One is a hip maverick nasi lemak specialty restaurant in Ann Siang Hill, the other an iconic food establishment in Little India known for its signature fish head curry.
The Coconut Club and Muthu’s Curry couldn’t have been any more different, but the owners of both establishments shared the same reaction when they found out about their inclusion into this year’s Michelin Bib Gourmand list on Wednesday morning (Jul 18).
“We were very shocked to hear that we got the award,” said The Coconut Club co-owner Lee Chan Wai. “I think it hasn’t quite sunk in yet.”
Agreed his friend and co-owner Lee Eng Su: “I woke up to a slew of WhatsApp messages. To be honest, we are still processing the news."
He added: “We are (operationally) about two years old. We said to each other, if we can get the Bib Gourmand award, then Muthu’s Curry ought to get the Michelin Star! They deserve it, having been around for decades."
There’s no star just yet for the popular Indian restaurant but Muthu’s Currinary chief executive officer Kasivishvanaath Ayyakkannu is still pleased with the accolade – even if he wasn’t aware it was happening at all.
“We are so happy and quite shocked,” he told CNA Lifestyle. “It was never the intention to get on the list, so we will continue doing what we’ve always been doing, improve where we can and see how it goes”.
The two local food establishments were among the 17 new entrants into the 50-strong list that were recognised by Michelin inspectors this year. The Bib Gourmand is given to establishments with quality food priced at no more than S$45, and a lead-up to next week’s big event, when this year’s Michelin Guide Singapore will be announced.
The Coconut Club’s owners attributed their success to having a great team of service staff. “We invest a lot in local human resource. We believe service is very important to the whole experience,” said Lee Chan Wai.
What’s next for the restaurant? There are plans to expand their current space, as well as a menu update – plans made way before the Bib Gourmand announcements.
“We were discussing about evolving our menu and perhaps adding burung puyuh (Malay for quail) for some time already. We hope people will not think we’re making all these changes simply because of the award!” quipped Lee Eng Su.
For one of The Coconut Club’s regular patrons, 40-year-old Is, it’s a well-deserved award – even if he admitted that his first thought was “Oh no, that means the queue will get longer”.
That won’t be an issue for Srinivasan Ayyakannu, director of operations for Muthu’s Currinary, the parent company of Muthu’s Curry.
“Hopefully it translates to sales,” he quipped. “We’ve been here for 50 years, and this Race Course Road restaurant is our flagship. Most of our old customers and regulars usually patronise this outlet so that could be one of the reasons why this is the one that got the award”.
Added Kasivishvannath: “Now that we have the award, we have to maintain the same standard, the food quality, the service and the prices,” he said.
For the last 20 years, loyal Muthu’s Curry fan and Malaysian restauranteur and marketing consultant Shankar Santhiram has been dropping by whenever he’s in town – and he’s surprised the recognition took this long.
“Muthu’s Curry is the real deal. And I would love to see them win more awards and accolades,” he said. “But like any genuine well-wisher, I’m also selfish because I don’t want the place to be jammed up. I hope that the owners of Muthu’s Curry stay true to form and not make the mistake of other restaurants by tweaking stuff once they win an award. You don’t have to up the ante or be all fancy. Just stay true to the old dude who started it years and years ago.”
Continuity is also at the heart of Tai Wah Pork Noodle, another new Bib Gourmand entrant located at Hong Lim Market and Food Centre.
If you find the name familiar, it’s because semi-retired hawker 64-year-old Tang Chai Chye used to run Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle with his elder brother Chay Seng at Marina Square.
That store then moved to its current Crawford Lane location and has since been awarded the coveted Michelin Star.
The Hong Lim Market and Food Centre stall is now being run by Chai Chye’s sons Gerald and Jason who are 38 and 30, respectively.
And like the other new awardees, the elder Tang said he did not expect the accolade at all.
“Although this news is good for us, it might not be seen as good for my regular customers,” he joked, in Mandarin. “Most of them are the office crowd who can’t queue for too long because they have to go back to the office.”
Tang, who started in the business when he was 20 years old and fresh out of the army, says it’s important to keep the business in the family, whether they get awards or not.
“If we ever sell it, then my late father would be very angry,” he said. “My sons don’t need to learn how to make the noodles. They’ve been helping out since they were in primary school.”