Friday, February 22, 2013

Momofuku Seiobo, Sydney

I popped onto the Momofuku website on a whim at 5pm on Thursday and saw they had availability on Saturday. I whipped out my phone with one hand to call Karen and my credit card in the other – 10 mins later we had our Saturday plans sorted.

It can be difficult to get a booking at Momofuku Seiobo. The restaurant team only post availability 10 days in advance and only allow bookings online.

Seems the stars were aligned for us that afternoon.

Once admitted to the inner-Momofuku-sanctum, all difficulty melts away. The booking is confirmed by email (with a firm warning that a no-show will result in a $100 charge on the credit card). A follow-up phone call comes through to confirm the booking again and to check dietary requirements.

On arrival at the door, I’m welcomed by name. We’re seated in the a la carte area but it’s no trouble to have us moved up to the bench surrounding the kitchen –easily the most popular seats available.

I start off with a St Germain (elderflower liquor) and Soda drink. Then the gastronomic games begin – 10 mini courses of degustationary delight.

Course 1/10
First up is a smoked potato puree with apple crisp and apple jelly – crisp and smoky, it turns out to be one of my favourites.

Course 2/10
Steamed bun pork belly. This is the signature dish and the dough is light and fluffy, the pork belly caramelized and juicy. I think my cloud 9 would be made out of that dough. It took me to a happy place.

Course 3/10
Pink snapper, celery and mustard oil. I love ceviche, so this was also a favourite dish

Course 4/10
Potato, trout roe, parsons nose. This was an interesting combination of flavours and textures. I’ve never eaten parsons nose before (it’s the cartlidge from the base of a chicken’s tail) but I barely felt the texture and was just left with a strong chicken taste. The saltiness of the roe worked well with the fried parsons nose.

Course 5/10

Eel dashi with turnip and almond. The prettiest dish by far. The eel flavour came through the dashi but I didn’t really like that flavour in a jelly format. That’s kinda the point of going to a restaurant like Momofuku – expect to have your mind blown, but in exploring new frontiers there are a few you won’t really like.

Course 6/10
Zucchini, onion mustard, yolk. The ‘yolk’ in question was cooked at 66 degrees for 1 hour ‘sous vide’ style. Sous vide refers to the process of sealing food in an airtight bag and putting it in a water bath for longer than normal cooking times. This might become a common trend as the result is very tender food, retaining a lot of flavour and moisture. Although doing it well, as with lots of tricky techniques, isn’t easy. Thankfully the team at Momofuku knew what they were doing with this yolk and it was really creamy.

Course 9/10
Goats curd, blackcurrant, mint. By this stage I had also indulged in a glass of wine and was so engrossed in conversation that I didn’t really give this dish the focus it deserved. 

Course 7/10
Mulloway, cucumber and black garlic.  

Course 8/10
Lamb, eggplant, lettuce. The lamb was tender and juicy. But the lettuce was sensational! Now I’m back at home I’m googling sautéed lettuce recipes. Between this and the lettuce with sesame and tahini that I had a Harts Yard a few weeks ago, I think I’m hooked!

Course 10/10
Pear, honey cream, muntries. The muntries, despite sounding like the name of a folk band, are native Australian berries. This dish also had ‘toasted milk’ in it – another tricky molecular gastronomy-type maneouvre that tasted like milk and felt like unsweetened, shaved white chocolate.

Surprise 11/10 Course!
Burnt caramel doughnut

The verdict
Experiences like eating at Momofuku Seiobo are just that – experiences. The meal cost $125 each including two drinks. You don’t go to Momofuku to eat until you’re full, or to have one dish you pop in for once a week. 

Some people would pay $125 to see a band they like – but at the moment it’s food and chefs that are my pop songs and rock stars. And for the price of admission you enter a world where everything is stylish, classy, beautiful. Everything works, is in the place it should be. It’s an escape into a world different from the one I regularly inhabit. And that, to me, is worth a $125 meal once or twice a year. Provided you choose the right moment to get in, where the stars are aligned and you find yourself nonchalantly popping onto the website to see if there are any bookings available, prompting you to duel fate with a phone in one hand, and a credit card in the other...