Winner: Momofuku Seiōbo
Ringside seats don’t get better than the stools lining the Momofuku Seiobo kitchen. This is as close to the cooking action as you can get without head chef Paul Carmichael reaching over and handing you a veggie peeler. Of course, there are tables if you’re dining in a group, but trust us, you want to be sitting up at the glossy black bench so that the chefs can slide dishes straight into your waiting hands. It’s the personal touch that makes time fly when you sit down for the $185 menu, and yes, you do want the full beverage pairing for an extra $110, because no one in the city is having as much fun pairing food with wines, sake, beers and fortifieds than the sommelier here (till very recently Ambrose Chiang; now Max Gurtler). You might not think that the right match for the famous split, coal-roasted marron dressed in coconut butter with busted roti, sweet onion puree and tart muntries is a four-year-old ale from Two Metres Tall in Tasmania, but you’d be dead wrong. Chef Carmichael’s Caribbean heritage is front and centre in dishes like bakes, tiny golden-fried bread pucks carrying the flavour of the sea on their backs in wafer-thin abalone ribbons. Some people bring home souvenirs from holidays; Carmichael brings home flavours, like the Puerto Rican dish that inspired the confit beef rib with little batons of green olive and pickled white onions.You need to appreciate those delicate flavours at the time because right on its heels is the remainder of the beef rib, served on the bone and cooked until it’s butter soft and drenched in barbecue sauce. The chefs may look relaxed but their friendly banter disguises finesse, timing and instinct. By the time you reach the blushing pink pork fillet aged in house and served with warm Jamaican-style cabbage, sticky, pork-glazed pumpkin and a sweet turmeric puree, you may wish you had expandable segments like a suitcase. There’s not a skerrick of chocolate on your sweets. First, you get a sake that uses organic ferments to go with your buffalo milk yoghurt sorbet with banana leaf oil and banana leaf powder. Next up, a super-boozy year-old rum cake that tastes like Christmas with grated marzipan on top. Your meal will end with two more sharp bursts of flavour in a tamarind and Granny Smith jube and a molasses ginger and coconut nub that is black as tar, sticky like taffy and pungent. If you’re a fan of a dego you will start to see similarities across the city’s offerings, but at Momofuku they’re cooking to a very different beat.