Momofuku Seiobo Sydney is the Australian outpost of New York chef David Chang’s handful of Momofuku restaurants, and was the first to open outside of New York City back in 2011. Reviewing a restaurant that has such a big reputation and has been (and continues to be) very hyped up is always interesting. David Chang is one of the most famous chefs/restaurateurs in the world and the Momofuku name carries a certain weight and expectation with it. People do go there because of the reputation and people do have high expectations. Something that became very obvious when reading through some of the reviews online was just how polarising the opinions are. There are those who have been completely caught up in the hype and were clearly going to love the restaurant regardless of what the food was like, and those who were always going to derive pleasure from writing a negative review, regardless of the experience that they had. There is, of course, a third kind of review, one that judges the restaurant on its merits and in context. This is how I will be approaching my review.
Walking down the corridor of the Star trying to figure out where Momofuku is located is not an easy task. You’re better off looking for the bright neon lights of Adriano Zumbo’s patisserie. There’s no missing that shopfront and directly across from it, indicated by nothing more than a gleaming mirrored silver lucky peach (the English translation of “Momofuku”) on the otherwise unmarked door/wall is the entrance to the restaurant.
There are three options for diners at Momofuku. The 30-40 seat dining area is available for either a 14 course $185 dinner tasting menu or 8 course $110 lunch tasting menu. There is a 5 seat bar area which is set aside for walk ins with a limited menu. For drinks, the dinner option is $185 for a full wine pairing, $65 for a reduced wine pairing or $60 for a non-alcoholic juice paring. At lunch the choice is a $75 wine pairing of $40 juice pairing. There is also a decent selection of beer, wine and sake available by the glass or bottle.
My wife and I had a lunch reservation and arrived at 12 o’clock on the dot. We decided to go for the juice paring.
“Slick” is the best word to describe the fit out at Momofuku Seiobo. The restaurant is dark, with black, silver and wood being used to full effect. It was nice to be able to check out the fit out with nobody else around – about half an hour later the restaurant was full.
The kitchen is open, and a seat at the kitchen is what you want. You can see everything that’s going on in the kitchen and it’s impossible not to be transfixed by it all. It’s fascinating to watch chef Ben Greeno and his team all do their bit towards creating the dishes that are coming out. You can’t help but wonder which components are going where, which is going to be your next dish and what they are going to do with each thing that they pick up. I found it quite interesting to see how any hiccups (there weren’t many) were identified, addressed and resolved to ensure that service was not disrupted – Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen this is not.
The produce is all fresh and local as is to be expected. The food at Momofuku Seiobo is not, as some people presume, Asian. David Chang is a New York chef from Virginia with a Korean background who likes Japan and has a restaurant in Australia. The food on offer reflects all of these things. One thing I really liked is that this isn’t just a carbon copy of Momofuku Ko (Chang’s New York fine dining restaurant) – truly Australian flavours and ingredients that you rarely see on Australian restaurant menus are used.
Smoked Potato with Apple
To start with was a crispy wafer filled with smoked mashed potato. To the side was an apple jelly and it was topped with shaved, dehydrated apple. The smokiness really came through strongly and the sweetness of the jelly balanced this out in an interesting an unexpected way. The flavours and textures were quite contrasting here and it set things up nicely for the next course.
Juice #1: Watermelon
I was sceptical of the juice match at first but since I had heard many good things about it and didn’t really want to drink alcohol I decided to take up the option. I was very impressed when the juices came out as each one really did match with the food it was supposed to, enhancing the overall experience.
Pork Belly Steamed Bun
The dish that Momofuku is famous for, the pork belly steamed bun needs no introduction. When David Chang first announced that he was going to be opening a restaurant in Sydney, all indications were that this would not be on the menu. Luckily for Australian diners it ended up on here because it is, while a bit smaller, every bit as good as the version found in New York’s Momofuku restaurants (although not as good as the duck steamed bun from Momofuku Ssam imho). A soft bun, melt in your mouth pork belly, cucumber, a bit of hoisin sauce and a small bottle of Sriracha on the side. So simple, and one of the highlights of the meal.
Juice #2: Celery & Pear
Pink Snapper with Celery & Mustard
I’m not a huge fan of celery but this dish, along with the matching juice worked really well. The sashimi was light and the mustard added just a little kick to it with the slight taste of celery coming in a few seconds after each bite. The additions were subtle enough to enhance the flavour of the snapper without overpowering it.
Potato, Trout Roe & Quandong
This dish was one of my favourites. In a recurring theme for this meal, the flavours and textures were distinct and all worked well in unison. I had not idea what quandong was, and it turns out that it’s a fruit that’s native to the central deserts and southern parts of Australia.
