The Star, 80 Pyrmont St, Sydney NSW
The launch of Momofuku Seiobo was undoubtedly one of the most highly anticipated Sydney restaurant openings in recent years. The news that star chef David Chang was to open his first restaurant outside New York right here in our harbour city set the foodie scene abuzz. Food critics flocked to The Star to taste their 15 courses and left raving — Terry Durack even declaring that Seiobo had “already changed Sydney”. Seiobo’s arrival — it is named after a Japanese goddess — is also part of the $850m rejuvenation of The Star. It’s there alongside other big names from big-name chefs, like Balla from Stefano Manfredi, Black from Teage Ezard, Bistro 80 from Paul Gaspa and Sokyo from Chase Kojima.
Some designers selected to work with these stars may have experienced a twinge of nerves, perhaps. But not Luchetti Krelle, the Surry Hills-based boutique design firm picked to work on Momofuku Seiobo. “We were over the moon when we found out that we would be part of the design team,” say designers Rachel Luchetti, Stuart Krelle (the two partners who head the firm) and Thomas Obeid. “David Chang and the whole Momofuku team are world-class hospitality people and it was a great honour to brainstorm with them. They are really relaxed and down to earth; they never really exerted much pressure.” The Momofuku brand currently owns four distinctive restaurants in New York: the ‘Noodle Bar’, Ssäm Bar (also housing the Booker and Dax Bar), Ko and Ma Pêche. There is also a series of ‘milk bars’; bakeries, essentially. All these venues stand alone but are united by their sophisticated design theme, which Luchetti Krelle needed to honour in Seiobo. The design team was guided to an extent by the use of materials (mostly timber) and a “focus on the kitchen and chefs”. “The New York restaurant Ko is very small, so we had the luxury of more room for Seiobo. This is also the first restaurant with tables, so we needed to include them into the theatre of the room.” The slate flooring, from Bellstone & Slate, is reminiscent of Momofuku restaurants Ssäm bar and Ko. “The exterior needed to be unassuming, with little or no signage,” said Rachel Luchetti. There is, however, a large and playful bronze peach at the door. After all, the name Momofuku actually translates as ‘lucky peach’.
ALL ABOUT THE FOOD
Sheltering Momofuku diners from the frenetic energy of its casino location is a rigid, vertical black steel shopfront. Equally-spaced steel members allow flickers of light to wink at passing pedestrians from inside. Upon entering, guests leave the busy setting and find themselves in a serene, restrained space. An open working bar is horizontally clad in dark stained Tasmanian oak and has a large, purpose-built wine fridge positioned towards the entry, as a book-end to the dining room. At the edge of this dining space is the kappo counter, where all the Chang magic unfolds, under a reflective bronze metal bulkhead. Positioned upon board-form concrete, it’s the focal point of the room – and is also a definite favourite of the Luchetti Krelle team. The kappo kitchen and bar — referring to the Japanese concept of cuisine being cooked and served in an open kitchen — is present in all of the Momofuku restaurants. Seiobo’s kitchen was sourced from Molteni. “The reflective polished brass hood above the diners reflects back the movement of the chefs into the space for diners at the tables to experience the theatre as well,” say the designers. “Discreet lighting, integrated into the metal finish overhead, directs pools of light onto the dark timber counter to highlight the diner’s position and the dishes that are to be served.” And according to Luchetti Krelle, David Chang called it the best kitchen he’s ever worked in. The team devoted considerable effort to realising the ‘Momofuku ethos’ in their design. “It’s the theatre of the food,” they say. “The brief for Momofuku Seiobo was to create a space that reflected the Momofuku ethos, with simplicity and attention to detail at the core of the design. The kitchen is the heart and places the focus on David Chang and his chefs at work on their craft in this intimate, 36-seat restaurant.”
That’s right, only 36 seats: meaning the dining area is very small. This presents challenges to the process, like maintaining comfort and preventing the chefs being inhibited in their creative processes. “We wanted to create the right atmosphere so the experience focused on the food and the theatre of the kappo kitchen. To manage the sound levels and create a gentle buzz in a room full of timber, slate and concrete,” says Rachel Luchetti. There are operable blinds that are architecturally lit to divide the space and create further intimacy. Curiously, guests at Seiobo will encounter the restaurant paying homage to none other than Angus Young, from AC/DC. David Chang is a big fan, and diners hear AC/DC tracks on the famous iPod playlist that plays while they eat. “It’s meant to remind guests that while David Chang’s work is revered, the Momofuku Seiobo experience is meant to be quirky and light-hearted,” the designers explain. “Chang also wanted to reference an Australian artist in the space, as he did in commissioning Australian photographer Damien Bennett for the water ripple photo.” This deep blue artwork of calming ripples takes up a large area of the smooth concrete-rendered wall above one of the tables.
“The most important design element of Seiobo is that it focuses attention on the food,” says Hillary Dixler from Momofuku. “Key features like the open kitchen with bar seating, and a clean, simple aesthetic are elements similar to those found in our New York locations.” She adds that there are features unique to Sydney, too, such as “the use of native building materials, locally manufactured plates and knives,” and, of course, Damien Bennett’s photograph. Later this year Momofuku will open a restaurant in Toronto. No doubt Chang’s Canadian venture will continue his exploration of intriguing locations, flavours and design.