The Musket Room review

There is really only one thing more impossibly difficult than opening a restaurant in New York city – and that’s keeping it open. Fickle diners, persnickety critics, fierce competition and a winter built for arctic penguins are likely to force even the finest kitchens to tap out. And so despite the incomparable odds, Chef Matt Lambert, a talented, small town kid from New Zealand, armed with his new wife, a unique vision and a little help from Kickstarter, opened The Musket Room in 2013. Fast forward 4 short months later, and the kid goes on to win his first Michelin star. This is one of those stories that warms the belly like hot rum and coffee. So can we please hear it for the (down) under dog? 

You might not realize it, but Chef Lambert has probably cooked for you already, having spent his first years in the city behind the stove at Public, Double Crown and Saxon + Parole, but his unique signature is evident just about everywhere in his lime-washed brick, Nolita bistro with its own herb garden on the side. The menu offers a half-dozen apps, mains and desserts as well as 2 chef’s tasting menus, which according to his wife Barbara, “…is where he really has fun!”

But this is by no means fun food. In fact, at first glimpse the presentation might even appear a tad too fiddled with, however even though each winter blossom, micro green or baby nasturtium leaf seems perfectly balanced by tiny tweezers, the flavors, colors and textures are nothing short of monumental.

St. Simone Oysters - The Musket Room

St. Simone Oysters

The trio of St. Simone Oysters bathing in just the right amount of a smoky vinaigrette and sweet-and-sour grapefruit foam would be thrilled to know that their final moments were immortalized with so much drama, as they each rest with their very own flower on a bed of river pebbles, while the last few wisps of dry ice smoke envelope their immediate air space. In fact many of Lambert’s dishes can be described as built around the most adorable little botanical tableaus.

Quail - The Musket Room


The tender roasted Quail breast and thigh (with tiny claw still attached) lay beside a small thicket of blackberries and leaves with roasted half-onions and a sublimely velvety bread sauce, while the beautifully decorated, house-smoked Ora King Salmon with oils, herbs and seeds is a field day for Instagramers.

Ora King Salmon - The Musket Room

Ora King Salmonq

Every chef has their particular form that defines them. For Chef Lambert it must be the cylinder. He uses it to shape, hide and contain any number of ingredient parts that give the diner a thrill of discovery. His Beet salad divides conical statues of the purple root around a foam puck, punctuated by ivory nipples of zesty goat cheese and crunchy pistachios.

Lamb - The Musket Room


Being a New Zealander – where sheep far outnumber humans – I was dying to find out just how dexterously Lambert handles his lamb. And so when the rectangular, fork-tender slithers of picture-perfectly pink tenderloin arrived, I couldn’t help feeling a little sad for how lonely they looked until their table-side garnishing of a lusciously minty granola of mixed grains gave the dish an unexpected twist and crunch. Equally unexpected was the pair of Jerusalem artichokes both pureed and then hidden inside their own wafer-thin, crisp-fried skins. In case you were wondering, that’s how you spell Michelin!

Beef - The Musket Room


The circular crescent of Berkshire Pork (tenderloin and belly) done two ways, with a pillbox of kale that was shredded into moss along with a cauliflower floret and a mandarin slither or two, managed to capture most of the colors of the rainbow onto a single plate. And the flavor-forward Beef with salsify, eggplants and a delicious lobster cream scored even more goals for the Kiwi team.

Passion Fruit Pavlova - The Musket Room

Passion Fruit Pavlova

Chocolate is by all accounts the popular dessert du jour. It’s a rich log of gooey, chocolatey goodness teased by a Shirley Temple ringlet of salted caramel toffee. This was followed by another cylinder (a sweet one this time) that encased the even more challengingly sweet Bananas Foster, surrounded by bits of cake and a squiggle of lemon, but the Passion Fruit Pavlova is pure drama. While an innocent-looking meringue cylinder is supported by a medley of strawberries with a dribble of passion fruit – there lurks a thick shot of sweet cream deep inside for subsequent discovery… This dessert comes with a message. In my case it read: “Happy Birthday” – but what it secretly meant to say was: “Do Not Share!”


