16/20

Momofuku Seiobo

Level g, The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont, NSW

Terry Durack review

The one dish you must try ... spanner and swimmer crab, butter, pepper, biscuit.
Photo: Quentin Jones

He does The Bun. Let's get that out of the way right now. After months of claiming his famous steamed pork bun was not part of the plan at his new Momofuku Seiobo at The Star, David Chang has installed it on the $175, 15-course tasting menu. Thank the lord. It's sweet and steamy, the pork belly in baby-bum-soft cushions of white bread, hit with hoisin sauce and cucumber, Sriracha chilli on the side. As the birthday bloke sitting next to me at the kitchen counter says: ''Ten more of those and a six-pack and I'll die happy.''

This is the first Momofuku outside New York for Korean-American chef David Chang, recently named one of Time magazine's 100 people who most affect our world.

At about 30 seats, it takes the same small-but-serious approach as NYC's Momofuku Ko.

It's a chef's restaurant, the sort they might dream of as they fall asleep on two chairs in the storeroom at 3am.

The gleaming, sexy kitchen dominates the room, bordered on three sides by counters of diners, with a few tables in the shadows.

The cooking and plating is done in front of you and the chefs serve the diners; a thrill for chef groupies but too much information for some. Chang, in back-to-front baseball cap, bustles around, tasting sauces, peering over shoulders, searing lamb neck and chatting to diners.

The tasting menu is a merry dance, delicate and aggressive, charming and bemusing. It's not seamless: the first dish is a bit yawny, with just a few crisps - shiitake, nori - and a cute little Japanese lollipop of glutinous rice mochi. The only beef dish, of diced wagyu under a coral-like installation of radish slices, is sullied by a strangely grainy dressing of ''burnt watermelon''.

But the journey is the thing and there are plenty of ''oh my'' moments along the way. The marron, under a spoonful of refined tripe stew, is in perfect harmony with toasty white asparagus. Oh my. And the striped trumpeter with potato crumble and a chlorophyllic broccoli puree. Oh my.

Virginian-born Chang is a huge fan of Australian crabs and the kitchen turns them into heroes with a fresh, sweet pairing of both spanner and swimmer crab in an intense, rustic bisquey sauce. Oh my. To one side is a soft, fluffy Yorkshire pudlet that I advise you to split in half and use to sandwich the crab. I think we've found our new pork bun, ladies and gentlemen.

Free from our own brand of cultural cringe, Chang judges Australia's native foods on their merit. An intense puree of native warrigal greens circles lightly cured trumpeter belly, while wattle-seed meringue adds crunch to a wonderfully malty ice-cream.

You're never far away from the Japanese aesthetic, with its broths, seaweeds, miso, pickles and egg custards, along with vinegar and a haunting smokiness. There's even a dish that champions the Japanese/Korean love of pasta and cheese - beautifully done but coming from somewhere left field, rather like the pork bun.

But rules tend to get thrown out when you have a Korean-American chef who plays loud hip-hop (oh, crap) and lectures on microbiology and food science at Harvard.

So there's a cheese ''course'' of fluffy grated pecorino sprinkled over honey liquorice and bee pollen, as well as post-dessert ''petit four'' of messy, meaty, mighty slow-cooked, caramelised pork shoulder (go on, use your fingers); the chefs' own midnight supper brought forward.

What, then, happens when Chang leaves? We get to keep the talented young British head chef, Ben Greeno, and his Sydney-born sous chef, Clayton Wells. On the floor, there's a clever mix of New York-savvy new faces and Sydney favourites, including Richard Hargreave as sommelier and wine consultant Charles Leong.

Their wine pairings are an extra $95 but there's enough that's fun on the one-page list, such as a 2011 Mutemuka Shizo sake ($17 glass), a Loureiro Quinta do Ameal Vinho Verde ($11 glass) and a bright 2009 Gembrook Hill Village Pinot Noir ($55) that could go with anything.

Well, what fun. It's a thrill to have our own Momofuku, yet another sign Sydney dining is entering a new, more international, age. With this comes a certain lack of flexibility. There's no a-la-carte option and the online booking system is draconian. It's a pain but so is not getting in.

tdurack@smh.com.au

Momofuku Seiobo

Address: Level G, The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont. Reservations online only momofuku.com.

Open: Dinner Mon-Sat.

Licensed: Yes.

Cost: Tasting menu $175 per person, plus wine.

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Level g, The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont, NSW

  • Prices - tasting menu $175pp, plus wine, tasting menu $175pp, plus wine
  • Features - Business lunch
  • Opening Hours - dinner, Mon-Sat
  • Author - Terry Durack review
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