Is it worth playing the on-line reservation booking game and forking out hard earned cash to visit Momofuku? Undeniably Yes.
Food isn’t the sole factor of importance for me when visiting a restaurant. Of course it is a major aspect, but for me, a memorable restaurant experience involves so much more. Attentive knowledgeable staff is crucial, they know the dishes and ingredients like the back of the hands, they make you feel right and home and welcome from the moment you step through the door.
The staff at Momofuku are this and much more. The food is pretty okay too.
All right, the food is better than okay, which is what you would expect from a restaurant that has been awarded three hats. Momofuku Seiobo is one of only four, three hatted restaurants, in NSW.
This isn’t my first visit to one of David Chang’s establishments. Back in 2010, on a trip to New York, visited Ssam Bar. I had made the decision to only visit one of the restaurants in the Momofuku family. Má Pêche would seem an obvious first choice, but I had decided to have my one allowed splurge degustation at WD50. Which was a highlight of my NYC trip, and I have not regretted for an instant. I will sing high praises of Wylie Dufresne until the cows come home. I was lucky to have met him during my visit, a lovely guy, with a brilliant mind, and the skills to create amazing dishes.
Momofuku is the only one of Chang’s restaurants in Australia, also the only one outside of North America. I believe Chang’s decision to open up his first restaurant in the Southern Hemisphere at The Star, a testament to how exceptional the food scene in Sydney is.
The on-line booking I mentioned earlier isn’t actually as bad as it sounds. To visit Seiobo you will generally need to have a booking. The on-line reservation system isn’t that hard when you understand it. Firstly you will need to create an account via their website. After you have an account reservations can be made up to 20 days in advance (including the current day). The reservation system is open from 10am – midnight daily.
If you feel the whole process of making a reservation overwhelming, you can always try your luck as a walk in. They do accept them if there has been a cancellation or there happens to be a table free. Alternatively there are 5 seats available at the bar, only available for walk ins, with a specific limited bar food menu.
On arrival we are seated at one of three wooden benches that surround the open kitchen. There are only a couple of tables in the restaurant. The majority of the seating is bench seating which gives you a view of the immaculate open kitchen. It is fascinating to watch the chefs work as they prepare the dishes.
When dining at Momofuku Seiobo you are not presented with a menu. No matter if you are partaking in the dinner or lunch degustation (they only offer degustation, unless you are eating as a walk in at the bar), each new dish presented to you is a surprise. You do however receive a menu to take home with you at the end of your meal.
Not knowing what is coming is actually quite fun. We found ourselves spying on our neighbours’ dishes to see what was due to head our way next.
The kitchen is spotlessly clean, as you would expect, and they work so quietly. It is almost like a ballet watching them dance around each other and clean as they go. They are so quiet that you don’t really hear them communicating. You happily get lost in your own conversations, to be subtlety reminded by a slightly raised cry of ‘pork buns walking’, that there are seven chefs in front of you.
We are here for lunch. The website advises there will be approximately eight dishes. For those on a budget, like me, the lunch alternative at $110/person is the more reasonable option to dinner ($185/person). Expecting eight courses, in the end we are served a generous 11.
smoked potato, apple
A thin crisp cigar shaped potato tuile filled with light creamy and delicately smoked pureed potato. Served with sweet and slightly tangy apple gel and then sprinkled with freeze-dried apple shavings. No cutlery, you eat this one with your hands.
steamed bun, pork belly
This is not my first experience with Chang’s buns. I first tried them at Ssam Bar in New York. What surprises me about Momofuku Seiobo’s version is that they are half the size of the original. I assume this is due to being served as part of a degustation, and not a stand-alone ordered dish as they are at Ssam. They are lighter on the hoi sin sauce, with less cucumber and green onion than their NYC cousins. Like at Ssam, a baby bottle of sriracha is served on the side. In NYC I didn’t add it to my buns, but this time I did to give them a bit more umpf.
I will be honest, I like Ssam Bar’s buns better.
crab, chickpea, amaranth
All delicate flavours that meld beautifully. Amaranth adding texture to the delicate hand picked crabmeat. House made miso and finished with a touch of dill.
potato, roe, parsons nose
For those not in the know, parsons nose is the tail of a plucked chicken. It is the fatty triangular looking thing at the base of your BBQ, which most of us disregard. In this dish it has been deep-fried which renders the fat a little. This leaves you with a crisp nob that tastes like an extremely flavorful piece of fried chicken. The potatoes are neither here or there for me, but the salty pop of the roe with each mouth full of parson’s’ nose is a joyous experience in my mouth.
eel dashi, octopus, turnip
This dish is my favourite of the degustation. The eel dashi jelly is made from smoked eel, a delightful unexpected discovery. I can’t help but smile as I watch the tender Coffin Bay octopus tentacles curl slightly around my fork as they head to my mouth. The baby turnip and samphire add crunch while the slightly sweet creamy almond milk binds all the elements together beautifully.
egg cauliflower, mushroom
The slow cooked egg yolk appears as a golden orb in the centre of this dish. Cauliflower is roasted and thin discs of mushroom complete this dish.
mulloway, carrot, kelp
The mulloway moist and tender, crowned with crisp skin. The carrot tender from roasting and almost blackened on the underside, roasting brings out the sweetness.
chicken, cucumber, watercress
The roast chicken is tender and full of flavor. Baby cucumbers are grilled. This all sits on a watercress sauce, which is surprisingly fresh and green in flavor, adding the essence of Spring to this dish.
curd, black current, mint
The Adelaide sourced goat curd is surprisingly light in flavor. I say this as I am not a goat curd fan, but I found if eaten with the black current and mint oil that it was okay. The crunch from the toasted ‘cereal’ added needed texture to this dish. An interesting transition from the savoury, to the dessert part of the menu.
sorrel, pistachio, muntries
Sorrel ice cream served with muntries and finished off with a pistachio cream. Muntries are an Australian native berry, also knows as emu apples. They have a slightly spicy apple flavor to them. Grown in the Southern parts of Australia. I now have the desire to get my hands on a punnet or two to play with.
The meal finishes with a canelé. Deliciously caramelized and crunchy on the outside, giving a dark and toasty flavor, which contrasts with the moist and light innards.
As promised we are presented with a menu at the end of our meal. To our surprise they also present two silver packets with the Momofuku peach insignia on them. It turns out to be in-house made kimchi to take home with us.
It was a truly wonderful meal and I hope that I do get to visit again and try the evening degustation.
I don’t normally discuss restaurant toilets on Belly Rumbles, but in this case, do make a trip to the loo. Why? Doing so will allow you have to walk through the other kitchen to get there. Plus the NYC Dept. of Health’s asphyxiation poster in the loo, which happens to be in Spanish, is a nice homage to where Momofuku started.
If you drive and park at The Star, be sure to get your parking ticket validated.
Dear Belly Rumbles’ reader, have you been to any of David Chang’s establishments? If so, what did you think, or are they on your ‘to eat’ list?
Momofuku Seiobo, The Star, 80 Pyrmont Steet, Level G, Pyrmont, Sydney
Tel: +61 (2) 9777 9000