By Greedy Financier
David Chang’s first restaurant venture outside of New York City, Momofuku Seiobo, has attracted much hype since opening last October. Weekend reservations are nearly impossible to attain, and within less than a year of opening, Momofuku Seiobo has already been awarded a coveted three chef’s hats in the SMH Good Food Guide Awards 2013.
The Entrance to Momofuku Seiobo at The Star
I decided to go see what all the hype was about, however, securing a booking proved difficult. Day after day I would sit in front of my computer from 9.50am pressing refresh to try and nab a weekend booking for two (the online reservation system opens at 10am each day, and only allows you to make reservations 10 days in advance, including the current day. Phone reservations are not accepted – the website does not even provide a phone contact). Despite my best efforts, it was just impossible to get a weekend booking, so I settled on a Monday night reservation.
Guests Dine around the Open Kitchen in Momofuku Seiobo
The restaurant set up is unlike any conventional restaurant – there are no separate tables or waiters – instead there are stools placed around a bar like area surrounding an open kitchen, such that diners can watch the food being prepared and plated up, and the chefs themselves serve you (the kitchen becomes centre stage and is entertainment itself). There were only two tables that night that were set apart from the bar area.
Busy Plating Up
The menu choice was easy, as only a degustation is offered. We also chose to add on the paired juices. I thought the juices were a great unique alternative to the usual matching wines. We were served one new juice per two courses (approximately), and they included cool cucumber, surprisingly sweet carrot, earthy beetroot, tart blackcurrant, crisp apple, refreshing watermelon and mellow mandarin. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you if the juices complemented the flavour of the food, but they sure were delicious juices!
Dinner began with some snacks. Pig’s blood and nori seaweed crackers, chewy mochi (Japanese rice cake) ‘lollipops’ and weird yellow things topped with refreshing shaved apple were unusually tasty starters that set the scene for what was to come.
Snacks – Blood, Nori, Mochi, Smoked Eel
Next up was Chang’s signature steamed pork bun. I had heard much about this bun and was expecting big things. The steamed bun was soft, fluffy and simply delightful, and was my favourite part of the dish. The pork was tender and was complemented beautifully by the refreshing cucumber and flavoursome hoisin sauce. It actually reminded me of eating Peking duck pancake, but with pork and much better bread.
Steamed Bun – Pork, Cucumber, Hoisin
Third dish to the table was raw thinly sliced kingfish. It was accompanied with pomelo pulp and crunchy pistachio, and was a nice fresh dish, but I thought there needed to be much more of a citrus punch.
Kingfish – Pomelo, Pistachio
The fourth course was marron with burnt eggplant. The marron was cooked exceptionally well – plump and juicy – and went perfectly with the tartness of the rhubarb, which provided a good contrast to the scrumptious burnt eggplant.
Marron – Burnt Eggplant, Rhubarb
And the award for the prettiest dish of the night goes to the wagyu beef. The dish was so pretty – circles of red bordered white radish piled into a dome sitting in a baby blue bowl – I didn’t want to disturb it! The taste of the dish also did not disappoint. Tiny cubed pieces of tender delicious beef were intermingled with juicy sweet bursts of diced watermelon, which went surprisingly well with the bitterness of the radish.
Beef – Radish, Fermented Black Bean
The potato confit was also in the running for prettiest dish. It was like a work of art, both visually and in my mouth.
Potato –Watercress, Bottarga
Seventh course was a tasty little number. The sauce sitting on top of the delicate mud crab was packed full of flavour and the Yorkshire pudding was a delightfully buttery carbohydrate accompaniment.
Mud Crab – Old Bay, Yorkshire Pudding
Next up was a modern twist on a traditional Chinese Cantonese breakfast dish – congee. Little balls of deep fried bread (or “you tiao” (油条) for those of you familiar with the Chinese deep fried bread eaten at breakfast time) sat on a bed of ham congee, topped off with dehydrated egg yolk (a very weird texture). The dish certainly displayed technique and was high on the inventiveness scale, but unfortunately it wasn’t as flavoursome as I expected.
Congee – Ham, Yolk
The first “main” course of the night was snapper with periwinkles. No, I’m not making up names – periwinkles are small edible sea snails, and they are actually quite delicious. I’ve bought them before at the Sydney Fish Markets, and they have this fantastic chewy texture and taste, sort of like eating abalone. Shaved periwinkle sat on top of a lovely piece of well cooked snapper, which had a mellow buttery taste, and went really well with the bitter side green vegetables.
Pink Snapper – Periwinkle, Chrysanthemum
The final “main” of the night was beef cheek. I love slow cooked braised beef cheek and this definitely was one flavour packed cheek. It was extremely tender, and was paired with pickled cucumber and artichoke which added a pleasant tang.
Beef – Cucumber, Artichoke
The cheese course was, well, unusual. A generous pile of grated cheese sat atop honey licorice and bee pollen. While it was a small dish, I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of cheese, the strength of the licorice and the peculiar texture of the bee pollen.
c2 – Honey Licorice, Bee Pollen
The only real dessert of the night was a pear crumble, but it was absolutely awesome. A soft poached nashi pear was complemented by a scrumptious crumble which had a milk powder taste that I love. The yoghurt provided a nice creamy accompaniment that wasn’t overly sweet.
Pear – Yoghurt, Sultana Miso, Whey
The final “dessert” was potato ice cream with muntries (type of berry). Again, another quirky dish! The ice cream certainly tasted of potatoes, and reminded me of eating hot chips, but in ice cream form. The berries added a nice sweet tartness, but it felt more like a savoury dish than a real dessert.
Potato – Muntries
Continuing on in the tradition of uniqueness, the petit fours were not your usual sweets, but rather slow roasted pork. We had seen a large piece of caramelised pork come out of the oven and were eyeing it, but had no idea it was for the petit fours!
Slow Roasted Pork Fresh Out of the Oven
I was a little shocked when they presented the pork to us – pieces of stringy pork covered in ample amounts of sweet sauce. To add to my shock, no cutlery was provided. We were instructed to eat the pork with our hands! (But they do provide wet towels for you to clean your hands afterwards). Although I am a dessert girl, and would have preferred finishing off with some sweets, the pork – which was roasted to caramelised perfection – was so scrumptious and bursting full of flavour, that I really didn’t mind.
“Petit Fours” – Roasted Pork
At the end of the night we were presented with a small gift of kimchi to take home. I have to say Momofuku Seiobo was definitely an eccentric dining experience. The dishes are out of the ordinary and actually rather extraordinary. The service is exemplary and the kitchen entertainment interesting. If you are after a special and bizarre night out, Momofuku Seiobo will not disappoint.
(Online Reservations Only – Reservations Open 10 Days in Advance)
Lunch: Friday to Saturday 12.15pm – 2.30pm
Dinner: Monday to Saturday 7.00pm – 10.30pm
Level G, The Star
80 Pyrmont Street