An edible adventure: Poppet in Sydney
Before I begin this post, welcome to a new Poppet's Window segment: Edible Adventures! Basically, any time I munch anywhere other than Melbourne, you'll still hear about it. The weekend before last I was whisked away to Sydney for a devilishly indulgent weekend of eating. I finally got to cross some amazing places off my list. We visited six restaurants and cafes over a weekend, and none of them disappointed. The first was none other than Momofuku Seiōbo. I hope you enjoy it!
Address: Level G, The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street, Sydney
Open: Monday to Saturday
Lunch from 12pm until 3pm
Dinner from 6pm until 12am
“This,” said the chef presenting us with our fifth dish, “is all of my hard work”.
Having watched him painstakingly arrange each slice of radish, we almost felt guilty digging in, but we just had to get to the black bean reduction and tender cubes of wagyu beef hiding below the garden of radishes. This bowl of perfection was just one of 13 immaculate courses at David Chang’s Momofuku Seiōbo, located at the Star Casino in Sydney.
To accompany the tasting menu was a selection of wine, beer, spirits and sake. We decided against taking part in the drinks pairing; we wanted to avoid succumbing to tipsiness and consequently not fully appreciating our meal. We could have gone for the juice pairing option, perfect for teetotalers, but we settled with a few invigorating gin and tonics instead.
Having read the reviews, Momofuku Seiōbo all sounded wonderful in theory — and trust me, it tastes wonderful too — but booking a table is a feat. Reservations are taken via an online system, which opens exactly 10 days before you wish to visit. Although they accept walk-ins, tables sell out faster than Australia’s most popular music festivals. If you’re feeling lucky, there are five seats at the bar that are walk-in only, or you can pop out to the casino for a round of Black Jack and try again later, both options are a gamble.
Should you manage to get a booking, there are a few intimate tables next to the bar, but the best seats in the house frame the open kitchen. Patrons sit on raised chairs and watch the chefs hovering over rows of pastel blue and green bowls, fastidiously plating each course. At Momofuku, it’s as much about the theatrics as it is about the food.
The dishes are crafted from seasonal ingredients, some of which are displayed in glass cabinets that separate the seating from the prep kitchen. The dimly lit space is undeniably sleek with its wooden and stainless steel finishes, but all eyes are on the kitchen, including those of AC/DC guitarist Angus Young, who is printed on the wall in black and white.
As with all fine dining, the ultimate focus is on the food. Maybe I enjoyed what we ate so much because I was on a glutinous weekend away, or perhaps it was because I was in wonderful company. Realistically, it was an amalgamation of the two, combined with the fact that there just simply isn’t anything quite like eating at Momofuku Seiōbo anywhere else in Australia.
So, without further ado, this is what we ate…
The first dish that came out was a platter of ‘snacks’. It included a range of dehydrated chips similar to prawn crackers in consistency: blood chips, shitake mushroom chips and deep fried nori (seaweed) chips. Two sticky globes of mochi (glutinous rice) were presented on skewers, and crunchy cylinders filled with eel and apple gel completed the platter, sprinkled with apple powder resembling fluffy snow.
Chang’s famous steamed pork belly buns were everything you would expect from someone who set the ever-popular trend. Tender pork belly (or shitake mushrooms in the veggie version) was wedged between doughy pillows and finished off with thin slices of cucumber and sweet hoisin sauce. We were also given a bottle of Sriracha Hot Sauce in case we wished to add some extra kick.
Next came three firm pieces of striped trumpeter sashimi. Each tasty morsel was paired with pink pomelo pulp and slithers of green pistachio nuts.
Sticking with the sea, the just-cooked marron from Western Australia was a fine example of our country’s wonderful, fresh seafood. The plump morsel was served with a smoky burnt eggplant purée and pickled rhubarb. It was one of the favourite dishes of the night.
The aforementioned radish and wagyu dish arrived next, followed by a pretty plate of baby confit potato with red quandong (a native Australian fruit), watercress and salty bottarga (pressed fish roe).
The slow cooked egg and green tea was texturally complex. The egg was so creamy it almost tasted like custard, while the green tea had crispy flecks of toasted rice through it that added a pleasant crunch. Held together with a puddle of brown butter, it blurred the boundaries between dessert and the main affair.
From here, the courses became richer. A buttery pile of shredded mud crab in a heavy sauce was mopped up wonderfully with a foamy Yorkshire pudding.
The pink snapper, served with a butter knife, flaked away with the slightest touch of the cutlery. It was topped with a blanket of thinly sliced periwinkle sea snails and rested in a chrysanthemum reduction.
The ‘main’ was a chunk of soft beef cheek bursting with flavour. Incredibly tender, its heaviness was balanced with the addition of piquant pickled cucumbers and a smooth Jerusalem artichoke purée.
My vegetarian date wasn’t so keen on the beef cheek, and was instead served a beautifully cooked fillet of mulloway with smoked fish roe and gem lettuce. Some vegetarians eat fish, you know.
The ‘cheese course’ was simply extraordinary. C2 cheese from Bruny Island in Tasmania — a cow’s variety with a sweet, nutty flavour — was grated in a bowl and crowned with a lattice of star anise ‘bee pollen’ honeycomb. Clear jewels of quince and cider jelly also lurked at the bottom of the bowl.
A plate of ‘pears’ followed. The fruit was stewed in segments, dried in slices and even crafted into chunks of jelly. The other components included a refreshing yoghurt sorbet, a sultana miso reduction and a toasted milk crumble sprinkled on top.
Our second last course roughly fit the description of ice cream, but was unlike any we had sampled before. It was potato flavour and — somehow — it worked. It was creamy to the point of feeling velvety and managed to remain sweet despite it’s savoury edge. Served with tart muntries (which are like native cranberries) and sweet muscovado biscuit crumbs, it was only a taste of the dessert to come.
I must admit I was a touch confused when only one of us received vivid green pistachio ice cream in a bowl, speckled with chewy dried blackcurrants and perfect mini chamomile meringues. I told him to start without me – I didn’t want the ice cream to melt.
As the chef placed the last dish in front of me, it suddenly made sense. It was meat. Not very vegetarian-friendly, but surprisingly wonderful as a dessert, it was whole caramalised pork shoulder cooked in brown sugar for seven hours. Incredibly sweet and sticky and served without cutlery, diners are encouraged to eat it with their hands. I’ve always been a strong believer that food tastes better when you use your fingers, and this dish only furthered my theory. Momofuku have your back with some warm, wet towels once you’re done.
We were one of the last couples standing (or more accurately, sitting) and remain in awe of our experience. Each person who dines at Momofuku Seiōbo receives a copy of their menu, which until the very last moment is a complete mystery, as well as a packet of signiture Momofuku kimchi.
It’s hard to fault any of the 13 plus dishes served at Momofuku Seiōbo. Each is a harmony of presentation, texture and taste. Our taste buds were tantalized by Chang’s creativity and our sweet spots were left bewildered yet satisfied. All I can say is this: believe the hype. David Chang’s first Australian restaurant exceeds expectations. Sure, it costs approximately $1.46 a minute excluding drinks, but would we do it again? Momo-fukun-lutely.