Australia’s favourite food blogger Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliot, taste tests the Sydney incarnation of New York’s Momofuku.
No matter what age you are, I think the average person wants to avoid looking like an idiot. So when I arrive at Momofuku Seiobo at The Star hotel, I look around warily. I can see the open kitchen and the diners clustered around the bar through the black slats but I have no idea how to get in as it looks like the black slats go on as far as the eye can see.
Is there a magic button to press? It all becomes clear when I reach the other end and there’s a silver peach logo, but even then I say to my friend Gina, “Do you think that’s the door?” as we edge towards it.
Thankfully, a check-shirted man opens the door with a smile and we are led past the dark tables towards the bar area, which is where I was hoping we would be seated. The atmosphere is transporting – you could be anywhere else apart from right near a food court in a casino, which is a good thing.
In the open kitchen are about seven or eight chefs all wearing green caps with gold peaches on them. The first thing I think of is the Australian cricket team (oops, what do I know about cricket?). Service is very friendly and approachable and we prop ourselves up on the high bar stools. There’s a hook underneath each spot for one bag and they stow the others away for us. I promptly lose one shoe because, well, my feet don’t reach the ground and barely reach the metal rung.
This is not your average, three-hatted restaurant and Momofuku Seiobo from New York’s David Chang doesn’t do things in the same way that other restaurants do. I think this is what for the most part inspires the reviews on various restaurant sites where people either love the place abundantly or deride the music or lack of white tablecloths.
Also, reservations are taken just 10 days in advance on their website. It’s a fairly straightforward process – you have to create an account and then at 10:00am ten days before, you log in and reserve a table. Our initial request for three people yielded nothing on that evening but putting in even numbers of two and four did. It did seem odd because most people sit at the bar, so odd numbers wouldn’t seem to be a problem. You need to cancel any spots 24 hours in advance or you are charged $175 per person.
I’m dining with Belinda, wife of David Tsirekas of Xanthi and Gina and Teena for my birthday.
They check on dietary requirements, which we had pre-warned them about (Gina can’t eat shellfish and Teena doesn’t like lamb). This doesn’t prove to be a problem. They present us with a drinks menu where you can have a wine match for $120 or a partial wine match where you get a glass of wine with every second course for $60. Interestingly, there’s also a juice match, which I must admit I like the sound of, for $55.
If it seems random to mention the music again, it’s because the playlist is apparently something that diners either love or hate. It’s a playlist of rock, power ballads and ballads from the last few decades featuring REO Speedwagon, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Def Leppard and The Beatles. It’s like listening to someone’s iPod: slightly random and nostalgic.
Our first mouthful is handed over to us across the counter. It is a crispy tuile biscuit filled with a smoked cod brandade and dehydrated apple and gel. The apple lends the salty, smoky cod a sweetness and the outside an appealing crunch.
My first juice is cucumber and raspberry, the cucumber a fresh contrast to the Momofuku pork bun which is filled with a slice of soft pork belly. They serve it with a small bottle of Sriracha and one bite into its soft texture, spicy sauce and unctuous pork belly and we can see why one item started, or revived, such a trend.
This was a very rich dish with a generous amount of mud crab, mullet roe and crunchy quinoa. There was some leek but I think it needed more because it was a little too rich (and did I just say that something was too rich?).
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