Momofuku Seiōbo – Dining Iconoclast
Update: I have since covered Momofuku’s bar area here.
Ahhh, this review was going to come sooner or later. Of all the restaurants I get asked about, Seiōbo is by far the most-queried place. I did want to avoid writing about it though…because this isn’t a particularly easy review. But the greats of good restauranting do not wait for the opinions of puny bloggers like yours truly.
And why not? David Chang’s latest lands in Sydney in the same way as a meteorite lands in Arizona – with explosive impact. I could wax lyrical about Chang, but no need to use up my word limit – this wiki link has all the info.
I had tried to book a table at Seiōbo for what seemed like forever, until finally, near the end of November, I got my wish granted.
What exactly was granted though? After the break.
Name: Momofuku Seiōbo
Date Visited: 23/11/2012
Address: The Star 80 Pyrmont Street Pyrmont, NSW 2009
Go-to dish: no choice – go degustation or go home.
There’s no doubt about it – all the things you’ve been hearing about Seiōbo are true. The restaurant really does take a leaf out of traditional sushi bars – you get your dishes directly from the chef. Efficient? Well I guess so – poor waiters who are out of a job though (with the exception of two-three general service staff)! The chefs do their best to explain each dish to you, and to me, I was able to grasp most of it. I think they’ve refined this since the early days when other reviewers criticise how there’s a lack of…finesse in their delivery. I wouldn’t worry about that. Besides, if you wanted that kind of experience…go to any other 3-hatted restaurant. This also applies if you hate AC/DC – which is the majority of the music that is played in the restaurant. Contrary to what most people say, it is not really all that loud. You could easily make casual conversation without raising your voice.
Overall, you get a conflicting atmosphere that is so casual & communal, yet so finely executed due to its sophisticated surroundings.
So the service is minimalistic, the music unconventionally rock, and the view of the kitchen unparalleled. I’m liking it, I’m liking it.
Seiōbo only serves a 13-course degustation menu – you cannot order anything else in any way, shape or form (unless you’re at the bar). It will run you $175. We ended up getting an optional juice pairing which gives six glasses of juice for $55. We actually only made that decision about four courses in so the timing screwed up a little…but oh well, you lose some you win a lot more.
What was interesting is that you don’t know any details about the menu – they only give it to you at the end. Well, that’s going to be fascinating…
First I gotta say…Momofuku has got the harshest restuarant lighting of any fine dining establishment I’ve been to. That’s a real pain. Couple that with the fact that they don’t allow tripod photography…well I’m making apology for the quality of the photos…let’s just leave it at that.
Disregard that yellow cracker – that was a non-nut option to satisfy an allergic friend (I didn’t taste it, can’t comment).
First up ‘snacks’ as it’s referred to on the menu is a interesting mix of four very different nibbles.
The nori crackers were delicious – crispy to a tee, and fully infused with that classic seaweed flavour you find on the finest of dry sushi nori. The John Dory reduction was surprisingly pleasant – it’s like fish paste, but actually good. More importantly, it matched the seaweed – it’s like eating sushi if, you know, you’ve never had it before
The pigs blood was not particularly great – it tasted a bit saltier than the others, but there wasn’t much going for it really. I could taste the pig’s blood (having always eaten hot pot with pudding made of the same stuff), but it didn’t really need to be there. There’s not much else to say – it wasn’t the most interesting of the bunch.
I had mixed feelings about the mochi – I’m known not to be the biggest fan of mushrooms, and I actually dislike Shiitake the most. Imagine my surprise when the mochi balls actually tasted quite nice and savory! The key is that any physical trace of the shroom has been blended into oblivion – leaving only the flavour essence. That’s good, as the texture was smooth and consistent throughout. A tasty morsel.
