At the edge of the wider McLaren Vale region is Willunga. This quintessentially sleepy little town comes alive on weekends thanks to the Willunga Farmers Market, one of the best fresh produce destinations in the state. Willunga was the birthplace of the original Fino restaurant and cult wine Fall from Grace, and although each has now moved on, they will always hold a place in the hearts of locals and regular visitors to both.
The town is also home to artisan chocolatiers and Four Winds of pastry chefs, and is home to some of the area’s winery shops. For such a small village, it has certainly punched above its culinary weight over the years and its latest addition is no exception.
Quietly opening in October last year, Muni is influenced by the travels and experiences of its team, and by the producers who supply the kitchen with seasonal bonuses. Owners and chefs Mug Chen and Chia Wu have both worked regionally, interstate and overseas. They formed a small but clearly passionate team and designed Muni’s compact kitchen and dining spaces with one thing in mind: community.
The venue is minimalist but manages to avoid feeling austere through good use of wood, which softens the otherwise steel and concrete interior. Equally minimal are the details on tonight’s tasting menu; they offer insight into each dish without giving away the whole story. We experience Muni’s style with a series of snacks listed as Burnt Leek with Runny Brioche, Eggplant with Caramelized Miso, and Spring Onion Brioche.
As artfully presented bites land on the table, the staff describe each in more depth. The leek is a trio of small, cigar-shaped, dark purple pieces sprinkled with dehydrated beetroot powder. Each was drizzled with a buttermilk concoction, with some delicate micro-herbs added for presentation. A robust sour flavor hits from the first bite, confusing the senses with barely the onion flavor typically associated with leek. It retains the typical rubbery texture and leaves with a pleasant light sweet taste.
The next bite is an incredibly thin yet textured cracker – we’re told it’s made using maple – but it’s the miso flavor that stands out against the whipped eggplant filling. To add a touch of salt to entrees, seaweed butter is served alongside sweet-but-savory rolls, with a slightly crispy crust and the expected soft, chewy texture in the center.
Next comes the simplest presentation yet – a dollop of oyster emulsion sitting innocently next to a few spears of asparagus that are only lightly cooked, but retain a silky texture. And then, sashimi-style strips of red tuna are accompanied by dehydrated tomatoes. The tomato on its own has an overpowering sour and smoky flavor that threatens to overpower the dish, but somehow the tuna rises and it’s all tied together with a touch of broth underneath that gives a light but complex flavor with hints of garlic and citrus, well balancing the dish.
A fried radish cake comes next. The smallest serving of cucumber kimchi sitting on top of this perfectly formed cube offers the subtlest hint of spice, but it’s the sauce that imparts the most delicious flavor – sweet, salty and umami thanks to the oysters, shrimp and mushrooms . A plate resembling a pile of noodles turns out to be lengths of southern calamari: it’s the heartiest dish of the night and the one that gets the table talking. Beneath the savory “noodles” is a mixture of dried and fried rice which provides a crunchy texture and the dish has a balanced salty and lemony taste with an underlying hint of chilli.
The market fish is a tiny fillet of threadlike sea bream, served with scales that have been processed in a cooking method that makes them stand upright. The sauce in this one is made with cilantro, chili and fish sauce that provides a salty balance and seeps into the accompanying greens: it’s poured at the table for a touch of drama.
The last savory dish served is a cube of perfectly medium-rare wagyu alongside another artistic arrangement of mashed beetroot and a segment of light pink onion which we discover has been marinated in cherry vinegar. In another display of refined balance, the acidity of pickled vegetables cuts through the fatty flavor of tenderly cooked meat.
We realize we are nearing the end of the Muni journey when two small scoops of blackberry sorbet with a hint of mountain pepper land on the table. It is a pungent, mouth-wrinkling palate cleanser that dissolves the instant it hits the tongue. Beneath the deeply colored and flavored ice cream is the surprising addition of a meringue-like crumb that turns out to be a sorbet that rounds out with a tingling sensation, reminiscent of popping candies.
Finally, a delicious matcha flavored butter is poached and pressed between slices of dacquoise. These delicate, nutty sandwiches are slightly sweet but savory thanks to an herb coating on the outside.
After just one meal it is quite clear that this restaurant is more than the sum of its parts and we already feel like part of the Muni family; it’s a place where the producers and the processing of the ingredients are highly valued, a place where technique goes hand in hand with attentive service, a brilliant wine list and a community spirit to boot.
2/3 High Street, Willunga SA 5172
(08) 7516 5958
Open: Thursday 5:30-8:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 12 p.m.-late, Sunday 1 p.m.-5 p.m.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.