Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Momofuku Seiobo, Pyrmont (2nd October 2012)

I have THE most amazing fiance ever - for my birthday this year, Jono surprised me with dinner at Momofuku Seiobo in The Star! I've often thought of checking out the restaurant but with only tasting menus at over $150 per person (they do not do a la carte), any thoughts whatsoever just fizzled out - way too expensive! I didn't expect Jono to take me seriously when I mentioned the restaurant to him in passing one day but I totally love him for it :)

Momofuku Seiobo is the first Momofuku restaurant located outside of New York city and the only one in the southern hemisphere owned by chef-founder David Chang. Seiobo is the Japanese goddess of the West and her sign is the peach tree while Momofuku itself in Japanese means 'lucky peach' (though I must admit, it does sound rather similar to 'motherf*&ker'). Opened in October 2011, the restaurant has already received significant accolades including Three Hats from The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and named Best New Restaurant.

According to Jono, reserving our spot for dinner was slightly tricky and a tad annoying. Bookings can only be done online and only 10 days in advance (which was why dinner was today instead of on my birthday a week ago) - he had to hop online right on the dot at 10am when the reservations were open to book us in. The venue has a 30-40 people dining area and the maximum party you can have in your reservation is four. As mentioned earlier, Momofuku Seiobo does not do a la carte service but serves a constantly changing daily tasting menu and is inspired by the wealth of local produce Australia has to offer - this also means we have no idea what we would be eating until the day which was mysterious and quite exciting, and for those who find it hard to make up their mind on what to eat when given a menu, the stress of having to choose is taken away from you. The dinner tasting menu is approximately 13 courses at $175 per person (there's a lunch option of 8 courses for $100 per person) and diners have been advised to allow at least 2 hours for the sitting. There are some rules when dining at Momofuku Seiobo as outlined in the email confirmation Jono printed out for me - no flash photography and diners are not allowed phone calls (reason given was 'due to the size and out of respect for other customers').

Jono had us booked for the last sitting of the day which starts at 8pm - we met up outside The Star beforehand and walked along Level G following the signs to the restaurant. "Where's the main entrance?" I asked Jono as we walked around looking for the door. I can definitely see the restaurant from between the gaps of the screen created by its panelled walls but there was no obvious entrance in sight. Huh, it turned out that the entrance was part of the wall, its heavy door indicated only by a set of silver panels and their signature peach icon. The inside extrudes elegance and class the moment you step in, the 5-seat bar on the left and dining area to the right. We were immediately received by the friendly host and showed to our seats, high seats right in the middle at the bar surrounding the open kitchen - we got to see everything that was happening in the kitchen, watching the chefs donned in caps and uniforms meticulously preparing our food. Awesome! I was giddy and excited like a little girl - this is going to be so much fun AND I get to share the experience with Jono making it even better :) Music from across the decades with a guitar accompaniment played in the background - not quite what I expect though it adds a bit of funkiness and brings out the fun factor, and of course, ties in with those black-and-white photos of famous guitarists seen on its walls. The place was actually not very big and was full yet the smart layout made it feel nicely spaced out - no one was sitting shoulder to shoulder. I guess the staggered dining start times too helps. Most guests were couples and almost everyone had a camera or some gadget to take photos (us included). Now I totally get why flash photography is not allowed - can you imagine how annoying it would be to have flashes of light every 5 minutes from a different person?


Seats at the dining area surrounding the kitchen

We decided to share a beverage pairing with tonight's menu - cost $95 which includes a selection of wine, sake and cider (there's also a juice pairing for $55 if you do not wish to have alcoholic drinks). To start, we were given warm towels to clean our hands and shortly after, the first of our drinks arrived, brought to our table by the sommelier who poured the sake and showed us the bottle as well as give us a short brief about the drink. You would think that a menu would be provided on the day but no, we did not have a menu of the food tasting or our drinks at all! The only thing the sous chef Clayton Wells did ask us before our food was served was if we had any allergies or certain food we would not eat - they were happy to accommodate to the dietary requirements (the restaurant did ask Jono beforehand but we got asked again anyway). We noticed one of the girls sitting next to me had slightly different dishes from others and it turned out she was vegetarian.

