How a Caribbean restaurant is stealing Sydney’s heart

12 Min Read
Chargrilled marron at Momofuku Sieobo.

Move over Europe and Asia, Caribbean food is the focus of this top Sydney restaurant.

Sydney’s Momofuku Seiōbo, part of the international Momofuku group led by David Chang, is working Caribbean wonders with Australian produce.

In fact, Momofuku Seiōbo, which opened its doors in the Star Casino, Pyrmont, eight years ago, has gone on to become one of Sydney’s most decorated restaurants. This year, it was awarded three hats (Australia’s Michelin-star equivalent) by The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and ranked No. 2 restaurant in Australia by Gourmet Traveller Magazine.

It’s testament to the vision of Barbados-born executive chef Paul Carmichael, who took over the reigns in 2015 and steered Momofuku Seiōbo in a significantly different direction to its global counterparts.

Paul Carmichael at Sieobo Momofuku.
Paul Carmichael plates up a dish at Sieobo Momofuku in Sydney.

Rex: The last time we visited, Carmichael hadn’t been here for very long and we got along well with the former sommelier, Ambrose Chaing, who was quite frank, telling us how some regulars had expressed they didn’t really like the change.

But even then I understood what he was was doing: bringing his own personality and background into the dishes. And rather than backing away from any criticism, Carmichael has embraced his signature even more.

FOOD

Andrea: We begin the evening with mofongo, a Puerto Rican dish of plantain (a less sugary member of the banana family), garlic and chicharrones (fried pork). We’re given a mortar and pestle to grind the ingredients together ourselves.

Mofongo at Sieobo Momofuku in Sydney.
Our degustation begins with mofongu with broth.

Rex: A meal at a place like Momofuku is not supposed to be a meal, it’s supposed to be an experience. And it’s not just about experiencing one sense: taste.

Usually food is about smell and sight, and tactile elements often get overlooked. But it’s also hard to bring this into a meal. This is a great example of how a chef and a dining establishment can do that.

Andrea: Next comes a dainty appetiser of cou cou or fungi (popular in dishes from Antigua, Barbuda, Barbados, British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands), corn and caviar. It’s got a dash of okra and it’s filled with tang and rounded out with a burst of caviar.

Cou cou or fungi dish at Sieobo Momofuku in Sydney.
Another delightful taster.

Rex: It’s followed by green banana chips embellished with mullet roe, a crunchy concoction served upon a bed of dried plant (pro-tip: the latter is not edible!).

Banana chips at Sieobo Momofuku in Sydney. Sea urchin at Sieobo Momofuku in Sydney.
A bit of bite.

Andrea: We then get the ‘rundown’: sea urchin, known as uni in Japanese, sprinkled with allspice and finely shredded coconut.

Sea urchin has long been held a delicacy around the world. But in Australia this marine species has quite the reputation as a pest, destroying the local environment by stripping healthy reef ecosystems of wildlife and vegetation. It was only this April that the Tasmanian government announced $5.1 million to combat the species – the more we can eat the better.

Sea urchin at Sieobo Momofuku in Sydney.
The more we eat sea urchins, the better it is for Australia’s natural environment.

I usually find tasting menus, like we’ve ordered tonight, can be too much, however this series of smaller dishes take the edge off.

Rex: The ducana, a type of boiled sweet potato dumpling from Antigua, currants and Caribbean XO, is probably one of my favourite dishes, and really because of the spiciness and homemade XO sauce. It’s almost not what you’d expect at a place like this, but it tastes so good.

Ducana at Momofuku Sieobo Sydney
Caribbean XO sauce – otherwise known as the bomb.

Andrea: Out comes another light dish: the prawn ceviche electrified by West Indian lime. The creamy textures of the cubed avocado and raw prawns are this creation’s highlight.

Ceviche at Sieobo Momofuku in Sydney.
Tang on a plate.

Rex: We also try a strong-flavoured crab fried rice and an accompanying curry sauce. If you find the sauce too intense on its own, mild it out by mixing it into the rice.

Crab fried rice at Momofuku Sieobo.
We’re talking intense flavours here.

Andrea: The ropa vieja, one of Cuba’s national dishes that’s also loved in places like Puerto Rico and Panama, makes its way to us.

Ropa vieja is a shredded meat dish and this one uses wagyu. Its richness is balanced out by a broth and an olive tapenade gives it a striking undertone.

Rex: Occasionally you’ll find something you eat that just makes you happy inside and smile, and this dish did that. It has this earthiness, this home-cooked feel to it, but it’s obviously also using such fantastic ingredients.

