The top end of Sydney's restaurant scene is about to get a shake-up as Ben Greeno, chef at Momofuku Seiobo, leaves the casino to join the Merivale Group. It's understood that Greeno, who has headed operations at the three-star restaurant since it opened in 2011, leaves Momofuku in April, starts with Merivale in May, and the first kitchen under his direction in the new role, the renovated Paddington Arms, will be open in July. It's around July, too, that the company plans to open another as-yet-unnamed restaurant just a few doors away at 380 Oxford Street. Former Chez Panisse chef Danielle Alvarez will be running the kitchen, with Greeno to have a hand in it in an advisory capacity. A third project, built around Greeno's cooking, is also in the offing.
"I don't really want to talk about what I'm doing next till I've left Momofuku, but I would like to say that I'm very grateful for the time I've had here," says Greeno. "I've learned a lot here, and the restaurant means a lot to me. I'm sad to leave, but I'm excited about the future."
Merivale boss Justin Hemmes, for his part, says Greeno's first project is a new concept for the company, "specifically tailored around what he wants to do and the style of cooking that he wants to do. We haven't worked on the menu yet but we've obviously worked on the concept. Ben wants to cook casual, accessible food really well and we're going to build the venue around his style and his offering, which is the old Paddington Arms."
A Merivale spokesperson added that it "won't be sliders and dude-food", but it won't exactly be Noma-influenced modern-Australian-American-Korean either.
Hemmes said he was very taken with Greeno's work. "Ben's one of the greatest talents in the country and arguably in the world, I think. He's a remarkable individual. Not only is he a true professional in his craft, but his attitude and his management techniques are highly professional. He's a remarkable guy. We think alike and we're certainly on the same path, so it's a good fit."
Greeno, a native of northern England, was part of London's Young Turks group and counts Noma and The Paul in Copenhagen and Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham among his previous employers.
Momofuku Seiobo, the first branch of David Chang's acclaimed Momofuku restaurants to open outside New York, landed in Australia amid a flurry of publicity and shot to prominence quickly, taking out the top slot in the Gourmet Traveller Top 100 and being named Restaurant of the Year in 2013. Another senior member of staff, sous-chef Clayton Wells, departed last year and will open Automata at The Old Clare boutique hotel development in Chippendale in July.
A spokesperson from Momofuku head office in New York described the parting as amicable. "We are extraordinarily thankful for everything that Ben has done for Momofuku Seiōbo," she said, "and we look forward to seeing the growth and success that Ben will inevitably have in future projects."
A senior chef from Momofuku in New York, yet to be confirmed, will head up the kitchens at Seiobo from May.