Celebrated Korean-American chef Corey Lee of San Francisco’s three Michelin-starred Benu opens Na Oh, a unique Korean restaurant located within the Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Center Singapore.

Celebrity chefs opening up venues in Singapore tend to pick high-profile, high traffic areas in town. Think Massimo Bottura, whose Italian restaurant Torno Subito is located in Dempsey, or Tetsuya Wakuda’s namesake Wakuda Restaurant & Bar at Marina Bay Sands.

Not Corey Lee. The highly-acclaimed Korean-American chef of Benu, one of San Francisco’s most celebrated restaurants, just opened up his debut eatery here in Singapore, Na Oh, in one of the most unexpected places.

A car factory. Located within a business park near Tengah, one of the Lion City’s most far flung precincts.

The smart farm within Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Center Singapore

To be fair, it’s not just any car plant. We’re talking about the Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Center Singapore. A collaboration with the Korean automotive giant, Na Oh is ensconced within this bleeding-edge car manufacturing facility that uses the latest technologies – Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), among others – to build some of today’s most advanced cars, including the Hyundai IONIQ 5 electric vehicle. The building – the Hyundai Motor Group’s first ever overseas innovation hub – even boasts a rooftop driving circuit, where visitors can be driven around for a number of laps.

You’ll catch glimpses of the automated production as you cross the lobby of the facility. Yet what really catches the eye is a glass-enclosed vertical smart farm occupying much of the atrium, a fully-automated, robotics-driven farm cultivating a number of crops – ice plant, Swiss chard, mustard, and kale, among others – that’s used by the restaurant.

Inside Chef Corey Lee's first Singapore restaurant.

Na Oh isn’t meditative fine dining like Benu. Instead, here Chef Corey brings a modern flourish to traditional Korean cuisine in a more casual, family-friendly setting. Those who’ve been to Benu will recognise a similar design DNA, from the minimalist yet stately wooden furnishings and hanji paper screens that line the windows, to the tableware designed by a multitude of Korean artisans.

Otherwise it is more designer cafeteria than any swanky eatery.

Na Oh offers a seasonal four-course prix fixe menu, providing dishes that would not be out of place in any Korean restaurant elsewhere in Singapore. Except the experience is all Benu.

For the inaugural summer menu, your meal starts off with a simple homemade tofu, dressed simply in an umami-laden house-aged soy sauce (you can see the traditional onggi eartherware jars as you enter the restaurant), along with a buckwheat jeon, the traditional pancake filled with mugeunji, or aged kimchi. Served on the side is a salad made with vegetables harvested from the smart farm downstairs. Dressed simply in a soy sesame dressing, it is simple yet scrumptious.

The Samgyetang at Na Oh

They are followed by mulhwe (or mulhoe). A traditional Korean dish of sliced raw fish served in a spicy chilled broth, Chef Corey’s is a refreshing version that eschews the usual spice so you can taste the delicate sweetness of the white fish and baby sea cucumber.

Then there’s the main course, of which there are three options. There’s a regal claypot take comprising Korea’s famed Golden Queen rice and butterfish, served with an assortment of marinated and fermented vegetables. Otherwise there’s samgyetang – Korean ginseng chicken soup – or Pyongyang-style naengmyeon cold noodles.

Your main course comes royally presented in the traditional Korean jinjitsang setting, along with attendant banchan, or side dishes. The samgyetang is a particularly excellent option; here the chicken retains its juiciness and flavours despite being slow cooked in the soup, which is served separately. The buckwheat-based cold noodles are delightfully chewy, and you’ll want to spike the broth with vinegar to make it even more refreshing.

Pyongyang-style Nangmyeon cold noodles.

Dessert is a simple, but tasty, affair of makgeolli bingsoo shaved ice with bits of strawberry, along with a Korean-style puffed rice cracker served on the side. The little ones – or those young at heart – will love this.

Na Oh offers a small yet carefully curated alcoholic beverage programme to represent its Korean heritage. Along with some beer, makgeolli, and soju options, there’s also the less commonly encountered chungju, or Korean rice wine.

The experience at Na Oh comes across as more sedate, certainly different from the usual freneticism one finds at the usual Korean eateries, say, along the Tanjong Pagar stretch.

Chef Corey Lee of Benu opens Na Oh in Singapore

“Opening up in a part of Singapore that doesn’t have many dining options makes more sense to me than yet another fine dining restaurant somewhere in the city already full of good ones,” Chef Corey explained. “If a diner have already carved out time to come all the way here, chances are they going to take time to fully appreciate their meal here.”

“That’s the kind of value add I want to bring to Singapore’s dining scene,” he added.

[Photos courtesy of Hyundai]

Na Oh

Address 2 Bulim Ave, Level 3, Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Center Singapore (HMGICS), Singapore 640536 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 12pm to 9pm Wednesdays to Sundays; closed on Mondays and Tuesdays
Tel (65) 6263 1548
Web www.hyundai.com/sg/naoh
Instagram @naohrestaurant
Reservations book here

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