The cheese course at this incredible restaurant was my epiphany on how good David Chang’s gift to Sydney really is. Don’t take this the wrong way. The genius of the dish is contextual. It is simply some nicely selected cheese (in this case a hard cow’s milk and a soft goat’s cheese) on oat biscuits.
It is the thought that counts. Overthinking a cheese course has become an artform of recent times. How about taking a biscuit that you can pick up, that you can take a bite from without breaking the rest into pieces, that neither detracts, nor adds to the flavour, but provides perfect texture, and then putting cheese on top and serving it? Amazing! The simplest dish of twelve courses is not supposed to be a statement, but it was for me.
If you are after something different and familiar, all at the same time, this place is for you. It does not feel like a “gastro-temple” but give it a few years and our definition may have changed because of Seiobo. I liked being part of the first sitting in this relatively small restaurant. There are say six tables off the bar that seat four people and then there is about eight places for each couple of people at the bar, which are well spaced. I liked being at the bar. You don’t receive a menu so each dish is a surprise that you see being plated in the kitchen in front of you! The chefs serve you and describe what you are about to eat very well. The waitstaff were equally articulate and service was faultless.
I’ll get to the food as it’s the best bit but everything else helps. Granted, I am into alternative music, and luckily so is Momofuku creator David Chang. There is something about listening to ACDC (there’s a photo of Angus Young on the wall), Nirvana, The Strokes, while eating really alternative food. More than that there is something about being in an incredible restaurant, without feeling like you are a child at your Grandparents on your best behaviour, being seen but not heard. If you forget the small fortune you are spending, you are actually really relaxed!
The final non-food element is the wine. Not to detract from the effort that goes into matching each course with wine, even a fairly big drinker like me cannot handle it. Glasses start to pile up, and it is a bit stressful leaving such great wine as the next course approaches. The reduced matching at $65 was a winner. Every couple of courses were matched with about 90ml of wine, beautifully selected, and interesting. The sommelier described them well and some of the matches were heavenly. One contained a grape, similar to grenache, that is native to an island off Spain, both of which I had never heard of (nor expect to any time soon!)
Now for the food. I love food. I love the food that a country, a culture or a community has spent time on to make it shine. There is no doubt that David Chang and his chefs have the same perspective. That doesn’t mean everyone is going to enjoy the taste, and/or thought, of some of the star ingredients. In any case, if there was ever a time to try something that you think you might not like, the time is now!
There were many courses and my descriptions would not do close to justice to them. My early highlight was the black pudding on a bed of rich mushroom puree covered delicately by thinly sliced celeriac. Catherine tries the black pudding at other restaurants from my plate and enjoys it but a mouthful is enough. This one is so good that, despite its richness, she has several tastes but holds back a little for the seven or eight courses still to come. For me, it’s the best pig’s blood I’ve ever eaten on top of the most delicious puree I can remember (a few years ago they were described often as veloutes). Offal heaven.
Prior to this we had tried chicken tail (parson’s) with trout roe on a creamy, almost milk consistency sauce that worked perfectly. We had reacquainted ourselves with the Momofuku Noodlebar signature pork bun. Eel and mud crab had also featured in a starter with delightfully presented zucchini tarts. Following we had perfect flounder on the bone with a carrot puree featuring kelp oil in the well, and diced wagyu with radish that you were instructed to dress yourself. The genius of Chang was in the watermelon skin that looked like diced wagyu that gave the texture of beef tartare, while eating beautifully charred wagyu (which generally does not work rare due to its marbled fat content).
There were no misses. Every dish belonged and the story kept developing. The daikon and tripe were not just beautifully presented; they worked together. The lamb wasn’t just to “fill you up”; it was texturally beautiful and paired with surprising and complementary flavours. Stand aside though, as the abalone was out of this world in comparison with every other abalone I’ve ever eaten – and that includes fishing them and eating within 90 minutes of the catch. Not only was the artichoke and sunflower perfect in combination, but the abalone was in itself, incredible. In my eyes it is the hardest seafood to prepare and even supposedly perfect versions have not been incredible to me. This was.
The desserts, plated right in front of us, were also high in quality. The sweetness had been balanced, like many Asian desserts, and texture was again at the forefront. We were guessing on the first dessert as it was plated and got it completely wrong – it was pistachio! The berries (muntries – which I’d never tried) worked nicely and the sorrel sauce was excellent. My favourite of the two desserts was the almond ice-cream with peach mousse. The almond ice-cream was exquisitely prepared and set-off the sweetness of the mousse.
Part of the genius was a surprise dish. It is not even on the menu that you receive as you leave, along with some kim chi to enjoy in your own time. I am not going to spoil the surprise for you, but this is a definite spoiler alert if you are going to read any other reviews. What I will say is the genius of this place is the breaking of long held ideas and exceeding expectations, not just your expectations from before you arrive, but your expectations during your stay. Ten out of ten.