Notes from the inner sanctum of Momofuku Seiobo

David_Chang_Momofuku_Seiobo

The inner sanctum of David Chang’s Momofuku Seiobo

Who would think of burning watermelon rind, then blitzing it into a blackened emulsion with  grapeseed oil to serve topped with a hillock of paper-thin slices of raw radish, jewels of grilled watermelon, and a sprinkling of fermented black bean? David Chang would. The result is a slightly gritty, faintly ashy paste that perfectly offsets the peppery freshness of radish and sweet bursts of diced watermelon. Idiosyncrasies like this — and including donuts filled with a wicked pork fat caramel — intersperse the menu at Momofuku Seiobo, Chang’s digs at The Star casino and entertainment complex in Sydney.

The watermelon dish isn’t necessarily the best on the menu — that would surely be the beef shortrib (deep-fried and insanely soft), or balls of confit potato and nuggets of crunchy fat-smacked parson’s nose (the knobbly, tail-like protuberance found at the rear end of poultry), or pork belly steamed buns (the dish for which Chang has been hailed a 20th Century culinary king) — but it is an indication of the innovative foundation upon which the menu is built.

There are few tables at Momofuku Seiobo, but the hottest real estate in the house are the 18 stools around a square bar surrounding the open kitchen where a small brigade works quietly, fastidiously, and ostensibly without effort.  No voice is raised. No counter-top is left un-wiped for long. No one stands idle — ever. Each chef is either slicing, stirring, sieving, or perfecting a plated meal, which nonchalant charm.

The chefs in charge have perfected the art of shouting quietly, so that underlings jump to attention but diners don’t register the command. A sudden clatter of spoons on a counter top compels a sous chef to turn sharply and glare at the young culprit in silent rebuke.

There is an almost zen-like atmosphere around this slick hive of activity — the antithesis of what you would expect in a high-end kitchen, and of the somewhat fraught online reservation process that preceded the event. It took two weeks, much persistence and a little bit of competitive spirit to secure a table, which can’t be booked more than ten days in advance and requires  would-be diners to set up an online account and jump through other annoying hoops.

That alone, not to mention Chang worship and Momofuku hype, may put some diners off (it did me, for at least six months). But the kitchen wizadary is fascinating to watch. Chang’s food is equally fascinating to consume. Each dish has a stroke of ingenuity applied — be it the use of muntries (tiny native berries with a hint of apple), the addition of pickled celery (now I know how to use up my superfluous crop), or the use of grilled baby cucumber (which catapults this vegetable from the bottom to the top of my preferred veggies list).

Chang, who has another six venues in New York and four in Toronto, is nowhere to be seen on this visit. But his groovy, knowledgeable and friendly (but not in your face) crew have got this in the bag. At times four chef’s heads will be bowed over a plate: one placing the star ingredient, one adding another item, one sprinkling garnish, one wiping the plate’s outer edge.

The $100 per person, eight tasting-course lunch menu ($60 a head extra with matched drinks) is excellent value. Was is worth jumping through numerous online hoops to make the booking? You bet your little pork belly filled bun it was.

Momofuku Seiobo
The Star
80 Pyrmont Street | Level G 
Sydney, NSW 2009

http://momofuku.com/sydney/seiobo/

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8 Comments

Filed under Chefs, Restaurant Reviews

8 responses to “Notes from the inner sanctum of Momofuku Seiobo

  1. Love the way you review – always so evocative. Sounds like an exciting dining experience – bit pricey for me but I’ll keep it in mind for when I next visit Sydney.

  2. Thanks for your feedback … i enjoy reviewing, makes a nice change. Price means i won’t be making a habit of dining at Momofuku Seiobo, but certainly a nice occasional spot.

  3. I’ve been avoiding Momofuku as well, waiting for the hype to die down. Their more reasonably priced lunch might be just the encouragement I need to give it a try – great recommendation.

    Happy new year Rachel!

    • I’d definitely have lunch here again (if i could get a reservation again, that is!) – not sure about the much bigger dinner menu. Let me know how it goes – if you do go along, at some point. Happy new year to you, too.

  4. I’d love to dine here one day but it’s so hard to arrange for friends to come-everyone’s plans are usually in place a week or so ahead of time.

    • Yes … the reservation policy does make it tough. Maybe one day they will rethink their strategy … problem is, it seems to be working (for them). Thanks for dropping by.

  5. Last year I sighed and decided that going to Momofuku was just too annoying and impossible and “what was all the fuss about anyway”.
    Then I read your review and I am transported to the counter, peering in at the chefs working their magic. I can taste the pork bun! I think I will re-visit the notion of booking in for a meal there this year….
    GREAT review!!

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