It’s tough getting a table at Momofuku Seiobo – US chef David Chang’s first foray outside the island of Manhattan. For a start, he has a thing for small restaurants. There’s very few actual tables – most of the seats in the dark, stylish eatery in Sydney’s The Star casino are high stools surrounding the open kitchen where a bevy of green-hatted chefs create startlingly different dishes.

You can’t even ring to secure a table – all bookings need to be done online. Reservations open at 10am daily for tables available up to 10 days in advance. They go in a flash, so be logged into their system and ensure your mouse-clicking skills are quick on the draw.

Greedy Girl had her finger on the button recently to see a full column of ticks available at the various times on her chosen day. Before she even had the chance to select her first two preferred times, they were gone. The last option available was 8pm. This time, the trumpets sounded, the clouds parted, the sun shone down on her shoulders. She was in.

It was an auspicious time to get a booking. The Sydney restaurant came in at #89 on the 2013 San Pellegrino world’s top restaurants list, beating out Chang’s Momofuku Ko in NYC at #93 (although the least formal and, arguably, easiest venue of Chang’s to get into, Momofuku Ssam Bar, also in NYC, got position #86). Sydney was his first dining destination outside New York, although he’s also since opened eateries in Toronto. In terms of fine dining, though, Sydney has the bragging rights for 2013 in the Chang empire.

While Momofuku apparently means ‘lucky peach’ according to Chang’s website, and the peach motif is everywhere from the understated door signage to the chef’s hats, the only peach on the menu is the graphic on the stationery that accompanies the bill. Not surprising, perhaps, in a Sydney autumn. Chang, a Korean-American chef, has a particular flair for pork and duck. On this particular evening, pork bookended the meal.

Once upon a time, fine dining was a hushed, refined experience, with plush carpets, chandeliers and gloved waiters bearing platters and seen, but not necessarily heard – after all, the menu gives the diner all the information they need. There’s no menu at Momofuku Seiobo. You get ample opportunity to state what you don’t, or can’t eat and the rest is up to the kitchen.

Some restaurants still subscribe to the ‘more is more’ school of decor but Momofuku Seiobo is more akin to dining in a nightclub. Everything’s dark, with muted lighting and lots of polished concrete and metal. No need to speak in whispers here – you need to speak up to be heard over the blaring indie tunes being broadcast. No doubt the music is largely tuned out in the kitchen – the team is concentrating hard to come up with the requisite 12 courses (13 if you count the ‘petits fours’, but more on that later) for the assembled lucky few. It’s important to connect with your server to be sure you get as much detail about what you’re eating, given the menu you’re offered on departure is very succinct.

In a concession to the social media-obsessed, you’re allowed to take photos of the food, as long as there’s no flash involved that would disturb other diners – not entirely conducive to getting sharp results in such a dark environment but Greedy Girl was undeterred. Having ordered a bottle of Raphael Bereche extra brut champagne from Reims, we settled in and almost immediately one of the signature Chang dishes apppeared – a succulent pork belly bun (pictured at the top of this post).

Greedy Girl first tasted these at Momofuku Ssam Bar on 2nd Avenue and 13th Street in NYC. Ssam is apparently a Korean term that means ‘wrapped’ – the pork belly is wrapped in a light doughy bun – not quite bread but puffier than a pancake, with chilli sauce and cucumber. It’s utterly delicious and, on our NY trip in 2011, an optimum dish to eat the day after the night before. As a first course among many on this occasion it was delightful and gobbled in a flash.

Next up was a brandade of eel, wrapped in a thin, crispy pastry shell with shavings of freeze-dried apple and an apple gel. The eel was strong but paired well with the apple. The crispy pastry maintained its shape for a couple of bites but soon crumbled. All that could be done was to pop the remnants into the mouth and chomp away.

Momofuku Seiobo

Brandade of eel

As mentioned, you have the ability before you dine to rule out any particular foods although one that’s unlikely to occur to you to consider drawing a line through is the ‘Parson’s Nose’, aka ‘the last bit over the fence’. Gluttonous husband enjoys a weekly treat of the chicken’s, er, you know, of a Saturday when he roasts a bird to provide for the week’s lunches. Greedy Girl is rather less keen. Out it came, combined with confit potato, a buttermilk dressing and dotted with ocean trout roe. The chicken was a strong flavour and had an amazing texture – kind of like chicken crackling. It was delicious and the potatoes were sublime, although the trout roe was quite hard.

Momofuku Seiobo

Parson’s nose

Next up was spanner crab which was one of the least satisfying dishes of the night. Served with a red mullet roe sauce, dill, baby leeks and amaranth, a gluten-free grain, there was an odd, jarring flavour that seemed to fight the fresh, delicate nature of the seafood.

