Anniversary Dinner at Momofuku Seiobo
Seven years ago today – well, really tomorrow Australian time, but it was today US time (time zones make everything squirrely) – the Snook and I got hitched in Vegas and partied with Elvis. SEVEN YEARS! Time does fly. As is our wont, we went out to a fancy restaurant to celebrate. And not just any fancy restaurant – we went to Momofuku Seiobo! This is David Chang’s first Momofuku restaurant outside New York, and it opened a few weeks ago in the newly revamped Star Casino. It’s been getting rave reviews. Getting a reservation was always going to be tricky. They use an online system that only takes bookings 10 days in advance, and it opens each day at 10am. Since the restaurant only seats thirty, the tables are gone in seconds. The food gods were smiling though, and on our second attempt, we scored a table! I was SO EXCITED.
Finally the day arrived, and we got all frocked up and headed to the Casino. It took us 20 minutes just to find the restaurant! (Tip: It’s across from Zumbo’s new outlet.) As you might expect, I took photos of just about everything. Read on if you want to see all the amazing things we ate…Here we are all cleaned up for our big night. (The Snook pointed out that due to our anniversary’s timing during Movember, he’s pretty much always sporting a ‘tache in these yearly photos!)
A better view of my dress, for those who care about such things. (It’s the Jolene dress from Heartbreaker.)
We made sure to get to the Casino with plenty of time to look around (and find the restaurant). Eventually we spotted the neon “I (heart) ZUMBO” sign and knew we were close.
Zumbo’s place actually has a dessert train similar to a sushi bar!
Momofuku Seiobo is right across from Zumbo, but you’d hardly know it. There’s no signage apart from the signature peach on the wall. We were a few minutes early, so they seated us at the bar for a bit. We each had a G&T.
The place was still mostly empty. The bartender was really nice, showing us the wine list and explaining about the optional drinks pairing. He said it amounts to about a bottle of wine per person! “Yeah, we’re doing that.”
Then it was time to get seated! Most of the customers sit at a bar around the kitchen prep area. (There are a few separate tables for groups of four.) I think our spot was actually the best of all; we got the two stools on the far side of the bar allowing us to see everything happening. It was like watching really well-choreographed theater. The sommelier poured us our first “paired” drink of the night – an amazingly smooth, funky sake – while we eagerly awaited the first course…
Here it is! It’s the “snack”: shiitake chip, deep-fried nori, and mochi. The shiitake chip was incredibly thin; the Snook said he thought might actually be made from rolled-out rice? The nori chip was resting on a small blob of sauce involving “oyster essence.” The mochi was my favourite, coated in smoky Korean chili powder. (I should note that the chef asked ahead of time if we had any allergies or food preferences he should note; we said NOPE! which pleased him.)
Each course was presented and explained to us by a chef. He smiled as he put down the second course. “You guys have heard of this one, right? It’s the world-famous pork bun.” We nodded eagerly. We had seen the impossibly light buns come out of the steamer and watched as chefs quickly added hoisin, pickled cucumber, and pieces of pork belly. It was served with a bottle of sriracha sauce for extra heat. It was SO GOOD. I could’ve eaten a dozen.
Here’s the Snook enjoying his pork bun. Terry Durack said in his extended review that it was “like eating a baby,” which is weird but we now know exactly what he meant.
Now for some fish! The third course was lightly cured belly of “striped trumpeter” from NZ, served with blood orange and nori dust. The nori sparkled on the plate like gold leaf. I had watched as the chef trimmed the trumpeter fillets into perfect mouth-sized slices. The texture was different to sashimi – slightly firm – and the blood orange was the perfect complement. (I believe we were onto our second drink at this point – a dry Riesling.)
It was interesting to see how the menu utilised local ingredients. We had the fish from New Zealand, and in the fourth course we had marron from Western Australia. The marron was served with grilled white asparagus and spring onions, on a puree (of lemons, I think?) with a Szechuan pepper sauce. We both liked it, but the Snook thought that the marron could’ve used more salt.
So pretty! The fifth course was prepped right in front of us. I watched this poor chef painstakingly placing radish slices into bowls throughout the whole night! But it’s not a salad: beneath the beautiful layer of flowers and radish, there were tiny cubes of Wagyu beef in a sauce of fermented black bean and “burnt watermelon oil.” This was one of my favourites. The silkiness of the beef against the crunch of the radish was just perfect.
The sixth course marked the first time in my life I’ve ever eaten EEL. It was smoked eel with Jerusalem artichoke, pink grapefruit, and sunflower seed puree. The eel was delicious, more ham-like than I expected. The tiny bit of grapefruit provided a nice zing, and we both really liked the puree. (I haven’t seen this course mentioned in any other reviews or blog posts, so I think it’s a new one!)
This is the seventh course: hand-picked spanner crab with a mini Yorkshire pudding. *sigh* I love fresh crab. It was so sweet and delicate.
