You know what they say: life begins at 30. I was fortunate enough to mark the event with a birthday dinner at Momofuku Seiōbo - winner of Australian Gourmet Traveller Two Stars Restaurant for 2013, winner of Australian Gourmet Traveller New Restaurant of 2013, winner of Three Chef’s Hats in the 2013 SMH Good Food Guide, and winner of the most difficult restaurant to book and to find! For me, it is also the winner of the most memorable restaurant I have been to so far. I am simply in love with this restaurant despite all the difficulties that came with having a meal here. It even involves a mission-impossible/stunt-style breaking and entering incident.
Yep, breaking and entering… into my own home… after I locked myself out for the millionth time. It just had to be this day… out of all days. I was outside walking my dog when I realised I had left my keys in the house, while the flatmate was away interstate, wearing a daggy outfit, with no wallet, no accessories and less than two hours before the scheduled dinner time… @#%$
Like a damsel in distress I called upon my lucky (or not so lucky) knight in shining armour to rescue me
from the danger of losing the award winning meal to someone else. What happened next was nothing short of spectacular and heroic as the rescue mission required him to climb over a neighbour’s balcony which was four levels high and crawl across three units while holding on to the railing, climb over my balcony and enter the unit through the (fortunately) unlocked balcony door. Irrational? Dangerous? Stupid? Perhaps. But if you knew how much I wanted to go to Momofuku and how hard it was to get a booking, you would understand. A terrible online booking system, seating capacity of only 30 seats and a maximum of 10 days advance booking meant that getting a table was remarkably difficult. On top of that, we were warned they would give away our table if we were more than fifteen minutes late. Safe to say that I wasn’t going to let silly things like being locked out of the apartment and waiting for a locksmith on a Saturday afternoon during the Christmas holiday period get in the way – I would’ve done the breaking and entering myself if I had to. But hey, no dramas, my date survived, I got in, got changed in record time and off we went with half an hour to spare. The things you do for love food.
Getting back into my unit was one thing. Finding and getting into the actual restaurant was another thing altogether. We found the place eventually, but only after we went back and forth, re-traced our steps, re-read the signs and asked for directions twice. Turns out that it is across from Adriano Zumbo and there’s this giant metal peach stuck on what looks like a wall which turns out to be the entrance to the restaurant. Weird.
Once we got in it felt really good. We made it. The place feels really cosy and intimate for a couple of reasons: the first is because it is so small (~30 people, tops) and secondly, for us at least, we were seated at the kitchen-counter style dining area surrounding the main kitchen. It was an amazing experience watching the kitchen operate and watching our food being prepared. In some ways it felt like we were in the kitchen at home eating while Mum was cooking – but with a lot more dishes that are ten times smaller in size and a hell of a lot of washing up afterwards.
Access to the bathroom was also through the kitchen so you could walk through and see exactly what they were doing with the food. Everything was very nice and clean. You didn’t have to speculate about what it was like behind the scenes because we were literally behind the scenes - more specifically, in the middle of the kitchen. It was very cool.
There is no set menu here. They prepare a new degustation meal each week and the food is explained as it is being served. I took the reduced sake/wine matching option (1 sake and 5 wines). I found them very good and they complemented the food quite well. When it comes to the food itself, taste-wise, expect a blend of unique flavours which work despite being picked from different cuisines from all over the world and in no particular order. It didn’t matter whether it was sweet, savoury, sweet again or savoury again – we just ate and enjoyed it all. (See photos of dishes at bottom of page.)
The service was very friendly and pleasant. Sometimes, top-end restaurants can be a bit snooty (formally-dressed waiters come over and give us a lecture of what we’re eating), but at Momofuku, because of where we were seated, the cooks themselves served our dishes straight off the stove. Nothing better than having the person who actually put together the dish explain to us what it is.
It was a big meal: thirteen courses including the ‘special’ at the end of the night but it didn’t make us feel stuffed. Everything was in moderation. We finished everything except for the goats’ cheese. That was perhaps a little bit too strong or daring, but the rest of the meal was delicious. We didn’t feel like the meal was dragging too long or we were getting dishes too quickly one after the other. The pace was even and gave us time to chat in between dishes… somewhat better than Sepia (not yet reviewed) which almost felt like it went forever and left us feeling very tired.
Could there be improvements? Perhaps it was a little bit dim, but where we were sitting at the kitchen counter was OK (the tables away from the counter weren’t as well-lit.) Perhaps the goats’ cheese could have be replaced by something a bit softer and perhaps … just perhaps… they could have included chocolate fondant on the menu so I could treat my rescuer to his favourite dessert after his life-saving heroics. We’re just nit-picking, though, because the entire evening was amazing.
Bottom line – I loved it. I think Momofuku takes the ‘fine dining’ experience to a whole new level (in which the customer is literally a fly on the wall and can observe the preparation of each dish, rather than merely tasting finished dishes which come from behind a revolving door). It was an unique and very fun experience with a lot of finesse and darn good cooking. It made my birthday and if this reflects the beginning my 30′s…it’s looking pretty good.
- Congee – the layer of agar made of yolk is so thin and delicate with a concentrated flavour of yolk and amazingly delicious. Judging from the way it looks it seems extremely difficult to make too.
- Steamed bun – melting-in-your-mouth pork belly with a soft and fluffy bun – it eats your normal bbq pork bun for breakfast… lunch and dinner.
- Cucumber – I love being inspired by unique tastes and this is certainly very unusual (and a first for me). Who would’ve thought to make sorbet out of cucumber? It tastes sensational, silky smooth and very cucumber-ish. Turning a salad vegetable to icecream is pure genius so this is the absoloute winner for me.