République, Los Angeles review



If reinvention is as American as Apple Pie, then the capital would have to be Los Angeles – where dreams are made, shattered and reconfigured between a jog through Runyon Canyon and a tall, wet, white, decaf, no-foam, percent, vanilla latte on Sunset Plaza. Like any other business, restaurants are hardly immune to the competitive pressures of new entrants and fickle loyalties – regardless of how unrelenting their meteoric success might have been. While cooking-show super stars were being created a mere mile up the road, no one noticed that the first darling of SoCal’s seasonal-sustainable discipline, Campanile, fell victim to waning interest. But the good news is that République has breathed brand new life into what was once the Charlie Chaplin building on the edge of Hancock Park. Walter Manzke (formerly of L’Auberge Carmel, Patina and Petty Cash Taquería) has performed a spectacular transformation, not only with tiles from the Philippines, wood from Thailand (for the lengthy communal tables and even lengthier charcuterie boards) but also by cracking the cloistered space wide open, and relocating Chaplin’s iconic tiled fountain to enhance the super-bistro’s curb appeal. Manzke and pastry-chef wife Margarita have created robust-flavored pan-European plates from France to Alsace to the Italian Riviera (and beyond) accompanied by an exclusively French yet approachable wine list with a handful of cheerfully curious cocktails that include Absinthe, Serrano chillies and Pandan leaves as ingredients.

Grass-fed Beef Tartare - République

Grass-fed Beef Tartare

As you walk in, a very respectable selection of bi-coastal oysters greet you (where the bakery used to be) along with a tempting glimpse of pre-baked dessert tarts and a row of imported tulip-bulb shaped dollops of fresh Normandy butter. The menu is broken down more by kitchen department than digestive courses, with separate sections for Bread, Steak Frites and Savory Tarts. Most portions are sharable and the wait staff shines at taste timing and course choreography. And here’s the best part, not only is the shelf-life for any menu item dictated by its availability, but many of the preparations are frequently reinvented (I assume due to diner indifference or kitchen fatigue or both) leaving a menu perpetually brimming with highly popular and difficult-to-make decisions.

Tasmanian Sea-Trout Crudo - République

Tasmanian Sea-Trout Crudo

Must-have starters include the pastry covered Escargot, the Thai-inspired Charcoal-grilled Prawns and two incredibly flavorful crudos: the impeccably balanced Hamachi with fire and freshness from pineapple, passion fruit and fresh jalapeño, and the lightly smoked Tasmanian Sea-trout in a wonderfully light (yet creamy) leak-and-potato mousseline (whipped egg-white sauce) with green apple gelée. Our waiter very accurately defined the Grass-fed Beef Steak Tartare as follows:  “They didn’t reinvent it or anything – they just nailed it!” And nail it they did with dill pickled onions and a take-no-prisoners mouth-watering tarragon aioli.

Nueske's Bacon Tart Alsacienne - République

Nueske’s Bacon Tart Alsacienne

The Nueske’s Tarte Alsacienne is a traditional, thin-crusted savory flatbread drenched in melted gruyere cheese over soft caramelized onions and heavenly strips of chewy bacon.

The rich, sweet and juicy Australian Lamb Rack is presented in a cast iron pot over nuggets of lamb shank and a wintry mix of beans, tomato and zucchini. As a side, we had to sample the irremovable menu fixture Wood Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts, which are deliciously browned with apple-wood bacon and a soft poached egg.

Australian Lamb Rack and Shank - République

Australian Lamb Rack and Shank

Most of the desserts include seasonal fruits as inspiration around tarts, pastries and puddings, and the cheese menu includes local and European options with a couple of seldom-seen raw-milk choices.

Mirabelle Plum Tart - République

Mirabelle Plum Tart

And so while it’s tough to let go of my many recollections of Campanile and their impossible-to-get-into Thursday night grilled-cheese heyday fests, I couldn’t help finding myself in total embrace of brand new memories at République.