While some of you will be rolling your eyes at the reminder of Valentine’s Day, some eyes…
The death of the bricks and mortar bookshop has been a topic of pessimistic conversation in recent years, with several longstanding Canberra stores closing their doors. But a new bookstore/restaurant/wine bar is bucking the trend, opening its doors in Kingston’s East Hotel tonight.
Nestled next to the recently-launched Joe’s Bar, Muse is ‘a space where good food, great wine and the magic of the written word come together’.
Owners Dan Sanderson and Paul Eldon met in Beijing, where they spent much of their time at The Beijing Bookworm, a bookstore/cafe/bar which, according to Dan, became a real hub for English-speaking people in the city. It was a model that they thought would work here in Canberra.
“There’s been a real turnaround the last few years – people are buying books now more than they were 10 or 15 years ago. It’s a lifestyle thing. We want this to be a place where people come for an experience.”
Muse is, first and foremost, a restaurant; but Dan says that he wants one side to inform the other. A patron might grab a glass of red from the wine bar and wander over to the shelves, pull up a bench seat, grab a book and settle in; or they may spend their lunch hour alternatively eating their meal and eyeing off the latest titles.
Chef Sam Willis, who comes to Muse from a stint as Head Chef at Newcastle’s iconic seafood restaurant Scratchley’s on the Wharf, says to expect relaxed but sophisticated dining at Muse, where food will be primarily “Fresh…fresh vegetables, seafood, whatever we can get our hands on.”
Café-style breakfasts will be available weekdays, served with locally-roasted Red Brick Espresso coffee. Weekends see things become a little more fancy, with seafood becoming the star at brunch…think oysters and caviar, smoked salmon and crab cakes and more. Sam seemed pretty keen on smoked kippers when we shared our love for ‘fish for breakfast’.
At lunch the emphasis will be on vegetables, with Paul citing Ottolenghi’s restaurants as inspiration. The menu will change daily, depending on what’s in season, with diners able to create their meal from a selection of mains and impressive array of salads and side dishes.
Evenings at Muse will revolve around grazing: bar plates, local olives, charcuterie and handmade Australian cheese; and there’s a generous complement of desserts.
The wine list is all-Australian, sourced from small and independent producers from Margaret River to the Mornington Peninsula via Mudgee and McLaren Vale. Dan says he and Paul have travelled across Australia speaking to winemakers and vignerons to source wines they’re passionate about.
“We’re going to be having wine events – dinners and tastings – and we really want it to be a feature of what we’re doing here. We take wine seriously, and we want people to come and learn about it.”
As well as an eclectic selection of wines by the glass and carafe, Muse will be regularly changing wine flights showcasing the distinctive qualities of particular varietals or regions.
Muse is a beautiful space, designed by award-winning architect Anthony Gill. It’s airy and bright and warm, the floor to ceiling glass windows bathing the interior in natural light; dove grey tiles, timber furniture and smooth concrete floors lend texture.
In the corner next to the bar sits a baby grand piano – there for anyone who wants to play it, says Dan.
“The idea is that on weekends, we’ll get little acoustic bands in to play, but one of the events we’re considering is based on one that Paul organised in Beijing, where he would encourage people who used to play an instrument or sing, to perform at a classical music open mic night'”
Take a step down into the bookstore and you’ll find walls lined with solid American oak bookshelves suspended on thin brass filaments, vintage Afghan kilim rugs on the floor and soft lighting from a couple of slender standard lamps.
The shop will stock a ‘carefully considered selection of new and quality second hand titles that includes everything from the latest releases to long out of print classics’. Dan says that (appropriately), there’ll be a focus on politics and current affairs, but you’ll also find strong showings of books on food and wine, performing arts and foreign affairs, as well as literary fiction from Australia and around the world.
The bookshop will host an active program of events including book launches, author talks and ‘in conversation’ events with journalists, politicians, musicians, artists, chefs, winemakers and more.
No matter what you love – books, wine, food or intelligent conversation – there’s something to be found here.
Where: East Hotel, 69 Canberra Ave, Kingston
When: Monday — Thursday 6.30am — 10pm; Friday 6.30am — midnight; Saturday 7am — midnight; Sunday 7am — 6pm
Phone: 6178 0024