It was the halfway point, and we were both getting tipsy. I’m sure we were onto our third or fourth drink of the night by now. I remember a rosÃ© from the Mornington Peninsula, and a Pinot Blanc from Luxembourg, I think. There was also another sake in there somewhere. I said to the Snook: “I’m so happy! I could stay here forever.”
I thought the eighth course was some sort of custard, but it was actually an EGG! Quivering and delicate, it was served with toasted rice, kombu, and a brown butter sauce. It was savoury, unusual, and unexpected!
The ninth course was even more surprising. Pasta?! Underneath the cloud of aerated goat’s cheese is hand-torn pasta with mint, fried basil, and tiny pickled tomatoes. Wow. We were both pleasantly surprised by the mint, which we’d never had with pasta before.
The tenth course brought us back around to striped trumpeter again, this time cooked with charred broccoli stems, broccoli puree, and a stunning crispy “crumble” made from potatoes. It was served with a bowl of fish broth with fennel oil. The fish was perfectly cooked and the flakes just fell away with the slightest prodding. The Snook noted with surprise how much concentrated flavour was in the broccoli puree.
We were up to the final savoury course of the night, and if the smells from the grill hadn’t tipped us off, the red wine and DAGGER certainly did. We were getting a piece of MEAT!
Wow. The eleventh course was lamb neck, seared on the outside but perfectly pink and blushing inside. It was served with pickled turnips and a puree of daikon. The flavours were unexpected, with the daikon providing a hit of bitterness that paired well with the lamb.
We were getting silly now. Did I mention the music? We LOVED the music. As a few of the reviews pointed out, it’s music for thirty-somethings. David Chang evidently has taste very similar to ours. We heard Johnny Cash, REM, the Ramones, Metallica, The Sugarhill Gang, all kinds of stuff. I want that playlist on my iPhone.
The Snook rather enjoyed the novelty of cutting his lamb with a pirate’s dirk. (Also, spot the Thermomix in the background! We never actually saw them use it though.)
Number twelve was the “cheese course,” which marked the transition into the desserts. I think this was probably the most surprising dish of the night. It was a bowl of grated pecorino cheese, with cubes of cider jelly and honey licorice buried within. I had never in my life eaten grated cheese out of a bowl with a spoon – until now! Such a simple idea, but incredibly effective. The sweet jelly and honey kept the pecorino from being overwhelming. A star anise tuile provided some welcome crunch afterwards.
I watched excitedly as a blow torch was applied to our first dessert course…
I’ve never had a dessert like this before in my life. The thirteenth course was wattle seed meringue (blow-torched) with malt ice cream and “crispy milk skin.” It was so good. This was paired with a Japanese espresso stout, our only beer of the night. (“Instead of coffee!” the sommelier told us excitedly.)
Our second dessert was a toasted rice pudding with miso ice cream and pickled fruits. Unusual flavours, but we both loved it. It was paired with a final glass of sake, which the Snook felt was the best food-drink pairing of the night. The transition from the dessert to the sake was incredibly smooth, each complementing the other.
I had noticed some time earlier that a big gorgeous roast had been brought into the plating area to keep warm. We tried to guess who it was for – maybe a post-service staff dinner? I was disappointed that it obviously wasn’t us, since we’d finished our meat courses, right? WRONG. This slow-roasted glazed pork shoulder was actually our very last course of the night. It’s their surprise version of petit fours, the waiter explained with glee. The Snook was already full at this point, but he couldn’t resist that aroma.
Also – NO CUTLERY for this one. You’re meant to dive in with your hands. The waiter jokingly advised the men to roll up their sleeves.
The couple next to us took a photo as we chomped our way into a pork coma. It was so rich and sweet and tender. PORK CANDY.
“I can’t eat anymore,” said the Snook. “I’m so full I’m going to puke.” “Are you serious?” I said. “I want to TAKE A BATH IN THIS PORK.”
And that was the end! We made use of the provided hot towels to clean off our sticky pork-covered hands. Just as I was lamenting that I’d never be able to remember all the courses, the water stopped by with a printed menu for us to take home as a souvenir. Hooray! (What, you thought I remembered all these? I had TEN DIFFERENT DRINKS!)
Yeah, the bill showed that it was one of our most expensive feeds in Sydney, but I’d say it was also the most enjoyable by far. There’s also something to be said for watching the chefs prepare your dishes. You can see where the expense is when you watch a half dozen highly skilled professionals plating up beautiful dishes with amazing ingredients. Every course had its own serving dishes and cutlery, and often a paired drink. The execution was flawless and the team worked like clockwork. The fifteen courses took us three hours to get through, and we never felt like we were waiting very long for any of them. Momofuku Seiobo definitely sets a new bar for Sydney dining, as far as I’m concerned. Thank you, David Chang!