Those spring roll-like things…that’s the eel and apple. A funny combination if you ask most people, and yet I didn’t get confused by the taste. Yes, I think it worked for me! The eel was very soft and very fine, you wouldn’t have known from the texture that’s for sure. The apple, despite looking like the majority of the dish is actually not too strong and does not overpower the eel. It’s a sweet vs savoury battle here, but one that ends in a truce. A delicious, umami-laden truce…
I was somewhat surprised to see the famed pork bun outed so early, but then again why save the best till last? Another paradigm-changing thought from Seiōbo
So, what of them? Okay so…remember what I said about the pork buns in my review of Ippudo? That applies here. Seiōbo’s bun is definitely superior, but it comes down to a matter of preference. I liked Ippudo’s pork for it had more texture definition, but I like Seiōbo’s mastery of being able to bring together – with great skill – the simple flavours of a well-steamed, almost brioche-like bun, crisp, fresh cucumber, and the fundamentally basic, but tried-and-true flavour of hoisin sauce.
The result? A melt-in-your-mouth experience that is incredibly difficult to replicate. I hear and see people who proclaim that $1 buns off street stalls are just as good if not better but my goodness do I feel tempted to say they’re wrong. Street vendors do not – cannot – have the capability to make a bun like this because of physics. Street vendors need to make money with volume – they cannot steam as many buns for as long as Seiōbo does it, and they cannot always use the highest-quality pork or the freshest vegetables. It does matter. One can taste the difference.
Awesome pork bun. I can’t say it is the best as I like other pork buns as much, but it is definitely amongst them. Yummm.
Almost any degustation is going to have some sort of sashimi dish. This is Seiōbo’s. There’s not actually much to say. The snapper is of the requisite technical quality to be served in a hatted restaurant – that is, awesome. Texture is firm, as snapper is not an oily fish, but is not too tough to be considered akami-level. The garnish comes together to infuse a herb-like flavour into the fish, while the mustard keeps it from being too powerful.
It’s well executed, but overall the taste is actually somewhat bland and uninteresting. Oh well, that’s just the way it is.
At this point, we would have received a juice pairing with the sashimi (and possibly the pork bun). That is, if we had gotten it from the start. The juice is below:
No fancy shenanigans here. A simple juice with two ingredients. Intention? To cleanse your palate between the pork bun and the sashimi as they’re so different in flavour. At least, that’s what I believe the intent was.
The juice itself tasted quite nice actually – the fennel is distinct yet subtle – you can essentially taste it via smell, but could never get your tongue to quite pick up on it. Overall a pleasantly sweet & aromatic experience.
A better scallop than most, this specimen (specimens) tasted fresh and tender. It was ever slightly soft, but better that than a toughie. The cured roe is powerfully strong, so try to eat it with the scallop, rather than alone. You’ll be rewarded with a level of umami that only these seafoods can induce. I basically forgot about the rhubarb I must admit – but that just means it didn’t have a meaningful impact. It did give a nice red colour though – you don’t see that with scallops often.
It still is just a scallop though – not very captivating in either taste, or memory.
There is no juice pairing for this – scallops are extraordinarily subtle with their flavours. You shouldn’t really be washing them out with a juice.
A salad of sorts, this one’s all veggies with a bit of roe on the side. I really like the texture of white asparagus, I think it’s way better than green asparagus (but the latter is still best grilled). It’s crunchier and has a more crisp feel when you bite into it. Quite refreshing and tasty. The roe is once again packing with flavour, and you’re meant to eat it with the rest of the greens on display.
It’s actually all pretty basic, except for the inclusion of quandong – this is a native Australian fruit that is supposedly highly nutritious. It tastes a bit like a dried apricot, but very strong, concentrated. I can’t say it didn’t gel with the dish, but I can’t say it did either. All in all, an interesting choice that was most likely made with the whole “use native ingredients” ethos. Can’t argue with that!
The juice pairing for this and the next dish is as follows:
Refreshing and sweet, it’s a great juice to simply enjoy, or to wash away any remaining flavours – that quandong really does stick to your buds.
