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When offered an opportunity to time travel back to the past, you take it.
Thankfully, when it comes to food, the past can be revived. When 3-toqued Momofuku Seiobo announced that it would be bringing back the 2007 bar menu from the legendary Momofuku Ssam bar in New York, you could say #sydneyfoodies (hashtag and all) got just a wee bit excited.
Will head chef Ben Greeno be able to handle it? Are the classics truly any good? Is it even worth talking about since it already ended? Can this paragraph of questions end already? Ok.
Date Last Visited: 16/10/2014
Address: 80 Pyrmont Street Pyrmont, NSW 2009
Highlight Dish(es): steamed buns, fried brussel sprouts, apple salad, honeycomb tripe, veal sweetbreads, rice cakes, hanger steak
While some may have reservations about a walk-in policy, Momofuku Ssam truly encapsulates a bar setup in that the popup takes none. As such, queues build up as sure as the sun will set.
Luckily, I was first in line, thanks to a mate of mine who got there insanely early to take first spot. Yeah, the problems we face, right?
There’s a broad, but not overbearingly numerous number of dishes on the menu. There’s something to please just about everyone. Because we were just a ‘tad’ hungry, we decided to take out the guesswork and order the entire thing.
Yes, let that sink in. Three (hungry) guys, seventeen dishes, and you bet we ordered those pork buns more than once. Is this physically possible? Apparently so. Yes, we got some shocked eyes cast on us, and we did the only appropriate thing – we basked in the attention, and took a hell of a lot of photos to boot.
Could it even be Momofuku without David Chang’s famous pork buns? For the Ssam popup event, the price of these amaze-parcels are hiked up to $18 for two. They are usually $15 for two. Yes, that sucks, but it’s not every day I trek up to The Star so we went liberal on these.
They are as good as ever, and even better with a splash (or in my case, a waterfall) of sriracha sauce. I haven’t had these buns in awhile, the last time being more than a year ago. That said, this tasting has once again reaffirmed me on just how dominating they are. Sydney does not have another bun that can compare.
Two really isn’t enough, but we did have another 16 dishes to plow through, after all. No need to feel sorry for us pigs.
Oysters with kimchi consomme totally works. We had three each, but a full dozen would have gone down just as well. Delicious and full of spicy flavour. They come close to the ones offered at 2014’s restaurant of the year – Sepia. Close.
But hey, props to a Korean fusion restaurant for doing oysters justice.
While the smoked prosciuotto arrived third, we didn’t eat it until near the end, as we reasoned we should eat the hot dishes first.
I really like proscuitto on bread, so this dish already works for me. But Momofuku has to do something to take it beyond the hundreds of Italian Cantinas that can do the same thing.
Enter the red eye mayo. Now this is a bit contentious – I couldn’t taste too much fishiness, but I did taste a powerful coffee flavour. The waitress explained that this is deliberate. While not congruent with the menu, I found the sauce to be exceptionally addictive (ahem coffee) and mopped it up with vigor. It’s weird though – it’s hard to describe it in a way that makes it sounds good (coffee fishiness?) but it worked for me.
It’s not necessarily something I would order again at Momofuku, but the prosciutto was done differently enough that kept it tasty and interesting, even if it is just sliced meat on bread in the end.
As if the proscuitto wasn’t “standard” enough, that Ssam Bar dares to introduce a dish based around brussel sprouts is pretty ballsy.
That is, until you eat it and realise how good it actually tastes.
The char on the outside is done just right, while the fish-themed seasoning works amazingly well. I ate most of this dish and could have gone for more. Paired with the crunchiness of the sprouts and that inherent bit of bitterness, you get something that defies initial pre-conceived notions of “what the heck?”
While the dishes so far have had their shares of ups and downs, the Tasmanian sea urchin is definitely a downer. I haven’t had many opportunities to eat urchin in my life, so I’m not qualified to give an informed opinion on this dish.
That said, not liking it is not liking it. It was not particularly flavoursome, the texture was more crumbly than buttery (how uni is supposed to be), and the whipped tofu, while a pretty cool idea, ended up being somewhat flat in texture and flavour.
The inclusion of tapioca pearls was pretty fun, but the result was that it just added to the overall un-palatable nature of the dish.
Perhaps I’m just not there with urchin yet.
If there was a dish to be labeled the most boring, the cured kingfish would be it. There was little going for this dish – flavours are a predictable umami, but somewhat flat and not particularly flavoursome. The edamame puree (I think?) was quite nice, but that was about the only thing going for what’s on the plate as a whole.
I also felt this was a particularly expensive dish at $20. For that much, you would hope for the best fish you could get (given the portion). The delivery did not meet the expectation.
Taste and texture returns with the pig’s head torchon. If you treat pork right, it will treat your tastebuds right. Essentially a pork croquette w/mustard on the side, this is all sorts of deliciousness. It’s a shame we had to split two between three. Why did we not order more?