Our first course arrived shortly, a plate of snacks to share and to eat with our fingers - morsels of Nori chips, smoked eel, mochi with shiitake stuffing and blood chips. Specks of green Nori flew everywhere as I took a bite of the chip (I think some that went up my nose too as they were light as dust) and I had to checked with Jono twice that the brown chip was indeed a blood chip - the idea of pig's blood chip seemed somewhat yuck but there was no blood taste to the chip at all which was surprising. The mochi was chewy and soft with a delicious shiitake filling but the snack I liked best was the smoked eel that was topped with refreshing shaved apple. I love how the food was presented beautifully and the person serving would explain what they all were - being educated about what you were eating makes the experience more interesting and memorable, and reminded me much of our dining experience at Morimoto Restaurant in Napa, California, which was VERY expensive but definitely worth the experience. "This is the beginning of our bankruptcy," joked Jono and we cracked up laughing. Degustations and fine dining are costly and something like this would be more for a special occasion. "Like your birthday," added Jono with a smile. Hehe, yes :)


Snacks (from back l-r): smoked eel, blood chips, mochi with shiitake stuffing and nori chips

Sous chefs Clayton Wells and Chase Lovecky busy preparing our next dish in their immaculately clean and tidy kitchen

Course #2 was Momofuku's signature steamed pork buns. They were SO cute! Probably good for 2-3 bites, the buns were pillowy soft and filled with pork belly, sliced cucumber and hoisin sauce, served in individual small plates. A bottle of Sriracha sauce was provided - optional but a squirt of it adds a bit of kick to the bun. Mmm, yummy! Can I have another, pretty please?


David Chang's signature dish - steamed bun with pork belly, cucumber and hoisin sauce wrapped with a soft bun

"Ooo, now we get chopsticks!" I exclaimed when our plates were cleared and a pair of chopsticks on holders were placed on the table. One of the clever things about the bar is the high-gloss stainless steel that covers roof of the bar dining area. Instead of the waitstaff interrupting and asking if you've finished your food, all they have to do it look up and a reflection of your plate or bowl can easily be seen - everything just flows smoothly, no abrupt interruptions. We were given a Riesling next and was told it was for the next two courses. The drinks serve were sample size and with two of us sharing, we had to take small sips with the food. It wasn't much but good enough to sample an array of drinks. Mmm, nice Riesling...fruity...Given that the kitchen was always whipping up more dishes, astonishingly it was kept immaculately clean - the chefs were always wiping down the benches and kitchen utensils tidily put in its designated places. Impressive! Our third dish was thinly sliced pink snapper sashimi served with pickled celery and mustard oil, another delectable dish. A tasting menu of 13 dishes does sound rather daunting and too much but with the courses served in bite sizes like this, perhaps 13 is about right.


Pink snapper with pickled celery and mustard oil

Our plates and chopsticks were cleared when we finished our course and replaced with a teaspoon. What are we having next? The restaurant must do heaps of dishwashing - we get a change of plates and utensils with EVERY course. Dish #4 was Kangaroo Island scallops with dehydrated scallop roe and a rhubarb dressing. "Wow, the raw scallops taste so sweet," said Jono in amazement. I concur! It was fresh and light, contrasted by the richness of the roe - I could do with a second helping of this. Yum!


Kangaroo Island scallop with cured scallop roe and rhubarb

The sommelier returned with a new drink, this time a Savagnin made from a variety of white grapes with green-skinned berries. Smelled and tasted more like a sherry than wine and boy, it must be pretty alcohol-potent too - just a sniff was enough to make me feel wheeeeee! Haha, kidding. With a fork and spoon, we dived into course #5, potato confit cooked in beef fat served with quandong (Australian bush peach) and shaved bottarga (salty pressed fish roe) - a super cute dish with small round potato balls but so devilishly good because of the beef fat.


Potato balls cooked in beef fat, quandong and bottarga

Gone were our utensils, plates and wine glass and out came a sake with a red tinge (made from red rice) and a fork for the next dish. Hmm, the sake tasted more like a rosé. Frankly, I would have preferred if the sommelier stayed for a bit longer so I could actually jot down the names of the drinks we were served - most of the time I had to ask Jono to repeat the gist of what the sommelier said for he spoke at Jono's right (I sat on Jono's left) and I could hardly catch his words :/ Course #6 was a bowl of diced wagyu beef, thinly sliced radish, fermented black bean and grilled watermelon oil. By far the most delicate-looking dish served and you could taste the subtle hint of grilled watermelon oil which was really unique though I didn't like this course as much as some of the earlier ones (or the fact that it has too much radish, I'm not sure).


Wagyu beef with sliced radish, fermented black bean, drizzled with grilled watermelon oil

Diced Wagyu beef found underneath the bed of radish

9pm and we were only halfway through the tasting menu. Still loving it though I'm beginning to feel full...The sommelier came back, this time with a Vitovska, a dryish white wine that had a yellow colour due to the inclusion of the green-grape skins in the wine-making. Boneless pieces of roasted quail, zucchini and black garlic puree was course #7. Love the zucchini flower - a first for me! 


Roasted quail, zucchini and black garlic purée

Though Momofuku Seiobo doesn't serve a particular cuisine but tailors its menu to what fresh produce is in season, I do have to say they lean heavy on Asian flavours with course #8 a surprise and delight to me - congee! Who would have thought good old Chinese congee would make it to the table? I would say this was nothing traditional but a modern take to a very basic Chinese dish. The congee was served with bits of serrano ham, tiny fried doughnuts and a sheet of cured egg yolk. A cup of Earl Grey tea broth was poured into the bowl of congee in front of you. The whole set up was ingenious.  Taste-wise was good though a tad salty - the broth had the Earl Grey smell though tasted more like shoyu-based soup. Nice in a small serving but probably not so good as a main on its own. Pity the Vitovska didn't go well with the congee so we just had them separately.


