The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street Pyrmont, New South Wales 2009
|Opening hours||Lunch Sat from noon; Dinner Mon-Sat from 6pm|
|Features||Bar, Licensed, Accepts bookings, Accommodation, Degustation, Long lunch, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9777 9000|
A breath of fresh air has swept into the Momofuku kitchen by way of Barbados, with new, admirably dreadlocked chef, Paul Carmichael moving in after founding chef, Ben Greeno, moved on to greeno-er pastures.
It's hard to imagine David Chang's Australian outpost dealing out coconut, guava, plantain and jerk spices instead of steamed pork buns and glazed pork shoulder petit four – until the 16-course, $185 tasting menu lands in front of you.
So the first thing to hit the stool-lined kitchen counter is a mini-stack of crisp plantain chips, sandwiched with guava butter and glammed up with Yasa caviar. It's like flying to the tropics, first class.
We have our own tropics, of course, and Carmichael already has a good feel for native produce. He uses tart Davidson's plums to add fruitiness to a lovely, fresh crudo of Hervey Bay scallops, along with gel-like pearls of saw-tooth coriander and crisps of crunchy fish bladder (yes, really).
Some equally lovely Northern Territory mudcrab comes sandwiched between crumbly native pepperberry biscuits, and a shimmering green shawl of desert lime and cucumber flesh peps up an otherwise bland log of black pudding made with sweet potato.
More crunch comes with a wafer of translucent jerk-spiced chicken skin, followed by the squish of raw cuttlefish strips teamed with green mango, papaya and a fresh apple juice pour-over.
It's all intriguingly fresh and tropical, but I'm not feeling the fireworks. Then I watch – you have to, whether you like it or not – as a chef takes a large, live, Western Australian marron over to the grill. Another chef dispatches it quickly, splitting it in half. It's grilled over coconut husks, the flesh carefully removed from claws and tucked into the shell; the lot dressed with fresh young coconut, wood sorrel and koji butter, a fermented miso-like ooze.
Suddenly, fireworks. The sweet, clean, clear flavour of the marron lights up the night. A generous scrunch of buttery roti bread with muntrie relish arrives, perfect for pressing into the juices.
More fireworks, with a single long, low-and-slow braised carrot decked out like a Christmas tree with baubles of crisped oxtail and carrot puree and swirls of hibiscus syrup.
The final savoury course is a perfectly executed round of fat-edged, blush-pink Cowra lamb saddle that tastes sweet and herbal, with a puddle of black-eyed peas. The vibrant opulence of a 2012 Rippon Gamay from Central Otago ($105) from the natural-leaning, interesting, not overly cheap wine list makes a great support act.
Then come five desserts from New York import Veronica Trevizo; elegant compositions with similar flavour/acidity profiles as the rest of the menu; using cassava, banana leaf, spiced rum and blood lime in a perhaps-too-similar series of crunch, cream and crumb.
So what has changed in Momofuku land? AC/DC's Angus Young still looks down from the wall, and Chang's eclectic playlist (Wilco, Dylan, Beck, Lionel Ritchie) still fills the air. Booking is still an arrogantly non-communicative online process; the place to be is still the kitchen counter, and the food is still delivered by the chefs, with the addition of bright-spark manager and "expediter" Kylie Javier Ashton.
If anything, it's a more chilled, relaxed dining experience, with assertively sweet/sharp flavours from a different tropical zone. It may not be the game-changing, take-us-to-your-leader, cultural shift it was, but in its own quiet way, Momofuku Seiobo is once again bringing something new to Sydney dining.
Best Bit: getting a front stalls view of the kitchen action
Worst bit: no steamed pork buns
Go-to-dish: marron, young coconut, koji butter
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.