Momofuku Seiobo

I love the fanfare stage of a new restaurant – it’s interesting to read about the venture, the chef, menus etc. But it’s hellishly hard to get into Sydney restaurants that are still flavour of the month. I usually wait until all the hoohah has died down before trying for a table.

Not that that really applies to Momofuku Seiobo at the Star. Despite having been open for months, the place seems to be booked out the minute the new spaces are released online at 10am each morning. It’s a system almost designed to keep a certain mystique and exclusivity going.

Recently however, I was lucky – having already set up a login for their booking system (yeesh, ages ago) I was on the digital spot at 9:58, waiting. To my intense annoyance, rather than being able to just refresh the screen at 10am I had to log back in again instead, thus losing me precious seconds before getting back to the ‘select lunch or dinner’ screen. By the time I reached the booking screen itself some 90 seconds later, one of the 5 lunch timeslots was already booked out. Happily however, 12:20 remained, and my reservation was in! You have to hope it’s worth it after all this booking palaver!

Arriving unfashionably early on the day, we requested seats at the bar/kitchen area. It’s one of my favourite locations and has been foolproof entertainment at Bodega & MoVida in the past. And so it was to be again. We could take sneaky stares at part of the kitchen, noting the British flag stuck to a notice board (head Chef a Brit); watching the incredibly detailed weighing of individual pieces of dough as they were being cut and rolled; admire the glass refrigerator wall dividing Kitchen from Dining areas, and stare at the goings on of the chefs:

Having recently drowned my camera, I had to take all these shots on my phone, so I’m apologising now for the fairly rubbish nature of these photos!

The dark décor and dim lighting serve to emphasise the quirkiness of the place. On the one hand, it looks like classic fine dining locale. On the other….well, there’s a weird march into the kitchen and past the dishwasher to get to the sole loo, for instance. And the only decoration – 2 photos of AC/DC, apparently Chang’s favourite band of all time, his music taste echoed in the sound track for the day – rock tracks; incongruous for the clientele.

I did spot another food blogger, sat alone at the other end of the bar, photographing everything that moved – and much that didn’t. This made me feel better about whipping out my phone to snap every dish as it arrived, particularly after the dire warnings in the booking confirmation email from Momofuku, listing all the “Do Not”s (which included ‘…make phone calls’; use flash photogragphy, be late, not turn up), whilst hissing at Mr Chopsticks to not dive in until it was perfectly recorded. Curiously, this increased our enjoyment of each dish rather than detracted; it made us think about everything we were eating, all the constituent parts and what worked in harmony, what clashed. Something like an exercise in mindfulness. Knowing I was going to blog our experience, and being my first ever blogged review, made me want to jot notes about each course as well; and the only subtle way I could think of doing that was to tap out a text to myself. We must’ve looked a right pair – me cataloguing everything, him looking on bemused and waiting until instructed to eat!

Having decided on matched wines ($60) for Mr C, and rejecting the possibility of matched juices ($30) for me (how much fruit juice can you consume before digestional issues occur, I wonder??), the first course arrived.

 Crisped pigs blood, nori, pork skin

The pigs blood crisps were entirely unpiggy, and difficult to tell apart from the more trad crackling; I love a blood sausage and I would’ve been happy with a stronger flavour. The little tart gels of walnut dressing on the blood crisp nicely offset any oiliness.

Next up, the Pork Buns – a signature dish and one of my favourites of the meal.

2 pork buns, cucumber, hoisin, chilli optional

These were good! Not as totally excellent as the Bodega pork buns, but I wouldn’t have argued about a second serve – Mr Chopsticks scoffed his before I’d finished photograpghing, so there was no point in staring hopefully at him for scraps (believe or not, this often works. I was a puppy in a former life).

I know these photos aren’t great, but if I had to fault Momofuku for anything, it would be their less than imaginative plating:

I’m not known for my serving ability (I’m more of a plonk it down and eat, a substance over style kinda gal) but…well. Crikey.

The chap in front of us in the kitchen was ploughing his way diligently through dozens of our next dish – he plates up around 80 a day, he reckoned. From oiling the plate first, carefully placing the trumpeter with a slight curl, laying on the pickled celery and finishing with the drizzle flourish, I expect he could do these in his sleep. It’s certainly one of the prettiest dishes:

striped tassie trumpeter, pickled celery, mustard dressing

The fish was creamy but curiously lacking in flavour  – for some bizarre reason, it reminded me of cream soda….hence the match with the mustard dressing I suppose.

potato balls in beef fat

We thought this was the weakest dish. Unremarkable balls of potato, deep fried & only just cooked. I found myself suffering from ‘I could make it at home’ syndrome with this one. (According to the menu we were handed after the meal, it also contained bottarga – if this was the case, we missed it…).

Next up was a beautiful, tiny pile of queensland spanner crab meat seated in a miso custard, sprinkled with panko crumbs:

This was more like it! It was followed quickly by a slow cooked egg yolk with courgette and a burnt onion mustard; the courgette served several ways; baby courgette with flowers, sliced and raw, each giving their own texture to the dish. The yolk was soft and almost jellied, rich and delicious.

After more people watching and chef staring, the blue cod, griddled white asparagus, black garlic and daikon slice appeared.

Another example of a very bland looking dish – I yearned for a puff of colour to cheer it up; though Mr C thought I’d missed the point and that the white/black colours were deliberate.  I would willingly give my left arm (complete with chopsticks) for the black garlic recipe. It was so rich and almost marmitey, without the saltiness. (Or indeed, marmite flavour. No, I’m not really sure what I mean either, but it was gorgeous. Gorgeous!). A suitable ‘fish course’ leading up to the standout star dish of the day – the short rib.

I’m not a huge fan of beef – specifically steak – but this was amazing. In texture and colour; a large nod to salt beef, though produced via a 36 hour sous vide bath, it was fall apart yumtious and teamed with burnt aubergine puree; another recipe I’d happily give up body parts for. I wish you could see the deep deep red of that meat, on these sorry, cruddy photos. Mea culpa.

The first  thought provoking dish up next, a palate cleanser of goat curd, matched with thyme oil & blackcurrant puree.

Tasted with the thyme oil; savoury. With the blackcurrant; sweet. With a bit of each – smile inducing totally new flavour. Even Mr C, who hates goat products with a weird passion, found this one interesting.

And for afters? Native apple (muntries), honey cream, hazelnut, and pear selection. I haven’t tried muntries before; they reminded me in texture of blueberries. The flavour I couldn’t really ascertain through the other ingredients and there being so few of them, so I assume they are mild tasting:

These were followed by those doughnuts we’d been eagerly watching the production of throughout the course of the meal. But not filled with jam – oh no. Nothing so mundane. Instead, a caramel made from pigs fat. I was completely convinced it was cocoa based, and I certainly wouldn’t have pegged the pig connection – though I understand from our lovely sommelier that it has had piggy overtones occasionally. Luck of the draw I guess. Appropriately, for the Star.

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