Singapore food comes to Chennai with Mr. Ong

Mr. Ong, a restaurant dedicated to Singaporean cuisine, debuts at the Park Hyatt in Chennai. Nice no, lah?

It’s almost fitting that one of India’s only dedicated Singapore cuisine restaurants had to debut in Chennai. There’s a strong, historic link between the Lion City and Tamil Nadu. It’s one reason why Sascha Lenz, General Manager, Park Hyatt Chennai, is bullish about the prospects of Mr. Ong. It’s been a while since a new restaurant debuted at a luxury hotel in the city. This one’s among the first that was conceived in the middle of the pandemic. That’s not the only reason it’s an al fresco restaurant.

I’ve often wondered why Park Hyatt never put its stunning lily pond area in the heart of the hotel to better use. That was probably the same thought on Sascha’s mind as he took over the reins of Park Hyatt towards the end of 2019. Mr. Ong is not just one of the most intimate settings for an outdoor restaurant in Chennai, the lily pond adds a soothing influence. It’s the perfect contrast to the hustle in the display kitchen where the culinary team matches the energy of one of Singapore’s many hawker centres. It’s these high-energy food zones that provided the inspiration for a restaurant that celebrates the multi-cultural influences that have shaped Singapore’s culinary landscape.

Singapore’s hawker centres are the only reason I keep going back to a city that always feels closer to Chennai than any other city in India. The city’s large Tamil diaspora — Tamil is one of the official languages in Singapore — still maintains a strong connect with Chennai. From Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Centre to Nasi Lemak at Changi Village, I have my long list of comfort zones. I even manage to squeeze a quick kaya toast and coffee fix every time I transit through Changi airport — my favourite airport in the world. Just like the world’s major culinary capitals like New York, London and Melbourne, it’s tough to box Singapore’s cuisine. There are multiple dishes from across Southeast Asia that Singapore has made its own like a Nasi Lemak or an Indonesian-style rendang. Dishes that you will find on the Mr. Ong menu.

Executive Chef Balaji Natarajan believes that Mr. Ong has found the balance between authentic Singapore flavours and the local preferences of Chennai diners. It’s a delicate balance but one that was fine-tuned by Sarab Kapoor, an acclaimed Singapore-based culinary consultant. The Laksa is one dish that demonstrates this fine balance. I’ve travelled to Melaka to sample the city’s famous Laksa; the condiments have been altered slightly in the Mr. Ong version but the hearty, spiced curry noodle soup doesn’t lose its soul here.

Most diners are curious about Mr. Ong. You will hear about this mystery guest who used to travel to the hotel from Singapore and shared his insights about the subtler nuances of Singapore cuisine with Chef Balaji and his team. It’s a fascinating back story and one more element in the Mr. Ong experience that transports you to Singapore. The seating on the edge of the waterbody might remind you of one of the trendy dining spots in Singapore’s Clark Quay area. The restaurant’s signatures like the Singapore Chilli Crab make it the shortest route to get to a hawker centre in Singapore from Chennai.

Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Max.: 5 stars)
Food: 7
Drinks: 7
Service: 8
Interiors/Décor: 9 
Vibe: 9
One dish we loved: Laksa
One dish that didn’t work for us: Taro Bubble Iced tea

Mr. Ong – The Flavours of Singapore is at Park Hyatt Chennai, 39, Velachery Road, Next to Raj Bhavan, Chennai 32 / Instagram / Phone: +91 89398 71128 / Open from 7 pm to 11 pm / Meal for two: Rs 2,500.

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