Each dish, in fact, was described in detail to us by the member of the kitchen staff that served it to us (not always the same person) and the staff were all very knowledgeable. If I had any questions about an ingredient or technique the staff were both willing and able to explain things.
Juice #3: Apple & Fennel
Octopus & Radish with Eel Dashi
This was a tasty, light dish. The octopus had the nice level of softness and chew about it and the crunch or the radish went well with it. I’m not sure if I was supposed to eat the leaf or not but I did and it tasted, well… leafy.
Radish & Fermented Black Bean
The octopus dish was sprinkled with nuts so my wife was unable to eat it. Instead she was served this. It was beautifully presented, crisp and refreshing but was rather plain on the taste front.
Egg, Cauliflower & Mushroom
This dish was amazing. We could see the eggs immersed in the slow cooker and one by one they were removed by one of the kitchen staff who painstakingly, by hand removed the yolks and ensured that there was no egg white on them at all before moving them onto the dish. Such a time consuming and non rewarding task from his point of view I’m sure, but the end result was sublime.
Juice #4: Carrot
Mulloway, Salsify & Oyster
My wife and I both agreed that this was our favourite dish of the day. Everything was cooked perfectly, and the sauces were delicious (the oyster was part of the sauce). It looked amazing and was actually one of the more simple dishes with no textural or flavour contrasts going on. The fish was flaky on the inside, caramelised on the outside and tasted great.
Chicken, Endive, Sunflower & Parsons Nose
This was tasty, but probably the least inspired of the dishes we tried on the night. A succulent piece of roast chicken with crispy, salty skin a simple slice of endive without the usual bitterness and a parsons nose with some pate. It was a good pull back from the flavour intensity of the previous course.
Juice #5: Beetroot
The next dish being prepared.
Goat Curd, Blackcurrant & Mint
This dish was an interesting crossover to dessert, being a bit savoury and a bit sweet. The curd was quite tart and the mint really cut through it nicely. The sourdough crumbs added some crunch to it but overall something about it missed the mark – perhaps the blackcurrant could have been sweeter. Not that it was bad, but it wasn’t a stand out.
Sorrel, Pistachio, Muntries & Meringue
Another dish that contained something I’d never heard of before was this dessert. Muntries, it transpires, are a berry found along the southern coast of Australia. They are crunchy, apple like in taste and full of antioxidants. In the context of this dish, they had a chewy texture which contrasted well with the crisp, sweet ash meringue and the luxuriously velvety sorrel & pistachio ice cream. I really enjoyed this dessert.
If you’re wondering why the photo below contains yellow instead of green ice cream it’s because this is actually my wife’s plate, which was identical to mine except for the fact that she had peach ice cream because of her nut allergy and the pistachio.
Salted Caramel & Canele
The salted caramel was soft and delicious however the canele was polarising. The canele was a cake with a thick caramelised honey crust and a sweet custard inside. My wife didn’t like it at all and didn’t finish hers however I thought it was delicious and ate both of them. It’s unique and certainly not something that everyone is going to like.
To finish, we were given a sealed packed of kimchi each to take home with us which was a nice touch. My wife’s split in her handbag which meant that she had a bag full of kimchi smelling objects which was both as awesome and as terrible as you would imagine.
An eclectic selection of music, including lots of loud rock is played throughout the meal. A few photos of Angus Young adorn the walls. Some people complain about the loud music but I never had trouble hearing what people were saying when talking to them and I quite like being able to hear the music when it’s music that I like!
Momufuku Seiobo is very much on trend when it comes to what fine dining is these days. The rulebook of old has been thrown out the door and restaurateurs are doing what they think will work, allowing their own personalities to come through in some/all aspects of the restaurant.
The food at Momofuku Seiobo is excellent, the attention to detail is very high and the service is as good as it gets. Staff were friendly and knowledgeable and there was zero pretension or snobbery. The little things like water being topped up, napkins always folded, new cutlery always present etc were taken care of without us even noticing. The menu changes daily and is based on what’s fresh and available at the time.
What really impressed me about Momofuku Seiobo was the use of local ingredients. There are a lot of great restaurants in Australia and it’s interesting that it’s taken a New York chef to open up a restaurant that really uses a lot of “obscure” Australian bush food and elevates it in a fine dining context. The fact that Seiobo can stand on regardless of its Momofuku cachet is a credit to David Chang and all of the staff working there.
Finally, a word about the reservation system. Some people have complained that reservations are online only and that it’s not a simple process, but it really is. You have to register on the webiste, which you can do at any time here. From 20 days before the day that you wish to dine, you go to the website between 10:00am to midnight and make your reservation. I made my reservation at 10:00am exactly 20 days before my intended dining day and was able to reserve instantly. I think it’s a fair and simple way of allocating seats at a very popular and small capacity restaurant.
80 Pyrmont Street
New South Wales 2009