On the edge of the wider McLaren Vale region sits Willunga. This typically sleepy little town comes to life on weekends thanks to the Willunga Farmers Market, one of the state’s best fresh food destinations. Willunga was the birthplace of the original Fino restaurant and cult wine venue Fall from Grace, and, while each has now relocated, 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 pâtissiers’ Four Winds, and accommodates a few of the region’s boutique cellar doors. For such a small village, it has certainly punched above its culinary weight over the years and its latest recruit is no exception.
Opening quietly in October last year, Muni is influenced by its team’s travels and experiences, and by the producers who supply the kitchen with seasonal bounty. Owners and chefs Mug Chen and Chia Wu have both worked in the region, interstate and overseas. They have formed a small but clearly passionate team and designed the compact kitchen and dining spaces of Muni with one thing in mind: community.
The venue is minimalist but it manages to avoid feeling stark through good use of timber, which softens the otherwise steel and concrete interior. Equally minimal are details on tonight’s degustation menu; they offer a glimpse of each dish without giving away the full story. We’re introduced to Muni’s style with a series of snacks listed as burnt leek with liquid brioche, aubergine with caramelised miso, and a spring onion sweet bun.
As artfully presented bites land on the table, staff describe each in more depth. The leek is a trio of small deep-purple cigar-shaped morsels, doused in a dehydrated beetroot powder. Each has been piped with a buttermilk concoction, with a few delicate micro herbs added for presentation. A robust acid flavour hits with the first bite, confounding the senses with barely any of the oniony flavour usually associated with leek. It does retain the typical chewy texture and departs with a pleasant light sweet taste.
The next bite is an impossibly thin but textured cracker – we’re told this is made using maple – but it’s the miso flavour that stands out over the whipped aubergine topping. Adding a hit of salt to starters is seaweed butter served alongside the sweet-yet-savoury buns, with a slightly crisp crust and the expected soft and pillowy texture in the centre.
Next is the simplest presentation yet – a dollop of oyster emulsion sitting innocently beside a few spears of asparagus that are cooked only slightly, yet retain a silky texture. And then sashimi-style slivers of bluefin tuna are paired with dehydrated tomato. By itself, the tomato has an overpowering acidic and smoky flavour that threatens to take over the dish but somehow the tuna stands up and it is all tied together with a splash of broth beneath that yields a light yet complex flavour with garlic and citrus notes, balancing the dish out nicely.
A deep-fried radish cake arrives next. The tiniest portion of cucumber kimchi sitting atop this perfectly formed cube offers the subtlest hint of spice, but it’s the sauce that imparts the most delightful flavour – sweet, salty and umami thanks to oyster, shrimp and mushroom. A plate resembling a pile of noodles turns out to be lengths of southern calamari: this is the heartiest dish of the night and the one that has the table talking. Beneath the tasty ‘noodles’ is a blend of dried and refried rice that offers a crunchy texture and the dish has a balanced savoury and citrusy taste with an underlying hint of chilli.
Market fish is a tiny fillet of threadfin bream, served with scales that have been treated in a cooking method that has them standing on end. The sauce for this one is made using coriander, chilli, and fish sauce that provides a salty balance and seeps into accompanying greens: this is poured tableside for a touch of theatre.
The last savoury dish served is a perfectly medium-rare cube of wagyu next to another artistic arrangement of beetroot puree and a light pink onion segment that we discover has been pickled in cherry vinegar. In another display of refined balance, the tartness of the pickled veg cuts through the fatty flavour of the tenderly cooked meat.
We realise we’re nearing the end of the Muni journey when two tiny scoops of mulberry sorbet that has been spiced up with a hit of mountain pepper land on the table. This is a tangy, mouth-puckering palate cleanser that dissolves the instant it hits the tongue. Beneath the deeply coloured and flavoured ice is the surprising addition of a meringue-looking crumb that turns out to be a sherbet that rounds out with a tingling sensation, reminiscent of popping candy.
Lastly, a delightful matcha-flavoured butter is piped and pressed between rounds of dacquoise cake. These delicate and nutty sandwiches are lightly sweet but teeter on savoury thanks to a coating of herbs on the exterior.
After just one meal it’s abundantly clear that this restaurant is more than the sum of its parts and we already feel like we are part of the Muni family; this is a place with a huge appreciation for producers and the treatment of ingredients, a place where technique is matched with thoughtful service, a brilliant list of wines, and a community spirit to boot.
2/3 High Street, Willunga SA 5172
(08) 7516 5958
Open: Thursday 5.30-8.30pm, Friday and Saturday 12pm- late, Sunday 1-5pm
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.