If you ever take a sick day on a Friday and feel like dropping some coin on food, make the pilgrimage across Pyrmont Bridge to momofuku seiōbo. Don’t have a booking? No worries. The three-hatted restaurant has five seats reserved for punters haven’t been lucky enough to book a seat in the main restaurant. And yes, you can get the pork buns. There are only seven items on the bar menu but it’s a great warm-up to the main event of a degustation at seiōbo. Hey, you can even throw some money at the roulette table at The Star.
momofuku seiōbo took Sydney by storm in 2011. Started by David Chang, a Korean-American with a I-will-serve-you-chicharrons-as-an-amuse-bouche attitude, critics and bloggers alike have started the buzz about head chef Ben Greeno’s influence. Watch this VICE Munchies episode of Chang; his style of cooking very much reflects his demeanour. Organic, unhindered, inspiring and quite frankly, “next level shit”.
Gourmet Traveller recently named seiōbo ”Best Restaurant” with Greeno garnering the “Best Chef” award. It also kept its three-hat status in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide 2014, joining an exclusive group of restaurants you can count on one hand.
When we arrive at the restaurant at 11.45am, to our surprise there is nobody there. Two nice ladies join us in line shortly after and by the time the doors swing open only about ten people go inside.
Shannon and I order five out of the seven bar dishes. Greedy? Yes probably, but as my good friend Drake would say, “YOLO”. For me, the most memorable dish I tried on the bar menu was the fried brussel sprouts in fish sauce vinaigrette ($15). Who hates brussel sprouts? I did, before I went to seiōbo. The sprouts retain a firmness after been fried and they soak up the tangy but sweet vinaigrette.
But to the pork buns. It’s hard to avoid the hype of Chang’s pork buns (get your mind out of the gutter). As famous as Heston Blumenthal’s meat fruit and Quay’s snow egg, the combination of a steamed bun, slice of pork belly, slither of pickled cucumber and a brush of the house-made XO has managed to cultivate a huge following.
In a typical food geek moment, my heart skips a beat when the pork buns ($15 for two) arrive. They are smaller than I expected. But still beautiful. A soft pillowy bun, filled generously with slices of pork belly. Although a lot of dishes you eat have different textural elements such as soft, crunchy, hard etc, the pork bun is meltingly soft. Incredible.
I liked the roasted rice cakes, lamb and XO sauce ($17). What I respect about Chang is he doesn’t forget his roots. Much like the ssäm served at momofuku ssäm bar in New York or the kimchi ramen at his original noodle bar, they are variations the Korean-American grew up with. The seasonal pickles ($14) are exactly as you would imagine and it is good to keep going to during your meal to cleanse your palate. It’s a big serving though, so I wouldn’t order it between two people.
The confit chicken wings ($16) also fit in with Chang’s philosophy. How do you eat chicken wings? With your fingers. Is it best practice to be doing that in one of Australia’s best restaurants? You betcha. They are delightfully sticky and the meat incredibly tender.
All up the meal cost us about $100. If you haven’t been lucky enough to score a table in the main dining area for the degustation, give the bar menu a whirl. It is worth it for the pork buns alone. One day I will make it to New York to work my way through the momofuku empire, but I’m glad Aussies are able to experience Chang’s work.