Momofuku Seiobo

Spanner crab

We then moved on to a very pretty-looking plate. This was very thinly sliced radish served with saddle of lamb, cream of watermelon and fermented black beans. There was a lot of radish – amazingly mild in taste. It was a dish that the more you ate, the more you wanted to eat of it. Excellent flavours, wonderful textures.

Momofuku Seiobo

Radish, saddle of lamb, cream of watermelon and fermented black beans

Another confronting ingredient was next – Wagyu beef tongue. The tongues had been pounded very thin and rolled up into little cigar shapes. They were served with watercress and shaved fennel. Again, as you’d expect, the taste was rather stronger than a commonplace cut of Wagyu beef but worked extremely well with the peppery watercress in particular.

Momofuku Seiobo

Wagyu beef tonge

The servings were getting on the large size and Greedy Girl was beginning to struggle with the sheer volume of food. It was at this point she was extremely grateful no bread had been offered to take up valuable space in the tum.

The next dish was a standout – cauliflower with za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice mix) and kohlrabi, a vegetable related to cabbage and cauliflower and topped with egg yolk. This was an utter triumph. Apparently Chang has been quoted as saying his restaurants are not exactly favoured destinations for vegetarians but it was an extraordinary dish. Slightly crunchy vegetables dusted with the spice mix nestled next to globs of egg yolk and a slick of mushroom puree on the plate. Lovely, discrete flavours, all popping together in the mouth. An unqualified yum.

Momofuku Seiobo

Cauliflower with za’atar

We were in for some more seafood next – Western Australian marron (a smaller relative of the crayfish) with salsify and seaweed. This was dressed with an emulsion of a fortified white wine from the Swiss/French border, a town called Jura. The sommelier kindly gave us a taste of the wine he would normally pair with this dish, a fortified chardonnay of the Arbois Pupillin appellation. It was extraordinarily good with the dish – as you’d hope.

Momofuku Seiobo

Western Australian marron

Back to meat, the final savoury dish of the night was a short rib cooked sous vide with baby turnips and daikon. Greedy Girl was almost over and done. This was spectacularly rich and strong in flavour. She tried a bit of all and then sat back, stomach groaning to allow gluttonous husband to hoover the rest. As is his custom, he tasted the individual ingredients and then all together – individually he said the elements were too strong, even for him, but pronounced the combination to be exceptional.

Momofuku Seiobo

Short rib cooked sous vide

We moved to desserts. The first dish was goat’s curd with mint oil and blackcurrant. Served with crumbs of a crunchy biscuit, there was an expectation that this would be quite sweet. It wasn’t. In fact, it had very few positives for Greedy Girl, who prefers goat curd in a very savoury context, usually on top of a pile of caramelised red onions in a pastry case topped with some thyme leaves. It wasn’t so much a dessert as a bit of a palate cleanser.

Next up was mandarin sorbet served with egg yolk, coconut and various styles of meringue (some crunchy, some soft). This was quite delightful and far from heavy. Greedy Girl quite likes the taste of coconut although coconut doesn’t usually like her very much. The textures and flavours were light and refreshing and even though it was quite deconstructed, it looked pretty.

Momofuku Seiobo

Mandarin sorbet

The final dessert was thin slices of roast pear, dotted with cubes of Jerusalem artichoke, on a bed of milk chocolate caramel and topped with sunflower seeds and petals. A pretty plate, Greedy Girl enjoyed both the flavour and the crunch of the sunflower seeds. Not an enormous fan of caramel, it was one of the better concoctions she’d tasted. The dish was a disappointment for gluttonous husband though who found the caramel a step too far, weighing the dish down.

Momofuku Seiobo

Roast pear, jerusalem artichoke

That was dish number 12. The champagne was gone and the night was getting late. Not really interested in tea or coffee, we were contemplating hitting the road when the ‘petits fours’ were served.

Momofuku Seiobo

Braised pork shoulder

Yep. If you were expecting a madeline or macaron, you’d be disappointed. Here it was, braised pork shoulder served with a maple syrup dressing. It was soft perfection and absolutely delicious. Greedy Girl has a heightened appreciation for her North American friends and the practice of putting syrup on bacon and other meats. So yummy, so decadent, so much food. Sadly, we were able to consume only a couple of pieces before we needed to admit defeat.

This was a fun, interesting and enjoyable food journey – it’s certainly a very different food experience. The service is excellent, being knowledgeable, relaxed and friendly. It’s something any foodie would be happy to try again.

Momofuku Seiobo

The Foodie World star rating

The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont, Sydney
Momofuku Seiōbo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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