It takes guts and vision to open a natural wine bar and restaurant in rural Australia (or anywhere for that matter). When Taiwanese chefs Mug Chen and Chia Wu first welcomed guests to Muni in late 2021, the daring duo turned heads. Previously, McLaren Vale’s tiny town of Willunga was best known for its three pubs and weekly farmers market.
These two have the hospitality nous to back up their vision. Previously, Chen trained in Paris where she worked at Restaurant AT with chef Atsushi Tanaka and sommelier Lulie Kaori Tanaka (now Muni’s Japan-based business partner and in charge of selecting its international wines). She later honed her skills at Melbourne’s Vue de Monde and McLaren Vale’s The Salopian Inn. Meanwhile, Wu worked magic at d’Arenberg Cube Restaurant, Fino Vino and The Little Rickshaw. “We were pumped when we opened Muni because we’d spent 10 months setting up the venue,” says Wu. “As chefs, we were trained to put things together on a plate but this was on a bigger scale; and for the whole experience including food, drinks, the interior, furniture, lights, crockery and our people.”
The fit-out is all class. Adelaide’s Sans-Arc Studio used concrete, steel and timber to transform the long, narrow bar and dining space (previously a vacant office space). An L-shaped bar offers a view of the kitchen where delicate dishes are created. What started as a small but beautifully executed Taiwanese-inspired snack list, now includes an 11-course set dining menu made with top-notch ingredients such as Phoenix wagyu and Fleurieu Peninsula’s Choice Mushrooms. Dishes such as Taipei-style cold noodles are household favourites from their homeland.
“At the beginning we mainly thought about serving what we really like to eat and drink but then we realised that a lot of what we do here is not so usual or comfortable for a lot of guests,” says Wu. “Working out how to deliver that unique service and experience became our most important task. As a host, it is our job to make people feel welcome no matter what food or beverage we are serving.”
Unicorn local wines and international natty gems enhance the thrill factor. Easing some of McLaren Vale’s more traditional residents into the world of natural wines hasn’t been easy but in their own quiet way, these two are changing the way locals eat and drink. “We love that everything we planned in detail has finally come together coherently,” says Wu.
2/3 High Street, Willunga, SA
Chefs: Mug Chen and Chia Wu
Opening hours: Friday-Saturday dinner, Sunday lunch.
Price guide: $$