MasterChef Stars' OGNI Restaurant Will Transport You To South and South East Asia

Sarah Tiong and Rashedul Hasan have joined forces to deliver the ultimate fusion culinary experience.

OGNI restaurant founders Sarah Tiong and Rashedul Hasan of MasterChef fame

One of the biggest joys of watching MasterChef is not only seeing delicious dishes whipped up in front of my very eyes, but witnessing the way contestants use food as a means for storytelling. Seeped in generations of family tradition, home recipes and unique techniques, many dishes on MasterChef over the years have told a beautiful story of migration, belonging and identity. 

For Sarah Tiong and Rashedul Hasan, their latest venture is simply an extension of their experience doing this on MasterChef in 2017. The Chinese-Malaysian (Tiong) and Bengali (Hasan) cooks have teamed up to open their own restaurant called OGNI in Sydney’s Surry Hills, with a delightful focus on South and South East Asian fusion cuisine. 

“After COVID, we both experienced some pretty life-changing events and we both aspired to change up our lives a little bit, do something different and leave our corporate jobs,” Tiong recently shared in a video posted on Instagram. “We essentially teamed up based on our love of South and South East Asian food.” 

Hasan, who in 2017 became the first Bengali person to ever compete on MasterChef Australia, said traditional dishes have the power to not only transport tastebuds back to a particular region, but also symbolise journeys of migration, self-discovery and culture. 

“For us, food becomes interesting when people travel and migration happens. There is a rich history of migration throughout South and South East Asia, [and along] with people, their food has travelled as well,” he said in the same video clip. “So we wanted to explore those stories, that history, and how different cuisines have influenced each other.”

“What we wanted to present was this modern Australian story that’s beautifully woven with the South and South East Asian heritage,” Tiong added. “Our food’s going to be this incredibly vibrant fusion of smokey spices, herbs, textures.” 

After recently dining at OGNI ahead of the restaurant’s official launch in December, I can promise you that a mouthwatering combination of spices and flavours forms a menu that welcomes nostalgia as well as new territory to explore. Given my husband’s family is from Malaysia, and the fact that he and I are both South Asian, meant expectations were high when we arrived. 

As a starter, we were served the OGNI ceviche, finger lime and green sauce, of which the latter was certainly the hero of the dish. The accompanying crackers also served as the perfect vessel to scoop out the tangy green sauce, which was rich in mango and coriander flavours. 

Next up was housemade sai ua, featuring a sausage and chutney. This is definitely a dish for the chilli-lovers, and if you’re like us with a medium spice tolerance level, you’ll be gladly reaching for the refreshing achar to soothe your tongue between bites. 

The standout in the mains was inarguably the charcoal grilled Nelson Bay calamari and green mango salad. The calamari instantly took us back to a bustling Hawker Market in Malaysia, its taste reminiscent of the strong flavours of Char kway teow, a stir-fried rice noodle street dish that's particularly popular in Malaysia and Singapore. 

When it came to statement plating, we couldn’t take our eyes off the porchetta with Thai basil peanut pesto. The meat takes up most of the plate in a coiled formation, and the crackling was divine.

I secretly look forward to peeping at the dessert menu at the very start of any dinner date. On this occasion, we had two options to choose from: the crystal dumplings with passionfruit and coconut snow, and the smoked chocolate mousse, jaam and honeycomb. With hubby and I picking one of each, we enjoyed the magic of rich chocolate, as well as a refreshing, fruity dessert that’s inspired by dudh puli, a milk-based coconut dumpling. While the savoury dishes are definitely the stars of OGNI’s menu, I loved ending the night with these unique sweet treats, and a photo from the famous chefs themselves. 

OGNI strives to take you on a journey of distinct flavours stemming from Tiong and Hasan’s childhood, family life, travels and professional culinary experiences. It certainly achieves this, and reminds you of the power of food and storytelling. 

OGNI opens on Friday, December 3. For more menu and reservations info, click here.