Sunday, 19 October 2014

Ssam Bar 2007 @ Momofuku Seiobo - October 2014

Next Good Food Month 2014 event that I've marked off the calendar is Ssam Bar 2007 at Momofuku Seiobo. This was one of the 'Hats Off Dinner' events where hatted restaurants put their regular menus aside and offer a special menu instead. Ssam Bar has just finished and was on for just a week, from 13 October to 18 October. The special menu included a la carte selections of classics from Momofuku Ssam Bar's 2007 menu in New York, items that have become signatures of David Chang such as steamed pork buns and marinated hanger steak ssam.

The menu proudly proclaims that they "do not serve vegetarian friendly items", an "up yours" to all vegetarians out there. So this obviously ruled out dining with my vegetarian wife so I decided to organise a catchup with Crystal from Delectably Degusting, M and M's boyfriend, B at the Ssam Bar 2007.

I originally planned to visit the Ssam Bar just once, but Crystal and I ended up making a second visit, as we both regretted that we didn't order the entire menu in our first visit. So this write-up will cover two separate visits, the first on opening night and the second on the final night of Ssam Bar 2007.

First visit (13 Oct 2014)
Momofuku's open kitchen, where you can watch the chef's prepare your meal
Momofuku Ssam Bar 2007 was the first event that caught my attention when I first flicked through the program guide for the Good Food Month. As no reservations were taken and customers were accepted on a first come, first served basis, I knew I would have to get to Seiobo early as the event was going to be hugely popular. I arrived at Seiobo just after 5pm and to my surprise I was FIRST IN LINE - success! I was relieved that I was going to be going in first when they opened at 6.30pm but I was a Nigel for the next 10 or 15 minutes before M and B arrived to join me in the queue. By 6pm, Crystal had arrived (and went straight to the front of the line like a boss) and the queue had stretched quite far, so I was glad that I had gone through the trouble of rushing down to The Star to claim my spot in the line. 

Steamed buns, pork belly, hoisin, cucumber, scallion ($18 for 2)
Right off the bat, we went straight for a Momofuku steamed pork bun each. Not much needs to be said about this bun, besides that this is the best pork bun in Sydney, hands down. Soft, fluffy bun with melt in your mouth pork belly, cucumber, scallions and hoisin sauce. Add Sriracha hot sauce for a bit more of a spicy kick, and you have heaven. The only problem was, the pork buns are quite tiny at $9 a pop, so one is unlikely to satisfy any pork bun craving. 

Smoked prosciutto, red eye mayo, baguette ($15)
Thin slices of smoked prosciutto was served with baguette and red eye mayo. The red eye mayo tasted incredibly strange at first; I wasn't sure what I was eating. Then I realised it tasted like coffee, red eye mayo was a coffee flavoured mayonnaise! Red eye mayo is David Chang's riff of red eye gravy, which is a gravy made with instant coffee found in Southern US. The red eye mayo really grew on me after a while and made for a delicious dip with the warm, crusty baguette.        

Tasmanian sea urchin, tapioca, whipped tofu, scallions ($22)
Sea urchin is one of my favourite delicacies to eat in the world. The last time I had amazing sea urchin was in June at Hokkaido (at Sushi Tanabe amongst others), and this Tasmanian sea urchin brought me back to Hokkaido (maybe not as good as Hokkaido, but close enough)! This particular urchin was quite strong in flavour and filled my mouth with wonderful sweet and briney flavours of the sea. 

Sharing this plate was whipped tofu, which was so light and airy and infused with my favourite yuzu! Strangely there were chewy tapioca balls in this dish, which I think are more at home in pearl milk tea, but this is David Chang we are talking about, so anything goes.

Tello's Chawan Mushi, black truffle, snails, edamame, scallion ($28)
I have no idea who Tello is but his chawan mushi really rocks! I was transported to heaven again with my first spoonful of this gorgeous egg custard. Not only was the chawan mushi soft and silky, it was creamier than usual and thus incredibly moreish. The chawan mushi was beautifully paired with edamame beans, earthy, aromatic black truffle, and plump, juicy snails. Snails are a bit of a bizarre addition to a chawan mushi, but they are another stroke of genius from the crazy David Chang!           

Rice cakes, pork sausage, kale, kimchi ($20)
This was Ssam Bar's version of the popular Korean street food, tteokbokki (or spicy rice cakes). It was another delicious dish with loads of big and bold flavours. I really liked the addition of coarse pork sausage meat and kale against the chewy rice cakes. 

