Sunday, November 6, 2011

Review: momofuku seiōbo

The Star
80 Pyrmont Street
Ground level
cnr Edward & Union Street
(Entrance opposite Adriano Zumbo's)

Dinner only from 7pm

Could we have been more excited to snare a booking at the hotly anticipated momofuku seiōbo? Excitement and fear (given David Chang's infamous dislike of bloggers) are all melded into one as we prepare for dinner.
Squeak's food idiosynchrosies discussed and confirmed by the restaurant the day before we are truly excited by the prospect of dinner at Chang's first restaurant venture outside NYC. This excitement probably accounts for the fact we unintentionally turn up half an hour early. This is despite the number of times we walk past the place, and all around the casino, until a friendly casino staff member directs us to the ultra chic and understated entrance to Momofuku. 
All credit to the staff who do not bat an eyelid, seat us in the (what we thought) bizarrely empty restaurant and set us up with drinks.

It appears that all parties of 2 are seated on stools around the kitchen which really acts as a stage for the food drama to unfold. We have the best seats in the house as we observe the precison and care taken with the food.. it is all quite calming. Food allergies and preferences menus required... we await the genius to come... almost prepared to be disappointed considering the amount of hype we've already willingly bought into.

The prologue commences with 'Snacks' encompassing shitake chips, nori puffs and very cute looking mochi 'lollipops'... well that is what they look like. The shitake chips are fully flavoured and the Nori is a tasty way to get started, but our first bite is courtesy of the Mochi and it is a revelation. The texture is unusual but the flavour on the coating is phenomenal.

Act One sees the arrival of the much talked about 'pork bun'.
(On a side note, it is quite funny to have a phenomenally talented chef such as Ben Greeno present your food to you, tell you what it is - with no embellishment whatsoever. It is simply a 'Pork Bun'.)
Well, this ain't no ordinary pork bun. This bun is so light, so soft and not in the least doughy. The pork belly is succulent and the cucumber and hoisin sauce give it freshness and fantastic flavour.

Squeak has a 'Shitake Bun' as she is a pork-free zone and she loves it also. Shitake prove to be a worthy alteration with their flavour and texture.

Act Two sees striped trumpeter with warrigal greens and furikake. The raw fish is delicately prepared and presents a new flavour for us. It has quite a unique flavour and one that I enjoy. The samphire is delicious with it. The dish is light and really fresh.

Act Three presents us with White asparagus, Marron and Szechuan Pepper. This dish is served with a lemon puree and spring onions. It is amazing. The marron is just cooked perfectly and the lemon puree along with the asparagus and spring onions, all as one complete mouthful, delicious. We also are not sure if we get a hint of peanut flavour with it. This is Squeak's first marron experience and she thinks she needs to do it more often if this is the result.

Act Four is the twist in the performance. Wagyu beef with radish, fermented black bean and a burnt watermelon oil.... what? Yes.. burnt watermelon oil. What a beautiful dish to behold (and see prepared), but what an amazing dish to experience.

While flavour wise this dish is amazing, with the beef almost taking on an ever so slight sweetness to it, what this dish provides texturally is really interesting. The slickness of the oil, the almost 'graininess' of the black bean, the softness of the meat and the crunch of the radish make this a textural revelation.  

Act Five brings a new ingredient to me once again, this time in the form of eel. I have an irrational fear of eels, and have as such often avoided them on a menu. The smoked eel dashi with summer vegetables and eel brandade with apple puree is really good. The smokiness in the dashi is quite prominent and the eel is delicious. The apple puree is a nice contrast and there is an unusual apple powder atop the brandade that is almost 'sherbert like' on the tongue.

Squeak is presented with a Shitake dashi with summer vegetables and a potato brandade served with grated black truffle. She is in heaven with this dish and proclaims hers the winner! I cannot accept defeat, despite the intensity of that mushroom dashi, and declare mine equally as good.

We hit the halfway mark and proceed to Act Six of this food extravaganza! We have Queensland spanner crab with Yorkshire pudding. This is Squeak's favourite dish so far... she seems to have embraced eating crab, despite spending her entire life avoiding it. The crab is perfectly cooked and is incredibly soft and sweet. There is a nice little hit of heat with it and the yorkshire pudd... omg!

Act seven sees Ben Greeno (aka chef wonder!) present us with the simply said 'Slow cooked egg with brown butter and green tea'. It kind of looks a little bit like a mini pannacotta and I expect a yolk to come oozing out of its wobbly encasement. Not so.. the slow cookeed egg really turns out to be an incredibly delicate egg custard that is just set. It is so delicate and silky. It is beautiful.

Act eight is an interesting twist in this performance - hand torn pasta  with goat cheese, chilli, crispy basil and mint. I think this is one of my favourite dishes of the night. The flavours are completely amazing. The pasta is beautifully cooked, and the goat cheese is more like a light puree or cream. The mint is a revelation in combination with the real hit of heat from the chilli. The crispy basil adds both flavour and texture. It is the tomatoes that are a flavour explosion in your mouth though. It's quite a feat to make such strong flavours all work so amazingly well in one bowl.