The squid salad ends up being one of those dishes that is exactly as named, but nothing more. What was problematic is that you could expect to eat a similar dish out of many fish and chips shops. There wasn’t very much Momofuku does to make this dish extra special. Given that Ssam bar is part of a restaurant group that has Michelin Stars attributed to it, and that Seiobo (the venue) is three-hatted, one expects something more than a literal squid salad.
Unfortunately, nope. That said, it tastes great, in the same way as $6 fish and chips tastes good.
At $19, the pan-roasted asparagus is somewhat steep, but it does very well in earning our admiration at being a delicious dish. The asparagus is cooked perfectly, with a satisfying crunch that’s my favourite part about the vegetable.
Break up the 63C egg, slather the asparagus with its contents and mop up the powerful and effective umami of the miso butter and this dish becomes most memorable. I really wish we didn’t have to share this.
Chawanmushi is essentially steamed egg custard. The dish originates from the Chinese, with the key differences being that the Japanese version is usually made with dashi or similar stock, and filled with other ingredients such as mushrooms and vegetables. The Chinese version is comparatively plain (don’t get me wrong, I still love it).
I like this Chawanmushi, I really do. What’s hard to swallow is the $28 price tag. Given the portion is smaller than my closed fist, I could literally say “this one bite costs $5”.
Presumably, a large part of the expense comes from truffles and snails. Given that, I’d have hoped for a greater amount of truffle for the flavour. I did taste it, but I (perhaps naively) wished for more.
A good dish, but ordering it again would be out of the question unless the price dips below $20.
Confession: I really, really dislike tripe. The texture of it is such that I gag each and every time when I try it, and so I’ve long given up.
When others have mentioned how good the tripe at the Ssam popup is, it was a mandatory requirement to get the tripe.
I must admit, Momofuku’s spicy honeycomb tripe is a pretty solid performer. For anyone who actually doesn’t mind tripe, this dish would be killer. The texture of the tripe itself is very soft, and I was actually able to eat it without gagging. The seasoning is amazing – full of spicy sweet flavour. I could imagine any kind of meat being cooked this way, and it would be incredible.
I need the recipe to the seasoning mix. Need.
One of my favourite dishes of the night, the veal sweetbreads greatly impressed. While sweetbreads have a bit of a bad rap amongst certain crowds, I totally dig the soft, spongy textures of the stuff. Sweetbreads have a great natural flavour, so one doesn’t need to do much to eke out much more.
The chillis on the side are an interesting addition. I’m not sure what purpose they serve, as they don’t actually complement the sweetbreads in a way I could tell. Still, being a spice lover, I had to have one for kicks.
Korean rice cakes are another dish I don’t expect at an establishment as fine as Momofuku. Then again, I had a very similar version when I visited the Momofuku Bar last year, and I had to admit I really liked it, despite the “pedestrian nature” of the dish.
I can’t fault this one either – spiciness is an easy way to please and I digged every last bite. Bits of pork sausage mince were absolutely essential to keep the experience texturally interesting, and the way kale sucks up the moreish sauce is winning.
A most enjoyable dish.
A highlight of the night, the hanger steak ssam steak could do no wrong. It was perfectly cooked, tender to an unbelievable degree. I don’t use the word “divine” much, but this would be an apropriate time to liberally dole it out.
The one downside was that the actual seasoning was a bit below-par, but this was easily rectified with a generous splash of sriracha. God of all spicy sauces, it turned an already hero dish into something above and beyond.
If only this was a permanent addition to the menu…
The roasted mushroom salad easily takes out the award for most unexpectedly delicious dish of the night. Long-time readers are well aware of my less than positive position towards fungal edibles.
Clearly, I just wasn’t eating them the way I liked it – this salad showed me how. The mushrooms were thinly sliced, fried in such a way that made them almost taste like meat/hard tofu. A seemingly simple, but very well-executed dish. I would order this one again.
Tartness and an abundance of texture is what it’s all about with the apple salad w/bacon. You know where this is going, and yes, bacon totally works with apple and lychee. It’s one of those sweet/savoury combinations that grows on you after each bite.
Importantly, the textures are what keeps the dish together, preventing the dish from ever getting boring. Scrumptuous!
There were over six kinds of radish in the seasonal pickles. I grew up living on this stuff, so gorging it all down was a minimal-effort affair. Even so, this is best shared, as eating nothing but pickles can get overwhelming very quickly.
In retrospect, eating these to cleanse the palate between other dishes every now and then would have been the right way to go about it. Oops.
I wasn’t lying when I said we got the entire menu. When you have Momofuku Ssam in town, that’s just what you do.
Have you been to Ssam bar before? If so, I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!
- We’re talking some seriously classy bar food here
- There are many winners out of 16 dishes
- Super fast service
Not so Awesome:
- Some dishes are too simplistic to belong on a 3-hat menu
- Prices are occasionally difficult to swallow
- No sweet options on the menu