OK boys and girls, time for a little history lesson! Back in the olden days, during the mid-18th century, lived a man by the name of John Montagu. Now, this was not any old plain Londoner, John Montagu was the 4th Earl of Sandwich, and records show, a noted leader in Royal Navy and member of Admiralty. Legend has it, that he was also a gambler of note and spent many hours playing cards. During those long card playing sessions he would summon a snack consisting of meat slapped between two pieces of bread, and this is how the ‘sandwich’ came to be. You may be wondering now, about the link between a 21st century cafe, by the name of the Ms Murray, to John Montagu. Well, for one, you can’t go calling a cafe Fanny! Secondly, Fanny Murray was a courtesan, and John Montagu’s mistress at the time.
John Montagu was Raymond (Ray) Lim’s first foray into the Sydney cafe scene. While John Montagu pays homage to the sandwich, Ms Murray redefines parts of the John Montagu experience and delivers brand new offerings in the middle of the Sydney CBD. Make sense now?
Ms Murray can be found on Liverpool Street, a gentle 5-minute stroll from Town Hall station. As we meander into the cafe, we’re instantly struck by the attention to detail of every facet of the the cafe. The subway tiles (which is so popular in cafes around the city at the moment) provide a clean look. This is offset by the warm, toned furniture, and a long counter top setup with bag hooks for your Louis Vuitton or Gucci handbag. Antique styled lamps hanging from the ceiling provide a light and airy atmosphere to take in a good coffee, and sample refined food offerings prepared by Ray and his team. Ms Murray is equal parts warm, cosy, and light and just far enough away from George St to be shielded from the frenzied movement of people and traffic.
While we watch the food creators go to work in the open kitchen preparing our meals, our drinks arrive not long after the order is taken. Ms Murray is focusing on the standard coffees at present, so I go with a cappuccino. Coffee is by local Sydney roaster Gabriel. For their milk coffees, a blend of beans from Papua New Guinea, Sumatra, Kenya, and Ethopia is used to deliver a coffee with a medium body, full of flavour and an intensity which slices through the warm milk. If you not a fan of big bold flavours, order a large cappuccino, it will mellow out, yet still taste great!
Ms Murray is not a one-trick pony, and their approach to teas is just as exacting as their coffees. Take for example the white peony tea. White Peony Tea (Chinese : 白牡丹, pronounced : Bai Mudan) tea exudes sweet flavours from the unopened tea buds. I recommend this tea to novice tea drinkers because of the well rounded, succulent, floral-fruit flavours. It is gentle on the palate and produces a clean finish. Experienced tea drinkers will appreciate the perfect temperature of the tea, the subtlety of flavours, and oh of course the presentation!
Once again, the Chai challenge is on as fellow Coco & Viner Steve joins us for breakfast. Always looking out for those of us who like a little variety in their breakfast bevvies, Steve sips his way through some of Sydney’s best Chai’s and Ms Murray’s chai latte is up there with the best. Light, and just enough spice without that treacly sweetness you get with the less-than-authentic Chai contenders, this tea is a comforting accompaniment to the meal to come.
We have our 6-year-old along with us enjoying her first day of the school holidays. She’s hard to please at the best of times on the food front, but a little grin starts to form when her double cheese and sage toastie with ham is put in front of her. The resurgence of the toastie or jaffle continues, and I am loving the various interpretations. Ms Murray’s approach is a touch unconventional, in a luxurious kind of way. To begin with, 2 pieces of sourdough are sliced to a thickness that allows for a perfectly toasted exterior, and a soft pillow like consistency in the middle. No Kraft singles for cheese, but rather Maffra hand-made cheddar cheese. This cheese is known for its sharpness and bite and deep layers of flavour. Put some heat onto to it, and its buttery texture melts perfectly over the succulent ham and into the bread. Sage and butter make the perfect couple and combined with the ham and cheese…well, this toastie is going to remain top of the pops for a while I think!
A good couple always shares, so the team at Ms Murray have borrowed the John Montagu beef cheeks recipe from their Woolloomooloo cafe and featured it on the menu. This sandwich consist of 4 pieces of St Honore’s white sourdough bread, with succulent pieces of 12-hour braised beef cheeks, melted aged cheddar cheese, rocket, Spanish onion and sauerkraut, piled high in the middle of the white plate, with rings of orange yellow house glaze barbeque glaze encircling it. Every component of the sandwich is treated with love, and it delivers an explosion of flavours with each bite. It delivers value too, because I doubt you will find another meal for 12 hours after consuming this sandwich!
When you see anything “Benedict” on a menu, you’d be forgiven for thoughts of a heavy, saucy, and overly rich plate that is stuck in a culinary time warp. Ahhh, but not so with the smoked wagyu benedict! Like the other dishes, Ray has waved his wand over the tired, heavy hollandaise has-been and developed an experience that brings a new spectrum of flavours and textures to the fork. From the first bite, the charred kale makes an impression that sets a prefect stage for the succulent wagyu, and truly innovative hollandaise. The hollandaise is a bit of a revolution for me, as it breaks the mould of the traditionally heavy, eggy, greasy sauces and replaces it with a delightfully light and tangy accompaniment that lifts the other ingredients instead of smothering them. The beef is perfection, with a mildness that lets the quality of the meat do the talking. As you’d expect from the other expertly executed elements, the eggs are spot on and are one of those basic aspects that, when done properly, point to a chef that simply has the talent to do it all right. There’s something special about the charred kale though….I could eat a plate of that alone!
The salmon rilette with coddled egg and pea pannacotta, cream cheese and rye toast amps up the refinement factor! The lime greens of the pannacotta, combined with the yellow of the coddled eggs, are striking, you almost feel guilty disturbing the beautifully arranged dish. Think a seafood version of pate with the salmon rilette. It’s flavoured perfectly, and combined with the glistening, yet creamy pea pannacotta, is culinary bliss! I love how the pea flavour is not diminished with the pannacotta, and if anything it’s more concentrated! I am not done, I still need to tell you about the coddled egg. The egg is perfectly cooked, oozing out. The salmon roe provides a textural point of difference, and bite into it and experience a mini salt explosion! I loved it.
Words don’t do justice to the greek yoghurt, coconut and chia pudding with toasted oats and iced fruits. It needs to be seen, and hastily tasted, to be believed. If the other dishes on the menu showcased the co-owner and Chef Ray’s knowledge of food and flavours, then this honey Greek yoghurt offering fuses his food knowledge and showcases his flare in creating refined food that would not be out of place in any high-end restaurant in Sydney. The clear circular tumbler displays perfectly arranged layers of ingredients, topped off with frozen fruits. Adding to the eye candy, is a garnish of colourful edible Marigold flowers and micro-mint. Taste wise, each mouthful is an explosion of Asian flavours. From the coconut, to the new-age flavours from the chia pudding, classic flavours of Greek yoghurt sweetened with natural honey, crunch and texture from the granola oats, and finally the ice frozen fruit, makes this a fun and playful dish.
Ms Murray was a revelation in the best sort of way. We love seeing young chefs branching out, delivering and expressing themselves, with great tasting food that takes your breath away visually. Ray Lim has ambitious plans for Ms Murray and we can’t wait to see how that develops and we’re keeping our ears close to the ground for his next foodie offering.