Marinated Hanger Steak Ssam, ginger scallion, kimchi, bibb lettuce ($30)
The idea with ssam is you take a bibb lettuce cup and fill it with a slice of the marinated hanger steak and some condiments, which were kimchi and ginger scallion sauce. I will start off by saying that the hanger steak is incredibly flavoursome, and tastes amazing on its own. You also get the pleasure of using your jaw muscles with hanger steaks unlike the softer cuts that melt in your mouth like baby food. 

The lettuce cups were fresh and crisp, the kimchi more sour and less spicy than what I am used to, and the ginger scallion sauce... just strange with steak. It's a condiment that is usually enjoyed with Cantonese style white cut chicken, so it takes a while getting used to having it with steak. But hey, ginger scallion sauce makes practically anything taste delicious, so why not.       

Grilled veal sweetbreads, pickled roasted chillies, lime ($24)
The last of the dishes that we ordered were the grilled veal sweetbreads with pickled whole chillis and lime. The sweetbreads were amazing and cooked to perfection. They were soft and creamy in texture and absolutely delicious. The pickled chillis packed a fiery punch as expected and together with the lime, provide some acidity to cut through the richness of the sweetbreads. 

Petit fours... I mean more steamed pork buns
One of the downsides of the Ssam menu (besides the insanely LOUD music, hey I'm getting old!) is the lack of desserts. We decided that our pork bun cravings were not satisfied first time round, so another round of steamed pork buns were needed as a petit four to conclude the first visit to Momofuku Ssam Bar 2007. 

Second visit (18 Oct 2014)
Another shot of the open kitchen, this time from the kitchen counter
Flicking through picture after picture on Instagram of honeycomb tripe, fried brussel sprouts and apple salad with lychee and bacon (which were some of the dishes that I did not order in my first visit) pretty much summed up the rest of my week. The more Instagrammers that I saw raving about the honeycomb tripe, the more regretful I became that I didn't just order the entire menu first time round! Luckily, Crystal shared the same sentiments as I did, and somehow a casual Saturday morning chat over social media turned into plans for a last ditch visit to Ssam Bar. Call me crazy, but I don't think I could live with myself if I passed on an opportunity to try the Ssam menu one more time!

We also discovered that a couple of tweaks had since been made to the menu (pig's head torchon and asparagus with soft boiled egg and miso butter were added in place of veal sweetbread and pan roasted skate), giving me more reason a repeat visit was indeed required.

Tasmanian sea urchin, tapioca, whipped tofu, scallions ($22)
A repeat visit meant that I could be reacquainted with the awesomeness of Tasmanian sea urchin, tapioca, whipped tofu an scallions. I don't think I could ever get tired of sea urchin and yuzu-flavoured whipped tofu!   

Fried brussel sprouts, chillies, mint, fish sauce ($16)
Brussel sprouts are a vegetable that I don't normally enjoy (especially when they are boiled balls of bitter mush). But the signature fried brussel sprouts at Ssam Bar are on a whole new level, turning the much maligned vegetable into a crowd favourite. The brussel sprouts were fried to a crisp with a charred flavour that's just irresistible. The sprouts were doused with a sweet, sour and salty fish sauce vinaigrette, with some mint and chillies thrown in. Puffed rice grains were added to give the dish even more crunch.

Apple salad, bacon, lychee, peanut ($15)
Fruit with bacon? We all know that sweet and salty can work well together, but this is another wacky David Chang idea that just flat out works. This salad consisted of batons of green apple, lychee fruit and jelly, chilli peanuts, mint and crispy bacon. I could taste wasabi in the dressing. This was quite a light and refreshing dish, and actually felt quite healthy to eat (if you discount the bacon). 

Spicy honeycomb tripe ($18)
The spicy honeycomb tripe was one of the main reasons I decided to revisit Momofuku and it did not disappoint and was one of my favourite dishes on the whole menu! The flavours in this dish are pretty big but really delicious. The tripe was slightly different to what I am used to, it was more tender and not as chewy. And there was a soft poached egg with perfectly warm, runny egg yolk - just a beautiful combination! 

Pan roasted asparagus, poached egg, miso butter ($19)
Ssam Bar's take on the classic breakfast favourite of asparagus with soft poached egg features miso butter. Miso butter is something that I have made at home before and is simple yet really tasty. Butter and sherry vinegar help to balance out the saltiness of miso to create something that is super addictive.     

