"I always thought about coming west," says David Chang, "I guess I just ended up a lot further west than I intended." Chang, by his own admission, is no party expert ("I've never thrown a party"), but the preview dinner he threw ahead of the opening of Seiobo, the first of his acclaimed Momofuku restaurants to open outside New York City, was nonetheless one of the hottest tickets in Sydney this year. The American chef, with a little help from Momofuku Ko chef Peter Serpico and British-born Seiobo head chef Ben Greeno, pulled off an impressive feast for a small group of industry heavyweights and press.
It's from that menu that we've drawn the dishes you see in our November issue. In some ways it's as much a celebration of Australian produce as of Momofuku's singular, eclectic, Asian-influenced style. "The fish thing here is ridiculous," Chang says. "The quality of shellfish here is unbelievable. And I love Blackmore wagyu, but I just can't understand why more people aren't using the offcuts."
With its fine-dining precision contrasted by an indie-rock soundtrack, and with its shifting mix of high-low, East-West (not to mention Deep South) references, the Momofuku empire, which comprises Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar, Ko, Má Pêche, and the Momofuku Milk Bars, isn't easy to pigeonhole. And the addition of Seiobo, named for the goddess guardian of the sacred peaches of eternal life in Japanese mythology, isn't going to make things any easier.
Chang is reluctant to be drawn on many details before the late-October opening of the restaurant. He'll concede that it'll seat between 20 and 30, depending on the configuration, and will have an open kitchen and design recognisably in line with the New York restaurants. As for the menu and the style of the food, he says that it'll be up the slightly more formal end of the spectrum, like Ko, rather than resolutely casual, like Ssäm Bar. It's not because he's being difficult, he stresses, so much as because he doesn't yet know himself how it's going to play out. "It's an organic process that will change the more we learn about the city and the more we learn about our purveyors." If you're thinking this is a Gordon Ramsay or Nobu-style roll-out, as codified and by the book as an Ikea assembly, think again.
"A reporter was giving me a hard time trying to get me to say what Momofuku food was, but I was like, I don't know - what's Australian food? See, you can't do it." He says he's not going so far down the local produce route that he's racing to put kangaroo on the menu, "but if we find a way to use it that's delicious and we don't look like a*, then why not?"
The big question on Chang's mind ahead of the opening? "To pork bun or not to pork bun. We're not sure if we're going to put them on the menu." Before you get too upset by the thought of no local outlet for this most beloved of Momofuku staples, take heart: "We're also thinking of doing a new one. Just for Australia." Now there's a reason to party.
Momofuku Seiobo, The Star, 80 Pyrmont St, Pyrmont, NSW, (02) 9777 9000.