You would think by this stage... Act nine... we would be struggling.. but we aren't. Everything is perfectly sized so you can enjoy it all and not feel too weighed down. This act sees me served the cooked version of the earlier Striped Trumpeter fish with broccoli, horseradish and crsipy potato. The fish has a very delicate flavour, (more subtle in its cooked form than its raw, I feel) and this allows the beautiful flavour of the broccoli to come through. The crispy potato crumbs on top are excellent - as all potato is! This is also served with a little bowl of fish broth made from the heads and bones of the fish.

Squeak just cannot come to eating cooked fish (do not spend too long trying to figure her out!) so is served the same dish but with quail breast. The quail is beautifully seasoned, perfectly pink and tender and has a very crispy skin. She is a happy camper.

The next act proves very interesting as it is here that our dishes truly diverge. I am served the lamb neck with roasted daikon puree and pickled turnips, while Squeak (yep... can't do lamb either) receives a pigeon dish with mulberry, endive and onions.  My lamb is lovely, but the star of this dish for me is the humble turnip. The combination of the meat, the sweetness of the jus, the smoothness of the daikon and the almost bitterness of the pickled turnips really make it a memorable mouthful. I enjoy it a lot.

The pigeon dish is a complete opposite. The meat is cooked quire rare but with a beautifully crisp and peppery skin. The thin layer of fat beneath the skin is, apparently, amazing! The sweet tartness of the mulberries and the bitter hit from the endive really make this a dish that has Squeak singing! No regrets from her whatsoever.

We are now at our eleventh course and this presents as a mound of finely grated beautifully salty Pecorino cheese camouflaging an intensely flavoured cider jelly, sweet sticky honey liquorice and with a crispy honey shard on top. Fantastic!
It is officially #2 on our 'Cheese course fave' list... yes we do create lists of such things! Bentley's playful take on 'Vegemite and Cheese' still retains its #1 spot!

Acts Twelve and Thirteen are the dessert portions of the meal and they are a really interesting take on the traditionally sweet element of the meal. First up is Wattle seed meringues with malt ice cream and crispy milk. What? Yes... crispy milk. And it is delicious. All of it is. It is dessert, and there is enough sweetness to remind you of that, but it is quite savoury too. It tastes unfamilar and familiar at once - but in a good way.. the textures are great.

The Miso Ice cream with pickled fruit, toasted rice, mochi and mustard is fantastic. Once again, it is not particularly sweet at all, bar the dried and pickled fruit and the miso flavour is certainly there in  the ice cream. It is really delicious. It, too, is unfamiliar as a combination in a dessert, but strangely familiar with it being slightly reminiscent of rice pudding. We both enjoy it very much.

What a meal! How can it get any better? Well, I'll tell you how - by the denouement which is the presentation of the petit fours!

While Bilsons have (or had) their impressive Chocolate box, momofuku has a candied roasted piece of pork. I am salivating right now as I think about it. It probably is sweeter than the desserts in the stickiness of all the caramelisation on that beast. It comes with a swathe of sticky juices and is designed to eat with your fingers. I do not think I have, or ever will, eat a better piece of pork in my life. By the end of the meal the prospect of eating the fat layer on top was just too much for me, but I left it very regretfully.

I know you needed to see it again!
Squeak, who usually, absolutely, cannot go anywhere near pork, can not resist trying a little bit, and even she is amazed... but largely because she thinks the sweetness actually takes away the flavour of 'pig' - as she puts it!

Due to the pork-free zone situation Squeak finds herself presented with a slab of eggplant with a miso dressing and scallions. This dish is almost presented as a slap in the face for being so ridiculous as to not eat pork. It is quite bland and a bit of a letdown after the amazingness that has preceeded it - it is however really quite forgivable given the amazing accommodations already made... and let's face it.. she is ridiculous for not eating that sticky pork!

The evening is phenomenal. Squeak opts for the $95 beverage package which you can choose to accompany your meal. It is a mixture of wine, beer and sake to suit various courses. She absolutely loves all of it, particularly the beer and one of the 'super premium' sakes.  I have a couple of glasses of vino and wash back many litres of a seemingly endless supply of sparkling water.

The vibe of the place is fantastic, the music selection is completely eclectic and suits the style of restaurant, the performance of the food preparation is mesmerising, and the service is professional and unpretentious.

Are we disappointed? Absolutely not!

Is the hype deserved? Absolutely.

momofuku seiōbo, we have a confession to make - we love you! 

Momofuku Seiobo on Urbanspoon


joey@forkingaroundsydney said...

The first review! Thanks for sharing your experience, as everything looks very impressive. Thta looks like so much food!

Dumpling Girl said...

From another post seems like the pork bun and some other dishes like the pork butt are a standard. I sure hope so, as I really want to try that pork bun, better book myself in now :)

chocolatesuze said...

awesome post! im dying to go to momofuku even more now!

Tina @ bitemeshowme said...

great post! I had the very same experience during its opening weekend and i absolutely LOVED it! :D

sugarpuffi said...

going there tonight. cant wait!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I was going to say that it does sound like sitting at the bar sounds like the best seat in the house! I'm intrigued to try that pork dish! :)