and decide on wineries to visit. Muse Restaurant is the destination at the heart of their Hunter Valley experience.
It’s 10 years since Muse Restaurant opened and from the start, owner chef Troy Rhoades-Brown explains, “We knew we had to be a restaurant that over-delivered on the experience.”
However, that didn’t mean alienating everyday diners. “We needed to have an approachable tone,” Troy continues. “We didn’t want to be a restaurant that was just for a high net worth Sydney weekender who was going to spend two, three hundred dollars a head. I wanted the local people to come in on a Thursday night and celebrate a birthday party.”
One of the keys to achieving this has been to create a balanced menu. “I didn’t want a restaurant that was ‘out there,’” Troy explains. “There’s points of difference in the dishes, unique flavour profiles and techniques that take skill and are time-consuming, but there are always common flavours, whether it be pumpkin, fetta and fig, or beetroot and lamb, which make it really approachable, yet still exciting.”
Part of appealing to all kinds of diners is having an intuitive understanding of their needs. Troy credits his front-of-house staff with delivering this essential component of the Muse experience.
“You’ll have people who are there to enjoy the company they’re with, maybe they haven’t caught up in years and just want to drink great wine, have a laugh and know they’re being looked after. They don’t want to know what the orange dust is on top of the pumpkin dish.”
But then there are the keen foodies, who make up the majority of Muse diners and they are really interested in every facet of the restaurant.
“That’s when our front-of-house staff open up,” Troy explains, “they love their job, they want to give that information and they do a good job of it.”
Troy also understands that when some people choose to have a destination dining experience, they’re indulging in a spot of escapism.
As he describes, “Often the diners at Muse are not going home to the kids, the washing, the ironing. People are generally turning up in a great mood and they’re there to enjoy themselves for an extended period – not finishing at 10 to get home to the babysitter.”
This, he says, is one of the many positives of owning a regional restaurant. Another is the great relationships he’s formed with local growers.
Pre-Muse, Troy worked with the legendary Robert Molines at his destination restaurants, Robert’s and Bistro Molines. There, he saw Robert connect with the locals who would appear at his back door with baskets of home-grown produce.
“I started to form friendships with them as well, so when I opened Muse, they would turn up with their baskets and spend an hour chatting to me in the kitchen while was I prepping.”
While access to local produce makes for a great menu, it also presents challenges.
As Troy explains, “We’ll have something on the menu, but if we get a huge hailstorm, a supplier will ring up and say, ‘I’ve lost it all.’
“Working with such aggressive sub-seasons, you’ve got to be patient, you’ve got to show compassion and find another product they grow which you can incorporate into the menu.”
At the heart of Troy’s approach is his genuine desire to support his local community and at the end of the day, he knows their contribution is invaluable to the success of his destination restaurant.
“Diners don’t just come to have the Muse experience,” he acknowledges. “They’re actually coming to taste some of the Hunter Valley, they’re interested in the growers and their produce, they’re interested in the ethos of what goes on the plate. And I’m so happy to be helping fly the flag for the area.”
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