Pig's head torchon, mustard, pickled cherries ($21)
The pig's head torchon were croquettes filled with all the goodness of the pig's head - meat, fat and all! The croquettes were coated in panko crumbs and were wonderfully crispy, so satisfying against the softness of the pig head. The pig's head torchon was served with lettuce leaves, pickled cherries and mustard

Now I can happily sleep knowing that I have tried most of the menu and have no regrets. The nightly queues at Seiobo were justified because the Momofuku Ssam Bar 2007 menu was nothing short of epic! I enjoyed every dish that I tried, with my favourites being the pork bun, the sea urchin, chawan mushi and the spicy honeycomb tripe. Now I need to start planning a trip to the Big Apple to get the actual Momofuku Ssam Bar experience!     

Momofuku Seiobo
Address: The Star, 80 Pyrmont St, Pyrmont NSW 2009 

Momofuku Seiōbo on Urbanspoon

Monday, 13 October 2014

LP's Quality Meats, Chippendale - 4 Oct 2014

Carnivores, rejoice! 

Luke Powell (ex-head chef at Tetsuya's, ex-Mary's and ex-Mugaritz in Spain) has opened his first restaurant, smokehouse and bar, LP's Quality Meats (no it's not a butcher, although it does sound like one). Located in the back streets of Chippendale around the corner from another hot new restaurant, Ester, LP's Quality Meats has the feel of an American saloon and an European style beer house with long communal tables set in a former warehouse. It's an understated space, it's casual and the music is loud here. The atmosphere is jovial, probably from the intoxicating smell of meat and smoke!

The bar area
My (vegetarian) wife and I decided to organise a catch-up (or a "meat-up" if you will) with 3 other carnivores before Cantopop Alan Tam and Hacken Lee concert last Saturday night.

LP's Quality Meats are now accepting reservations for groups of 4 or more at 2 seating times 6pm or 8pm (before they were only taking limited bookings for groups of 8 or more; other guests catered for on a walk-in basis). LP's is also open only for dinner and not for lunch or Sundays. With this in mind, we secured a 6pm booking but arrived earlier for drinks as the bar opens from 5pm.

The open kitchen
There is an open kitchen at LP's (I love open kitchens!), which gives diners a good view of Luke Powell carving up all those big chunks of meat. 

The pride of the kitchen is, of course, the Southern Pride wood smoker shipped over from Texas. The meats are cooked low (at below 100 degrees) and slow (for hours) so the meats come out all smoky, tender and most importantly, delicious.

The menu
The menu at LP's is short and focused with a selection of house-made cured and cold meats, smoked fish, and smoked meats. Basically, the menu makes extensive use of the same tried and tested combination of salt and smoke. The menu also changes frequently to keep us coming back for more.  

There are vegetables too to go with your meats. Like actual vegetables. There's no hot chips or coleslaw. There are definitely enough vegetables here to feed a vegetarian, but that's not where LP's is at. If you go, go for the MEAT!

There are also a couple of desserts. And do check with the waitstaff to see if there are any specials for the night. 

Schmaltz, white anchovy toast ($5 each)
The cured and cold meats are available from 5pm so we decided to order a bar snack to whet our appetites. This bite sized treat consisted of a salty, slimy white anchovy with a  creamy schamltz spread (whipped chicken fat), served on crispy toast. I love anchovies so these went down a treat for me.

Then a silver tray of glorious meats (i.e. the main event) arrived at our table! We ordered the half duck ($38), beef short rib ($38), and the lamb belly stuffed with Merguez ($26). There was also chicken, maple syrup pork hock and Linguica sausage on the menu, but these, whilst tempting, have to wait for another day!

The smoked meats come with 3 different sauces: mustard, chilli and aioli. But in truth, all the meats were tasty enough to enjoy on their own. 

Half duck ($38)
The duck was smoked with cherry wood, which imparted a sweet, mild smoky flavour into the duck. The meat was wonderfully moist, succulent (except for the breast) and with crispy skin. Delicious!  

Beef short rib ($38)
The best of the smoked meats that we tried and an absolute must-order at LP's is the beef short rib! This short rib is cooked for 12 hours and tasted ridiculously good. It's by far the smokiest of the meats and the meat is so tender and juicy that the meat just slides right off the bone. The exterior was wonderfully charred and crispy. And fat equals flavour, and this bad boy has loads of it. This might seem like a huge rib, but it was gone in no time with 4 hungry carnivores fighting over it.

