Few restaurants in Singapore survive the ravages of time without so much as a listing on the Michelin red guide or a presence on some vaunted food guide. Yet, eight years after opening on the once-buzzy Ann Siang Road and Club Street enclave, wine and food lovers alike continue to throng the Peranakan tiles-clad doorway of Lolla. Whilst many come for the Wine Spectator-approved wine list, Lolla’s singular focus on great produce, coupled with its simple Mediterranean-inspired preparations, continues to be its biggest draw. It was this ethos that snagged Lolla a seat on Zagat’s hottest new restaurants list merely six months after opening – yes, even in the absence of a headline chef.
But in August, Filipino native Johanne Siy quietly joined Lolla as Head Chef, learning the ropes of counter-style service from its open kitchen and slowly acquainting herself with the small plate eatery’s DNA. Three months into the role and the former sous chef of the now-defunct Restaurant Andre is ready to assemble her own menu, one that draws from Lolla’s razor-sharp focus on great ingredients and accentuated with an eye for precision, building from four years at Restaurant Andre. Of courses, influences from the nomadic chef’s time staging in Scandinavia – six months in Fäviken, Sweden, two months in Noma, Denmark, and another month in Relae, Denmark – also inform her cooking, as does her recent role as head of product development at Starter Lab, Singapore.
As Head Chef, Siy has carte blanche on the seasonally-changing Specials menu on the chalkboard. If you wish to partake in everything new that she has to offer, the best that you could do is to request for the omakase menu (S$188++ for seven courses), which is served sharing-style unless you are dining alone. And if you like to observe how Siy works, dine at the 13-seat counter instead of the 22-seat mess hall-like communal table in the basement.
Siy’s cuisine is mindful, clean and uncluttered, with clearly defined flavours. While it is not always Mediterranean, it does not lean excessively towards the Nordics, which is a good thing because when tasted as a whole, the menu is remarkably balanced.
Her seven-course omakase menu commences with a plate of spot prawn (amaebi) crudo crowned alternatingly with raw sea urchin and clumps of caviar. While showcasing the produce she plays with to great effect, the Culinary Institute of America (New York) graduate knows better than to drown the premium seafood in heavy sauces, opting instead to dress the plate with a citrusy ponzu vinaigrette finished with splotches of spring onion oil.
Just when you thought you’re done chomping down on the sweet prawns, she sends over the deep-fried head of the same crustacean, this time accompanied by a puddle of deeply savoury piquillo aioli. It’s finger-licking good.
The highlight of your meal will no doubt be Siy’s bouchot mussels, which she cooks Normandy style (Moules a la Normande), i.e. in apple cider and apple vinegar. The small but plump molluscs are shelled, topped with dill and arrive on a bed of celeriac puree barely covered in a shallow bath of mussel broth.
In case you think that the mussel broth were barely sufficient to whet your appetite, Siy then follows-up with a generous class act – a glass of the cider-perfumed mussel broth infused with dill oil for a whiff of refreshment.
For the main course, Siy serves Mayura Station tri tip steak. The steak itself, first slow-cooked for 15 hours then seared in a hot pan, is beyond reproach – the meat is full-flavoured with hints of caramel, thanks to the chocolate in the cow’s feed. But what makes the steak course all the more interesting are the condiments that reflect the diet of the Mayura Station cattle – cacao nibs, which thankfully did not overwhelm the flavour of the steak, and, on the side, a riot of bincho-grilled Swiss chard dressed with beef fat and sherry vinaigrette.
To reduce wastage on parts of the Mayura Station tri tip that are too thin to serve as a steak, Siy does an encore of the same beef but this time, she serves it raw as beef tartare and pairs it with Jersalem artichoke chips and oceanic flavours courtesy of a dollop of oyster aioli. I reckon this might just be the most unique surf ‘n’ turf combo I’ve come across.
In line with her clean approach and Lolla’s less-is-more philosophy, Siy’s dessert puts the focus squarely on strawberries – white and red Fraises des bois from Malaga and Mara des bois from France – matched with pollen-dotted fior di latte ice-cream holding a pool of hazelnut oil in its well.
With a meal of this calibre, I find myself not missing Lolla’s legendary uni on squid ink pudding for the first time. Having said that, there is absolutely no harm in ordering a portion from the a la carte menu to scratch that itch – $38(Small) or $65 (Large) a portion.
22 Ann Siang Road | +65-6423 1228 | lolla.com.sg
© Evelyn Chen 2013
Please note that the reviews published on this blog are sometimes hosted. I am under no obligation to review every restaurant I’ve visited. If I do, the reviews are 100% my own.