I don’t like this dish. Yes, it definitely looks pretty, but spelling it out – it literally is a whole dump of horseradish resting on a not-enough bed of grilled wagyu and watermelon.
Problem here is that the horseradish doesn’t add anything to the dish. Horseradish is usually used very sparingly as a ‘dress’ to salads or dishes with vegetables – it makes the dish look pretty good. It doesn’t have any real flavour of its own, and has a crunch texture. Ok, put a whole heap of these into the bowl and…you don’t really get anywhere.
The wagyu is nice though – tender, albeit super small chunks riddled with juicy watermelon that doesn’t actually taste grilled (probably a good thing) in a black bean reduction. If the dish was only that it wouldn’t have been so bad. But all that radish…phoooarr.
This dish is most definitely experimental. Doesn’t work for me unfortunately.
At this point, we’re waiting on the next course. Let’s see what the chefs are up to…
Don’t judge me, I got bored and the ceiling is a mirror. Whatdo?
One of the most delicious things on the menu tonight – we have some serious tongue on tongue action.
Okay I’m sorry I’ll never say something like that again *snicker*.
But seriously, fabulous ox tongue. Cooked to virtual perfection, soft and succulent texture with a semi-seared outer skin…ahhh. What really makes it stand out though is the condiment pair – black garlic sauce is absolutely DELICIOUS. It takes the meat of the tongue to a whole new level – it’s hard to imagine a combination that’s more winning.
There really isn’t much to say – the dish is so good I can’t really fault it for anything. A++
Pairing with the tongue is a glass of carrot juice. Tastes exactly like carrot juice. Surprise! It’s mildly sweet, and the scent of carrot wafts pleasantly as you take small sips. Refreshing? Always.
Quite possibly my second or third most favourite dish of the night we have a wildly successful experimental dish. I don’t think this has ever been done before. A delicious – albeit rather salty – ham congee rests beautifully below an umbrella of transparent, cured egg yolk with five pieces of fried bread in between. All of this then sits in a half-bath of Earl Gray tea.
What does such a concoction taste like? Turns out it’s pretty darn amazing. The tea is almost like a soup, a wonderful soup. Mix the congee in with it for a better effect – the result is heavy on the umami and the aroma of pork. The fried bread is a guilty pleasure – these can’t be healthy, but they’re so delicious in that classic fried-anything way.
The egg yolk really excites the taste buds – you know it tastes like egg yolk, yet at the same time it tastes like something so different. Like an eggy film/jelly like texture. I’m not describing it well, but trust me, the flavour and texture are both there.
Cucumber and raspberry make for a weird combination in a juice. I’ve highlighted my distaste for raspberries before…this juice doesn’t serve to make it any better. It’s sour (duh), and the cucumber is aromatic at best. Gulped it down and we move on…
That other contender for 2nd or most fav dish for the night we have some awesome lobster.
The reason why this dish is my favourite doesn’t have anything to do with fancy gastronomy or anything like that – just great produce cooked to a tee.
Oh, the seaweed butter (which I’ve never had before in memory) is just fantastic and probably makes the dish a winner, but the marron is what really takes advantage of it. Tender, juicy, succulent, with a heavily seasoned exterior. This is how I like my lobster to be cooked.
It’s hard to describe the flavour of seaweed butter, but I’m throwing around the word umami a lot and I think it applies again here. Man, David Chang really has a love affair with this sensation. Who can blame him though. Man, even the veggies taste great with this butter. As my friend put it in delicate French – it’s “f*cking delicious“. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Definitely my favourite juice of the night for a simple reason – blood orange is just one of the best-smelling fruits and as a result the aroma and flavour is unsurpassed in a juice. I just want to smell it all day. But of course, I did one better – I drank it
Well, it’s better than the pigeon from The Bridge Room, that’s for sure. Oh – sqaub = domestic/bred pigeon. More jargon for you.