Lamb belly stuffed with merguez ($26)
Meat on meat? Yes please! The lamb belly was stuffed with a North African merguez sausage and smoked at 100 degrees for six hours. The lamb belly was smoky, gamey, fatty and succulent with crispy skin. The merguez sausage was coarse and nicely spiced with cumin. Amazing! 

Bread ($2)
At $2 a roll, the bread is soft and fluffy. I was using the bread to mop up the aioli sauce mostly. So good! 

Pickles ($10)
We ordered a bowl of pickles, which had a good amount of sourness to cleanse the palates when eating meats.

Mashed potato with Gravy ($10)
Mashed potato and gravy anywhere near Luke Powell's kitchens, as anyone who has been to Mary's will know, is a must-order! This mash potato so creamy, buttery, and smooth. And the gravy (served in a separate bowl so the vegetarian doesn't miss out on the mash), which is made from all the dripping meat juices, was super, super tasty.

Kale with chickpeas ($12)
The best of the vegetable sides (not including the mash) was the kale with chickpeas. This crispy salad consisted of deep-fried chickpeas and kale leaves in a slightly sweet dressing.

Curried cauliflower with raisins & radish ($12)
I was expecting the curried cauliflower to be a rich, comforting dish. Instead, the cauliflower came fresh, pickled and with curry spices like cumin and tumeric. There were also raisins and radish.  

Saint Tropeze ($12)
The saint tropeze was a special dessert for the night, consisting of a sourdough brioche filled with creme patissiere and mascarpone. The brioche was so soft and fluffy and the cream filling incredibly moreish. It was quite large though, so it's best shared between two people.  

Coconut sorbet & watermelon granita ($10)
The coconut sorbet and watermelon granita is the lighter option for desserts. The watermelon granita was refreshing but quite mild in flavour, especially when eaten with the coconut sorbet, which was nice and creamy.

Pouding chomuer ($12)
The pouding chômuer is the dessert that everybody seems to be ordering at LP's and for good reason. Loosley meaning "poor man's pudding" in French, this is a dessert that was invented in Quebec.  It consists of an overnight pancake batter, which is then baked with maple syrup and cream, which yields a warm, rich pudding that turns outs sweet, caramelly and addictive. A scoop of vanilla ice cream is usually served on top but we asked for ours to be served separately because I prefer my ice cream to not be melted.

And don't forget to pick up your LP's merchandise before you leave!
LP's Quality Meats, for mind, is dishing out some of the best BBQ meat that I've come across in Sydney. It's a must-visit for all meat lovers out there. I can't wait for my next visit and so if you could excuse me, I’m falling into a meat coma now!

Highlight: That beef short rib!
Lowlight: The music is loud, which makes it difficult for everyone at the table to hear the wait staff.  
Overall: LP's Quality Meats is all about the same tried and tested combination of meat, salt and smoke, a real winner! Check it out whilst it's hot! 7.5/10 (Great)

LP's Quality Meats
Address: Suite 1, 16 Chippen St, Chippendale NSW
Contact no: (02) 8399 0929
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday - Bar menu from 5pm; Dinner from 6pm -11pm
Reservations: Accepted for groups of 4 or more at 2 seating times; 6pm or 8.00pm.

LP's Quality Meats on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Sachal Umsik at Moon Park - 7 October 2014

Good Food Month (otherwise known as, "how to make me broke" month) is well and truly underway. It seems like every year the events during the Good Food Month keep getting better and better thereby giving me more things to tempt me into going broke. 

The first event that my wife and I attended in this year's Good Food Month was sachal umsik (Korean Buddhist temple food) at Moon Park, which was one of the World Dinner events where restaurants offer diners a special menu serving authentic cuisine from destinations such as Mexico, Korea, Portugal, regional Indonesian and Indian. The sachal umsik menu was a 5 course vegan menu for $65.       

I've tried shojin ryori (Japanese Buddhist cuisine) before, but never sachal umsik. If my amazing experiences with shojin ryori in the past are anything to go by, then I would also enjoy sachal umsik.  Buddhist food is highly seasonal, with an emphasis on using healthy, fresh ingredients and food that utilises clean, natural flavours but still delicious nonetheless. This is the antithesis of the Korean food that we are more familiar with in Australia, which tends to more punchy, fiery flavours.

