Where: 115-117 Lt Bourke Street, Melbourne CBD
Cuisine: Japanese Hot Pot / Sukiyaki
Value for Money: 2
Overall Score: 3.5/5
Walk into Momo on Little Bourke Street on the weekend and you’ll find yourself waiting for a table. And to be honest, I’m not sure why. The food isn’t bad, although some indulgences such as a ‘black truffle infused broth’ taste more gimmicky than truffley, but you can get Shabu Shabu, or Japanese Hot Pot, at a lot of other places without spending over $50 a head and it’s just as good.
The Momo set menu gave us the choice of two soup bases, with the option to pay extra for some specials, and gives you some starters: salmon sashimi, pickles and a soft shell crab salad and then the hotpot itself came with two cuts of wagyu beef, one premium and one a bit more fatty (shank), scallops and prawns that could be put into the hotpot or eaten as sashimi, and offered you the choice of a third meat dish—I opted for an organic lamb with saltbush rub.
For those unfamiliar with the cuisine, you can either have a soup (Shabu Shabu) or more of a soy sauce wet fry which turns into glaze when you cook with it (Sukiyaki). You add meat and/or vegetables a bit at a time and once cooked, you pick it out with chopsticks ladle or sieve and drop it into an appropriate sauce, such as a sesame paste or a raw egg. Raw egg as a dressing for meat is something you find in east Asian cuisine, and oddly enough I’ve encountered it in Tibetian food as well. If you’re not used to the concept you may find it strange, but think of it as the extreme in oozy yolks and you’ll do fine. The staff at Momo will also explain the entire process to you if you need it, and will add to the dining theatre by starting your soup bases cooking, putting in the first vegetables and cracking your fresh eggs and mixing them into your dipping sauce.
If you go, I do recommend getting a soup base and a sukiyaki sauce, because the leaner cuts and seafood lend themselves well to being cooked quickly in a hot pot, while the fattier meats benefit from the sweet sukiyaki glaze, and the food will be tasty and beautifully presented, if fairly standard Japanese fare.
And that’s sort of the issue—Japanese food at its best is simple, beautifully presented and delicate. It’s not always big on punch in the mouth flavour—Sukiyaki aside—and the problem is that if you’re using a standard set of ingredients and letting their flavours speak traditionally for themselves, it gets increasingly hard to justify exhorbitant prices for them. Sure, you can talk up the service and the ambience and overall dining experience, but then, I can also talk about places that have exhorbitant prices, amazing service, fantastic ambiance, a unique dining experience and offer changing menus and experimental flavours. It’s possible I’m just biased against high priced Japanese food, and if you’re after a posh place for a date, you could do worse than go to Momo—just book first and be aware that you’re paying for the privilege of having someone start your hot pot off for you, rather than the food.