The pigeon is very soft but still maintains the toughness that’s associated with smaller, leaner birds. ‘Twas a pleasure cutting through it. It’s well seasoned, and at no time did I feel I was just chewing on rubber. Bonus. I even tried to pick the leg clean – it was good enough to be worth that particular effort!
The endive was a good garnish to pick at when you wanted to chew on something that’s not a bird, otherwise special mention doesn’t really need to be awarded.
Other than this, I’d still prefer the pigeon w/garlic salt from many Asian joints. Sometimes, the old ways are best
This juice will divide people, that’s for sure. I don’t really like beetroot as a solid, but I actually don’t mind this particular juice. I’m sure there was plenty of sugar that went into it though. Boo (but yay for taste!)
It’s almost got a saccharine taste to it…I wonder if it’s actually sugar…*ponders*
Good juice though.
The moment this got plated I knew it was the pre-dessert palate cleanser. Most of my friends didn’t like this, but I’m used to eating curd and I quite liked it. It’s quite cheesy, of course, and heavy. That’s why there’s only a small serving…
There’s a little bit of mint jus that rests within the curd, and if you take it with the blackcurrant juice, the overall impact of the curd will be reduced. For what it’s worth, I’d have preferred a sorbet of some kind.
The first proper dessert arrives, and bam Chang is at it again with his utilisation of local produce – muntries. It’s a small berry (aka emu apple) and it tastes very sweet with a bittery aftertaste.
As for the rest of this dessert – it’s frigging awesome. Honey cream just works in any and every dessert – nobody could dislike it. The crumble adds that much-desired texture, and it’s basically eating heaven. You know, if it were sweet and crunchy and awesomely delicious. One of the best desserts I’ve had in recent times.
Man, Chang and his experiments. Potato ice cream? Good for us – this actually worked quite well! Yes, you can definitely taste the potato in it, but at the same time it’s as creamy and as sweet as you expect ice cream to be. It’s almost like frozen mashed potato…but um, it tastes better than what you’re imagining right now. Can’t help but bring up umami again – Chang’s nailed this concept.
Texture as always, is provided by the crisps – so not a coincidence that they’re also made out of potatoes. Oh the carbs!
No regrets though!
And we are near the end of our meal…only waiting on the petit four…but wait…can it be?
Well how about that.
Now that’s truly hipster of them. Petit four is usually a selection of four sweets, to be consumed after everything else. How fitting for Momofuku’s anti-establishment tendencies to provide a savoury petit four – and pulled pork at that! If you were still hankering for meat after those 13 courses, this will surely finish the job.
The pork is delicious – all the appropriate adjectives that describe good pork apply here. Succulent, juicy, aromatic, keep it going. The sauce is heavy on the sugar – almost like a sweet soy sauce, but as usual, you won’t care for your guilt a whit. Gobble it up – eat it with your hands, you pleb (no seriously, you have no utensils but you get a hot towel).
Aww, I peach Syd!
At the very end, we each get a packet of…kimchi. This is really baffling. I have NO idea why they gave us this. But um…okay.
I couldn’t open it while I was there but I had it the next day – unsurprisingly, it’s nothing to write home about.
Okay, so I exceeded my word limit by over twice at 3200+ words…but I really did not want to compact this. Chang finally brought a piece of him to Sydney with Seiōbo, and this is a fairly big deal for many reasons. Seiōbo has polarised many – some love it, some hate it, some find it average. I personally loved certain aspects about it, while questioning the others. Overall though, one thing is sure – this is a fine dining experience you cannot get anywhere else in Sydney. That, alone, makes it worth the visit.
Go get your lucky peach fix. It won’t be quite like anything you’ve ever had.
Feel free to leave a comment or three
The Good: it’s just so…hipster – environment, music, service. Where the dishes worked, they worked very well.
The Bad: a lot of dishes miss pretty hard – if the dish isn’t good, it’s subpar, lots of restaurant rules
I give Momofuku Seiōbo a grand total of eight Caesars out of ten – 8/10