If there’s a thread that runs through Moxhe, it’s textural, analogue and organic. The consistent and well-chosen soundtrack to our meal is deep, obscure Delta swamp blues, including Howlin’ Wolf, the pioneer of rock’n’roll.
The small, 34-seater dining room is furnished with obscenely comfortable, neutral-toned fabric bucket chairs and wooden tables. A cushioned fabric banquette runs down one wall under a row of round, copper dome lights. Dark wood surrounds house wine and separate the dining room from the kitchen. A wall-mounted herb garden lines the way to the bathroom. The art centrepiece is a bumpy abstract oil painting that - appropriately for a seafood-focused restaurant - conjures rocks and foamy sea.
We visit on a Tuesday, an evening when the restaurant graciously allows guests to BYO wine ($10/bottle). Itching to crack into our chosen bottle, we’re met with methodical, unhurried service. It feels deliberate: an attempt to force guests into the relaxed pace of Moxhe, rather than the other way ‘round. It grows on me over the course of the evening. Presented on a walnut board, our urchin roe tart amuse bouche gets our palates interested in umami. Bucking the local Iggy's trend, house-made bread is accompanied by little pots of seaweed-dusted butter.
The succinct one-page daily menu offers up six types of oyster, so, taking that as a challenge, we order the lot and do our own comparison. Most of them come from Moonlight Flat Oysters in Batemans Bay. Oyster grower Steve Feletti’s Moonlight Kisses ($4/each) are tiny, briny sea treasures, but they’re bested by his Petite Clair de Lune ($4.50/each) that eat like being smacked in the face with a salty ocean wave. The full-size Clair de Lune Bouton ($5/each) are meatier, but not better eating today. Moonlight En Surface ($5.50/each) are large but not challenging, with soft flavour, while the newer oyster brand - The Rusty Wire ($6/each) that is more or less Feletti’s pick of the day - is subtle with a balanced, creamy finish. The only non-Feletti – Port Stephens Rocks ($4/each) - are creamier than I like my oysters, without being unpleasant to eat. All of the oysters are freshly shucked to order, and served with a good slurp of liquor.
The Moxhe menu brief appears to be: buy the highest quality seafood Australia and New Zealand has to offer, and then stuff around with it as little as possible (if only more seafood restaurants would do the same). The Raw Plate ($27) is a very good exemplar, with a well-cut selection of alfonsino, mahi-mahi and creamy cuttlefish laid out with bright orange urchin roe, octopus tentacles and tiny pickled vongole clams. The accompaniments – finely sliced daikon, seaweed and two-year-old aged soy – are all you need to enjoy the delicate textures and tastes.
As if to prove it’s not about beautiful food designed for the Instagram generation, our next dish is a lewd, nude Mud Crab Omelette ($35) stuffed to the gills with buttery poached crab. Accompanied by a subtly-dressed Red Oak Lettuce Salad ($10) that lets nuts and chicory shine, it’s rich and crabby enough to make you and your bae a nice sharing entrée.
The cloud of comforting, charred lucerne that emerges when our Mussels ($22) are unveiled, transports me back to Aunty Eva’s farm in Burnt Yards. It’s an uncompromising display of seafood treated simply and honestly.
Carefully collect a shell and slurp up any mussel liquor along with your tender, nicely cleaned bivalve - bliss!
Prawn Tortellini ($24) have an excellent prawn to pasta ratio. They’re served in a thin prawn bisque that’s slightly ragged, but I like them anyway.
The final dish in the grouping of smaller plates – Confit Potato ($16) – is more side than heroine, though the Southern Highland spuds do shine against soft ricotta cheese, eggplant, mustard leaves and a dusting of thematic dried bonito. We consume it with the 2016 Tellurian Marsanne ($14/glass) – which, as it throws melon, is not my favourite exemplar of this white Rhone varietal.
Not being big on dessert, it’s testament to Moxhe’s interesting list of house-made sorbets and ice creams that we decide indulge in not one but three! Pineapple Sorbet ($4) with pineapple sage is softly flavoured and enjoyable.
Cardamon Ice Cream ($5) topped with darkly candied pumpkin seeds is wintery and my dining companion’s favourite.
I’m most taken with the bright Lemon Verbena ($5) topped with juicy matchsticks of nashi pear. We leave on high, likely to return to Bronte’s quiet achiever.
65b Macpherson Street, Bronte
Ph: (02) 8937 0886