Moon Park is a restaurant that has been on my radar since it opened late last year. I guess when Ben Sears and Eun Hee An, two ex-chefs from fine dining institution, Claude's, decide to open a restaurant, it's going to catch my attention. Moon Park is not just a run-of-the mill Korean restaurant offering the standard fare. Ben and Eun have put their own modern / contemporary spin on traditional Korean dishes like bulgogi and bibimbap. And it seems that they have pulled it off with success given the awards and accolades they have received, including one-chef hat from the SMH Good Food Guide

Any way, I wasn't here to try the regular menu (that will be for another time). The vegan menu was a great opportunity for my vegetarian wife to try the food at Moon Park and not be limited to just a few dishes.

Deep fried chrysanthemum with doenjang salt & mu radish with sweet yuzu
The first course consisted of a trio of snacks. Chrysanthemum was deep fried to a delightful crisp. The batter was light and virtually greasless. The chrysanthemum was slightly sweet and fragrant and sprinkled with doenjang salt.
The mu radish was also coated in a thin, crisp batter but what made me smitten over this morsel was the sweet yuzu dressing. I adore yuzu and it is used beautifully here in conjunction with soy. But only one each is a bit of a tease!    

Dotorimuk, soy and shiso cress
The other Dotorimuk is a traditional Korean acorn jelly that has a bit of a bitter after taste but a lovely texture. The bitterness is balanced out by soy sauce and shiso cress.  

Ongshimi with shiitake mushroom and dashi
Ongshimi is another traditional Korean food, a potato dumpling, but unlike potato gnocchi, the texture is more chewy, gelatinous and doughy. These were pan fried but I find them a bit heavy.The fresh tofu though was ridiculously silky and just evaporated in the mouth. Incredible stuff! The shiitake mushrooms were meaty, juicy and delicious. And the dashi, which was made from roasted potato and dried winter tubers, was flavoursome and full of umami.  

Ehhobak pyun-soo
The ehhobak pyun soo was our favourite dish of the night. The dumplings were flat, square parcels filled with strands of zucchini. The texture of the dumpling wrappers was just heaven - so silky, smooth and soft yet maintaining its structural integrity. The filling was quite peppery but wonderfully balanced by a perilla soup and the freshness of broadbeans, courgettes and its flowers. The only problem I had was that there were only 2 dumplings. I could have easily eaten a whole bowl of these! 

Wild mountain vegetable, green and white rice, pine nuts and banchan
If there is anything that can be used as a benchmark in any Asian cooking, it's a simple, yet staple bowl of rice. It's something that I have grown up with and loved (being Asian) - so much so that I am happy to eat it on its own. This green and white rice cooked with wild moutain vegetables and pinenuts was quite simply, perfectly cooked rice. The white rice was soft and fluffy and the green rice nutty. 

One of the things that I love about Korean cuisine is the variety from banchan, the small dishes served alongside rice. Whilst the range of small dishes here may not be as extensive as what I have seen in Korea, each one was delicious in its own right. There were bean sprouts, pickled Chinese artichokes, wakame and cucumbers and lotus roots dressed in a tasty sweet soy sauce.

A granita of very ripe persimmon, jo cheung curd, red bean jelly and sunflower seeds
I have never been the biggest fan of most Asian desserts but there were certainly components in this dessert that I enjoyed like the persimmon granita and the jo cheung (mung bean) curd. I did find the sesame biscuit a bit sweet relative to the other components and I have never been fond of dried fruits in desserts (dried persimmon in this case). There was some clever use of different textures though from the sunflower seeds, the biscuit, the granita, the curd and the red bean jelly

We both left thoroughly impressed with Moon Park's take on Buddhist cuisine. The food was light, the flavours were clean and the meal felt healthy. There is something quite satisfying about a meal where let the purity of flavours of the ingredients themselves do all the talking. Plus it's not like you get to have Buddhist cuisine everyday in Sydney. I did feel that the portions were on the smaller side so I wasn't full after the meal; but this is probably more a reflection of the lightness of Buddhist cuisine itself. Nevertheless, I am keenly interested in returning to Moon Park soon to try their normal menu.

Moon Park
Address: 34 Redfern Street Redfern NSW 2016
Contact no: 02 9690 0111

Moon Park on Urbanspoon