SINGAPORE — As a restaurant, Lolla is perennial. Having called 22 Ann Siang Road home for the past eight years, one can safely say it is the epitome of OG. If it could talk, it would regale you with stories of the restaurants and establishments that once graced this street, some still standing, stalwarts of the first wave, while many others, but temporary occupants of the vibrant House Ann Siang.
It’s a sobering truth for many F&B owners who deign to set up shop here, foolish courage in their bones, hoping against hope not to find themselves part of the statistics. When you expand the perimeter beyond the greater region of Ann Siang to include Amoy Street and Gemmill Lane, you will realise that longevity in this part of town involves more than just silly bravery or wit. There’s a touch of luck at play too.
Of course, to reduce one’s success to luck is a foolish errand. But speak to many F&B proprietors enough the way I have, and you might eke out a confession of sorts that meticulous planning only works in as far as the universe allows it. It’s the kind of planning that has been put into Lolla which has been fortunate enough to have the grace of longevity shine on them till today with absolutely no signs of abating.
Now two years shy of a decade, Lolla—the brainchild of three friends, Pang Hian Tee, Lee Chin Sin, and Thaddeus Yeo—welcomes a new culinary commander-in-chief, Chef Johanne Siy. She counts, in her resume, storied establishments such as Café Boulud in NYC, Restaurant Andre, Fäviken in Sweden, Relae and Noma in Copenhagen, and most recently Starter Lab in Singapore.
Although fashionably new, Chef Jo has brilliantly worked the DNA of Lolla’s Mediterranean leanings to her favour. Like before, guests at Lolla can choose from either the perennial or seasonal menu—the former, a presentation of the restaurant’s core ideals, and a mainstay that reflects Lolla’s commitment to the best produce prepared simply and unerringly. But the seasonal tasting menu is what I’m here to try one Thursday afternoon, perched on a high stool at the counter overlooking Chef Jo’s neat and meticulous kitchen.
It starts, as it always does at Lolla, with a small goblet of Sea Urchin Pudding (S$22++ & S$42++) with squid ink custard, a signature that will satisfy the fussiest of uni fans. I’ve come to learn that it is steeped in longevity and nostalgia, which makes me wonder if that would render it untouchable and impervious to improvement. It is, without doubt, a decadent treat that I recommend savouring slowly although I do wish it’s not all soft, tender, and overwhelmingly a drone of umami. It desperately needs a hint of texture if only to alleviate predictability.
My want for a textural variant extends to the Spot Prawn Crudo, Sea Urchin, Oscietra Caviar (S$68++), though the brightness of the ponzu does remarkably well in cutting through all this richness. No sooner had I silently expressed the desire for a bit of crunch, out comes a plate of shockingly crispy fried prawn heads (from the spot prawns) served with piquillo pepper aioli and a squeeze of lime. Consider me pacified.
The next few courses are a grand showing of Chef Jo’s courage at seasoning—there’s nothing shy about her need to salt and flavour every ingredient that crosses her path. It’s a cooking philosophy I appreciate and wish more chefs adopt in 2021.
The comically named Oyster, Oyster, Oyster! (S$22++) gets its moniker from the grilled oysters, King Oyster mushrooms, and an Oyster leaf, so identified because its thick, tender leaves taste like a close proximate of Oyster with a hint of seaweed. It is served with a warm beurre blanc, which though unnamed, adds such a bomb of flavour to this entire presentation.
And then there’s the Bouchot Mussels, Celeriac, Mussel Broth (S$38++) that we were instructed to consume with the provided wooden spoon because Chef Jo is averse to the grating sound of metal against plate as am I.
But cutleries aside, I am impressed (though not surprised) by the subtle sweetness of mussels as if it was fished straight from the ocean minutes ago. The bright green mussel broth and dill oil it’s served in is another example of Chef Jo’s heroic seasoning, everything dangerously veering on being excessive but expertly manoeuvred such that it isn’t. I honestly don’t mind living dangerously like this.
Mayura Wagyu is presented two ways with a course of duck in between. It starts with a Mayura Wagyu Tartare, oyster aioli, Jerusalem Artichoke Chips (S$38++) that shines bright red under the lights of my bar counter table. This was such a joyous medley of textures and flavours—the oyster aioli (like a regular garlic iteration but here, cooked with oysters) make for great bedfellows with the beef as its acidity mingles satisfyingly with the tartare.
Elsewhere, the Duck Confit, Mushroom Ragu, House-made Gnocchi (S$38++) melts in your mouth and then, surely in your heart. The Gnocchi is so immensely soft; it would melt even the coldest of souls. Of course, the duck is tender, incredibly flavourful, and beyond reproach, though by now, such excellence indeed is par for the course.
One might wonder if there’s space for two beef dishes in a tasting menu, and I’m here to say that there is. At least if it’s executed with the same finesse as Chef Jo has. The second Mayura Wagyu iteration (S$88++) comes in the form of seared tri-tip, its centre cooked pink as a blushing bride, served with bitter grilled Swiss Chard. I love everything on this plate but what I loved most is the beef tongue jus with its undertones of musk and smokiness. I’m incredibly floored, and it’s only 1pm.
Desserts come by way of Berries & Flowers (S$29++)—an elevated version of Strawberries and Creams but dressed for a fancy night out. These shockingly bright red Mara den Boin strawberries were explicitly bred for flavour, and it shows in its sweetness that seesaws between saccharine and a peculiar brightness. I was particularly taken by the lingering aroma of Hazelnut oil which, when mixed with the Fior di Latte cream, makes for such an indulgent treat. Fior di Latte is of course, the purest of dairy, so perfect in its form and makes for the most exquisite mouthfeel—intensely creamy to a fault.
There’s also a Burnt Cheesecake (S$17++ per slice) which, unlike the savoury stuff from before, is pleasantly restrained in its sweetness. I’m not complaining, make no mistake. In fact, it’s one of the rare times where I appreciate restraint that allows for ingredients in a dessert to come to the fore. Especially when it comes with the option of black truffles (S$36++ per slice)—both baked into the batter and arranged in thinly sliced discs on top.
As I bite into a slice of this unplanned indulgent, I can’t help but feel like such an imposter unworthy of all the deliciousness I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying today. Chef Jo might have staged in several other places, some with kitchens bigger than that at Lolla’s. She’s probably also had the luxury of once procuring the freshest ingredients straight off the land right at her doorstep. But after this lunch, I’m sure, without a shadow of uncertainty, that here at Lolla is where Chef Jo’s star would truly and surely shine.
Website | 22 Ann Siang Rd, S069702
Mon – Sat: 12pm – 2.30pm; 6pm – 11pm
Sun: 11.30am – 3pm; 6pm – 10.30pm
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