Haute Caribbean Cuisine is a Thing
Claim to fame: Momofuku goes Caribbean down under
Reason to go: A unique culinary proposition
To look out for: Paul Carmichael’s hot-sauce experiments
Caribbean food has not, to date, had much high-profile representation outside the Americas. Or indeed really outside the Caribbean itself. That it should turn up in one of the Momofuku restaurants owned by New York-based chef David Chang, a Korean-American best known for a pork bun of Japanese-Chinese origins seems a little incongruous. That it should turn up in the one restaurant Chang owns outside (way, way outside) North America is downright bizarre. And yet here it is. And it is splendid.
Momofuku Seiobo opened in 2011 with an offer that wasn’t far from what Chang’s team was doing at Momofuku Ko in Manhattan, a highly acclaimed tasting menu-only hideaway built broadly around the Japanese-inspired, open kitchen, counter-dining model. The food had a European accent courtesy of British-born Chef Ben Greeno, a graduate of Noma and Restaurant Sat Bains. After Greeno moved on in 2015, having led the restaurant to rave reviews in the local press, Chang promoted Paul Carmichael, his chef from Má Pêche in Midtown New York, and gave him carte blanche with the menu.
Carmichael, a veteran of Chang’s group and acclaimed progressive eatery WD~50 before that, decided to explore his culinary heritage. Fast forward a year or two and Momofuku Seiobo has transformed itself into possibly the world’s first fine-dining establishment experimenting with the food of Barbados.
This is not to say that the décor has gone sun, surf and seashells. Far from it. The same cool, muted look prevails, while the music (being one of Chang’s signature moves) could still be described as the exact opposite of muted. Sommelier Ambrose Chiang deals not in rum and milk stout so much as the wines of Sicily and the Jura, with some sake and a fantastic non-alcoholic selection thrown in for good measure. Though we’re pretty certain he’s got some rum stashed away just in case.
And then there’s the food. In Carmichael’s hands “tropical finesse” is anything but an oxymoron. Koji butter brings out the sweetness of marron, Australia’s giant crayfish, which the kitchen grills with great care and pairs with buttery, flaky roti. Mud crab and tomato enrich smooth, gnocchi-like cassava dumplings, while bay leaf tea, something Carmichael’s mother made for him as a child, becomes a luxury with the addition of a healthy dollop of caviar and fresh-churned butter.
Close with a typical West Indian conkie reimagined as a pudding accompanied by an ice-cream flavored with banana leaf and a crisp made of raisin purée, and you’ll leave with a fresh appreciation for all things Bajan and a keen interest in making a return visit.