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|
How much of cooking is craft, technique and timing; and how much is the art of telling stories? Technical skill will get you a long way, but it's how chefs express who they are through food that is essentially more interesting.
Which makes David Chang's Momofuku Seiobo one of the most interesting restaurants in Australia.
When Barbados-born Paul Carmichael arrived two years ago from New York, the cooking felt like a blend of Chang's anarchism and founding chef Ben Greeno's refinements, with a toe-in-the-water Caribbean influence from the newbie.
Now he's telling his own stories in his own voice, reimagining the food of his childhood and sharing it across the $185 14-course tasting menu.
"I'm only doing this because all the tropical ingredients are right here," he says. "We're still Momofuku, man. Everything we do has to be from where we are."
It starts with a modest glass of bay leaf and fish broth tea inspired by the chef's after-school treat as a kid in Barbados, ramped up with Pepe Saya butter, Sterling caviar and corn crackers.
Next, a collection of sea shells; or rather, opercula, the smooth round whorled trapdoors from the shells of military sea snails. Two shells recreated in crisp plantain hold an escabeche of shaved snail meat that's immensely satisfying – and not something you get to eat too often.
Nor is breadfruit, unless you shared Carmichael's childhood family fire pit dinners on the beach. Here, the fruit is charred, served with fermented breadfruit dust and butter. It can't trigger the same sense of nostalgia for us, but as an expression of who he is and why he cooks the way he does, it's totally bona fide.
Three courses stand out. A seductive salad of smoky chicken wing meat that's high on citrussy notes, served with shards of crisp jerk chicken skin so addictive you could bag 'em and sell 'em. Roasty-toasty sofrito rice over salted, flaked, house-aged wild barramundi in an homage to salted fish that tastes like the best-ever bacalhau. A lush dish of picked mud crab with little cassava gnocchi.
Young gun sommelier Ambrose Chiang offers drinks pairings ($65 or $105) that are high on character and academic interest but low on sheer joyful pleasure.
There's a cloudy Terada Honke Daigo No Shizuku raw rice sake, an elegant, citrussy 2014 Macedon Cobaw Ridge chardonnay, a funky 2014 Clos Fantine Faugeres from the Languedoc, a house-made "snake bite" of beer and cider, a warm and spicy Golfo red vermouth with dessert. The age of wine matches that actually match is changing fast.
The focal dish of the somewhat capricious menu is whole, boned king george whiting, elegantly cooked in banana leaf and topped with a killer dressing of parsley, celery leaf, garlic, habanero chilli and chives, served with a scrunch of super-buttery roti and a muntrie relish.
Char-grilled beef short rib, glistening with fat and flavour, then forms a savoury full point.
I don't know anybody else cooking food like this, at this level. Pre-emptive petits fours of guava and cream cheese popsicles segue to a vegetal dessert of gloopy pumpkin, coconut and sweet potato – Carmichael's rendition of the Bajan conkie – served with banana leaf ice-cream in lieu of its banana leaf wrap. I'm sure there's a story in that, too, but sometimes it's enough that you just can't stop eating it.
Best bit: Sitting at the kitchen counter.
Worst bit: Hit-and-miss beverage pairing.
Go-to Dish: Barramundi, rice, sofrito (part of tasting menu, $185 pp).