Food

Hyundai and Chef Corey Lee create a realm for Korean excellence at Na Oh

Korean culture, culinary prowess and artisanship find a home at the Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Centre Singapore (HMGICS).

Jon-Patric De Mello

| June 27, 2024
Korean restaurant Na Oh is located at the Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Center Singapore (HMGICS). Photo: Hyundai

For Chef Corey Lee, the brain behind ‘The World’s 50 Best Restaurants’ constituent Benu, the opportunity to collaborate with Hyundai, Korea’s largest car manufacturer, to create a seed-to-table restaurant experience was a stimulating challenge.

One that, upon experiencing, is certainly befitting the first Korean chef to be awarded three Michelin stars. Situating his first foray into Southeast Asia in an automotive hub located not in Singapore’s city centre, but at the far west of the island in Jurong has admittedly raised some scepticism — but to Lee, it meant offering something distinct to people.

And distinct Na Oh is.

Na Oh
The interior of Na Oh. Photo: Hyundai

Meaning “moving from inside out” Na Oh’s namesake is as much reflected in its cuisine as in its design.

From its traditional Hansik menu to its tableware, staff uniforms and artisan-designed restaurant interior— patrons are treated to cultural capital at every turn. Na Oh’s setting is at first glance sleek and modern, with warm wood tones and polished stone abundant, but closer inspection reveals that traditional elements of Korean interior design are the focal point.

Hanji paper is especially prominent in its construction — draped on overhanging light fixtures, veiling daylight over its windows and used to divide the restaurant into smaller more intimate dining sections.

While artisanal Korean pottery is framed and spotlighted to the sides of the room. As patrons take in Na Oh’s composition it becomes apparent that the restaurant is not just Hyundai’s attempt to offer a Korean dining option for its visitors, but is instead the designated gastronomic segment of the HMGICS experience.

Hyundai
Photo: Hyundai

In reality, however, the culinary experience of Na Oh starts not in its restaurant walls, but down below — to the two-storey vertical Smart Farm that Hyundai has unveiled as its agriculturally innovative triumph.

Its scene is certainly akin to something out of a science-fiction film — racks of leafy shrubbery sprouting under sterile white lighting and manned not by humans but by large robotic arms. Admittedly, it might seem a bit dystopian but put in the context of land-scarce Singapore, its hydroponic cultivation is a testament to the ingenuity of the human mind.

The construction houses nine types of crops including familiar greens like romaine lettuce and kale but the farm also capitalizes on its horticultural advancements to cultivate rarer non-native vegetation like the ice plant and Swiss chard. From the 30kg of produce that the farm produces daily, Na Oh curates its farm-to-table affair. The surplus is donated to local food banks.

Golden Queen Rice and Butterfish Gamasot. Photo: Hyundai

The culinary epicenter of HMGICS is also a realization of Lee’s savior-faire — his appreciation for traditional Korean cuisine — and his modern interpretation of these dishes for Na Oh’s patrons.

The prix fixe menu — currently set at S$78 — boasts 4 courses. With the piece de resistance of the array coming with the option to choose from one of three Jinjitsang — a Korean meal served with a variety of side dishes — as your main.

Lee’s inaugural summer season selection puts front and centre a deconstructed Samgyetang that separates the supple chicken body from its ginger broth, a Gamasot (cast iron pot) dish with charred butterfish and golden rice, and a Pyongyang-style tangy cold noodle with raw beef loin.

While the Naengmyeon (cold noodle) is an obvious choice for a cooling dish to escape the summer heat, theSamgyetang and Gamasot dishes were also chosen with intent, albeit less apparent.

Based on an old Korean adage, “iyeol chiyeol”, that believes in combating hot temperatures with hot dishes, it would be worth a shot to order one or the other to try and cope with Singapore’s perpetual summer as well.

This inaugural menu will not be a permanent fixture however, with Lee intending to unveil new seasonal selections throughout the year, and if the current assemblage is anything to go by, it will be curated with tradition and purpose at its core.

Chef Corey Lee. Photo: Hyundai

Our favourite, however, goes to the starters, which are anything but understated and instead bolster some of Lee’s finest ingredients. Most memorably, Lee shared on the very first dish we tasted — the Homemade Tofu with Aged Soy Sauce — 7 years of ageing to be precise.

“Most Asians are familiar with soy sauce, we’ve been brought up with it. But how many of us can say we’ve tried real naturally-made soy sauce?” He elaborates that the iterations of soy sauce we commonly use today are pasteurized or stabilized with alcohol to stop the fermentation process but that “real soy sauce is alive and constantly changing” in its store.

“I brought this aged soy sauce with me all the way from San Francisco, in fact, this soy sauce was first started 7 years ago.” As Lee spoke, his passion for creation with genuine ingredients shone through, and his resolution to share this with Na Oh’s patrons was palpable.

The Skytrack located at the Hyundai Motor Group Innovation Centre Singapore. Photo: Hyundai

Hyundai certainly has more to offer visitors than just the culinary works at Na Oh — in fact, they have curated a complementary 90-minute Discovery Tour to highlight the best portions of the cutting-edge facility.

Guests will be treated to tours of the Smart Farm facilities, and be given their pick of seeds to plant with the help of the automated robot arm followed by tasting sessions of the freshly picked vegetables.

For the adrenaline junkies and grease monkeys, the crown jewel of the facility will undoubtedly be the Skytrack Experience — a 618-metre rooftop circuit where Hyundai tests its latest car models.

Guests are truly in for an exhilarating treat with the opportunity to ride an IONIQ 5 manned by a professional driver going up to 83 kilometres per hour. The tour concludes with a stop by the IONIQ Lounge where visitors can purchase IONIQ merchandise or customize their own IONIQ vehicle.

Na Oh is open from Wednesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner, reservations are recommended. The HMGICS Discovery Tour is open from Tuesday to Sunday, and reservations are required.


This article originally appeared on Men’s Folio.

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