Congee with ham, doughnuts and cured yolk sheet, drenched in an Earl Grey broth

Next, we had a daiginjo-shu sake brewed with very highly polished rice (to at least 50%). Ah, my kind of sake - light, complex and fragrant but most of all, easy to drink. Love :) We have several more courses to go and course #9 was roasted marron (a type of crayfish from Western Australia), chick peas and asparagus. The marron was lightly grilled so was still tender and moist though I felt quite sorry for the kitchen staff that prepared the dish - he had to flip the pieces of marron on the hot grill and hold one side with his bare fingers which I'm sure was very hot to the touch (he was flicking his hand in between flipping the pieces of marron and mumbling what looked like words of self-consolation as he worked on the grill). "I'm feeling very full and we haven't even had dessert yet," I said to Jono. Full as I may be, I must go on!


Grilled marron with chickpeas and asparagus

The sommelier brought the one and only red wine we were getting with our beverage pairing, a Cabernet Franc made with no sulphur dioxide during the wine-making or bottling. "Smell it," urged Jono, passing me the wine glass after he took the first sip. Hmm, smells like blackberry jam...Course #10 was deep fried short rib with eggplant and kombu (edible kelp) - I can definitely smell the kelp as the dish was plated up and served. Oh my god, the short rib was so tender (my stubby steak knife cuts through it easily) and you can taste the oil and fat with every bite (it was well marbled). I love my steak but at this point, I'm was really full and my body was screaming for something sweet. I was glad it wasn't a large chunk of meat though speaking of meat, I've been eyeing the huge chunk of gleaming roasted pork that was sitting on the bench and being kept warm by one the heater/light lamp (the sous chef can adjust the length of the retractable arm to suit). "That looks REALLY good but I don't think we will get to sample it since we're having dessert next," I said to Jono, slightly disappointed. 


Deep fried short rib, eggplant and kombu

Gleaming chunk of caramelised pork shoulder kept warm under the huge heater/light

Around 10.30pm, the first of our 3 desserts were served - the first was a cheese course. We each got a small bowl of Bruny Island C2 grated unpasteurised cow cheese with honey licorice, star anise and bee pollen tuille matched with a pear cider made from 14 varieties of pear (tasted like concentrated pear bubbly). The mix of savoury and sweet of this course was interesting to the tastebuds and really nice. The cheese course was followed by course #12, blueberry sorbet, caramelised white chocolate served inside a small passionfruit meringue shelter - absolutely divine.


C2 unpaterised cow cheese, honey licorice, star anise and bee pollen tuille paired with pear cider

Close up shot of the cheese dessert

Passion fruit meringue, caramelised white chocolate and blueberry sorbet

Mmm, blueberry sorbet...

Our final beverage of the pairing tonight was a Pedro Ximenez, an intensely dark, sweet and thick dessert sherry - it was like drinking syrup. Course #13 was potato ice cream, crispy potato and muntries (native Australian cranberries). I've never had potato ice cream before (the closest was taro/yam ice cream) - creamy, starchy and strangely a bit salty...


Potato ice cream, crispy potato and muntries

I'm SO full (Jono had already loosened his belt)! I thought once we hit 13, we were done. Well, not quite yet. "This is the bonus course - caramelised pork shoulder that has been slow-roasted for 8 hours," said the kitchen staff who placed the plate of pieces of stringy pork drenched in the sweet sauce in front of us and added that we were to enjoy the dish with our fingers (he also brought out warm towels for us). You've got to be kidding - a savoury dish after dessert? So wrong...but it was SO DAMN GOOD! We were full to bursting but just had to finish the pork - sweet, succulent, flavoursome and fatty, it was heaven (they should have served this as one of the earlier courses!) and it somehow worked post-dessert. Way too good to pass up :)


And the finale (bonus course), caramelised pork shoulder

We left Momofuku Seiobo at 11pm - our dinner took us 3 hours which was a lot longer than most dinners we've had together. With the bill was tonight's tasting menu for each guest and a postcard to take home - the bill was a horrific $445 but we already expected it. We were also given a packet of kimchi each before we left the table to settle the bill. Jono had to put it all on his bank card as the restaurant charges a surcharge if you use a debit/credit card. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the food, drink, service provided and dining experience at the restaurant and do encourage you to check it out sometime - splurge a little for a special occasion. You will not regret it!


Momofuku Seiōbo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 


Jono and I decided to taxi home - there was no way I could walk fast enough to catch the last train home with my full tummy. Argh, too much indulgence...


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