Marron at Momofuku Sieobo.
*Makes heart eyes*

Andrea: By now it’s time for the hero of the evening: fresh marron (crayfish native to Western Australia) grilled over hot coals with a side of spice-packed Caribbean relish.

Rex: But the chefs present the live marron to us before cooking it. Whenever I’m shown a live ingredient, I have this pang of remorse. In some ways, it’s incredibly sad. It reminds me of a scene from Douglas Adams’ ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ where before one of the meals, a talking cow tries to sell its own body parts. It has a humorous touch but also that element of sadness.

In some ways it’s good for people to see the live marron first because it makes people appreciate their food far more when they realise what has gone into it.

We survive at the expense of other organisms, and to me, the more restaurants that can grow people’s understanding about food, the more it might make people consider what they eat.

Andrea: Even better, we’re encouraged to eat with our hands, allowing us to soak up the bouquet of aromas and flavours, and not waste any of the sweet, smoky, tender meat.

As a Momofuku spokesperson told Two Chat Food on Instagram, “It is a great privilege to work with such great produce, and we are grateful you have an understanding of what it takes to put food on your plate.”

The marron is paired with coconut bakes.

This dish also comes with coconut bakes: fried bread garnished with lime zest and finely grated cheese. The fried bead helps us mop up our plates, the cheese is plain hearty and the specks of lime add spark.

This dish is almost something you’d have at your local crab house rather than a fine dining restaurant. It’s my favourite of the evening – so much that I even forget how full I am!

Rex: It’s time for dessert, and the team plays it well. After the excitement of the marron, the rapadura shaved ice dripped with passionfruit cleanses our palates.

Rapadura shaved ice at Momofuku Sieobo.
Zing!

Andrea: Rapadura, or unrefined dried sugar cane juice, is known as chancaca in Latin America, piloncillo in Mexico and even has an epithet in Australia: ‘Uluru dust’, named as such because of its brown and dusty colour.

Rex: This dessert lets us create our own experience of it by letting us choose our own ratios of shaved ice and cream.

Andrea: Our second dessert is an intersection of burnt coconut sable, spiced pumpkin panna cotta and pumpkin seeds. It’s the right balance between silk, nuttiness and bite.

Rex: I’m not sure. Part of me really likes how much thought has gone into this, how much creativity there is behind the different components. But another part of me is like, ‘pumpkin overload’!

Pumpkin panna cotta at Momofuku Sieobo in Sydney.
At first glance, this looks like a take on the traditional tiramisu – but it’s something else again.

Andrea: The wine list is eclectic and there are many I’ve never tried nor heard of before: from a fresh Mutemuka Shuzo from Kochi, Japan, and a 2017 Gaintza Txakolina Hondarrabi Zuri from Basque Country, to a 2018 Brash Higgins ‘Zbo’ Zibibbo of Riverland and 2010 Moon Shiraz from Nagambie Lakes, Australia. There’s also delicious dessert wines like the 2013 Royal Tokaji Co. ‘5 Puttonyos Aszu’ from Hungary.

Rex: I order the pairing this evening, and it’s adventurous. At one stage, I receive four different glasses at the same time and the sommelier leaves me to guess each beverage. It’s interesting to try and pick what each one is.

Wine pairing at Momofuku Sieobo.
We won’t ruin the surprise.

AMBIENCE

Rex: From our position at the bar we overlook the chefs working the kitchen. It’s a calm yet constant swell of Carmichael and his team transforming fresh ingredients into delicious dishes.

Andrea: Each dish is vivid and beautifully arranged but without rigidity and pomp, and the intermittent scent of the BBQ is quite a treat.

The team in action at Momofuku Sieobo in Sydney.
The team in action.

SERVICE

Andrea: We’re in the good hands of the team including the maître d’ and sommelier, who are attentive, provide us with comprehensive breakdowns of our food, and know how to be relaxed and unassuming about it.

Rex: Momofuku Sieobo has to be one of my favourite dining experiences in Sydney.

It’s probably hard for me to articulate this for any rational reason and I haven’t actually been there that many times, but every meal I’ve had has been an experience, it’s been a delight, and it’s also the company that I’ve gone there with – some of my close friends and my lovely partner.


Momofuku Seiōbo | $$$
Level G/80 Pyrmont St, Pyrmont
NSW Australia

Tasting menu AUD $185
Pre-theatre menu AUD $115 (it’s close to Sydney’s Lyric Theatre)
Lunch menu AUD $115

Opening hours
Mon-Sat: 6:00pm-10:00pm

Share This Article
Leave a comment