Tucked away in the hip (not hipster) enclave of Ann Siang Hill, Lolla, a notable member of the small plates bandwagon, has been drawing in the crowds with its care-free, fuss-free approach to food. An informal bar-like joint with a theatrical open-kitchen concept (for maximum interaction with the chefs), I liked that the restaurant was a lot less stuffy or pretentious than I'd expected.

That said, the food, while good, just wasn't remarkable enough for me to get on board with the small plates movement. It may be that there were a great many things on its carefully curated menu that I don't fancy (like their uni pudding or beef tripe or octopus or bottarga-laced eggs or eel tortilla or beef tongue), which so happen to be their signatures. But, it didn't help that Lolla's price points aren't quite commensurate with its portioning. Thing is, the food here is rustic while being delicately portioned, but I happen to like my food the other way around, i.e. delicate food in rustic, hearty portions. However, the desserts were stellar, and very value-for-money. If anything, we may return just for desserts. After having a more substantive meal elsewhere. 

Lolla's service was outstanding though, and our waitress was just brimming with warmth and sincerity. Which was why I felt so bad when I'd inadvertently got her into trouble because of my request to hold off the parsley/cilantro/coriander/spring onions (apparently, my "special request" wasn't communicated to the chef who'd been, very evidently, ticked off by and impatient with the waitress' lapse). For a while there, it felt a little bit like being at the front row seat at Hell's Kitchen.

The Soft Egg with Sausage & Potatoes ($16) a breakfast hash of sorts, was well executed, and a fine example of how a dish becomes so much more than the sum of its delicious parts, with a liberal dose of fragrant olive oil and smear of the perfectly poached egg.

The Duck Fat Potatoes ($13), encrusted in a beautifully bronzy shell, made for a good tummy filler.

The refreshingly chilled Burratina Grilled Portobello ($28), bursting with clean and clear flavours, was a nice medley of the creamy and earthy and crisp.

The Grilled Chicken Breast ($26), showered with capers, basil pesto and set in a pool of lovely chicken jus, was incredibly moist, but teetered dangerously between the cooked and raw (just so you know, none of us got food poisoning, although we were picking it apart to make sure it was thoroughly cooked). I liked the intense sweetness of the sundried tomatoes weaved into polenta but it was marred by the overwhelming bite of horseradish.

The Pan Seared Foie Gras with Brioche ($34) was scrumptiously unctuous, but I thought the onion-laced crab tomalley was somewhat like stuntman no. 3 on a movie set. I wouldn't have missed it if it wasn't there.

The highlight of lunch, the Steamed Dark Chocolate Pudding ($15), freckled with coffee and chocolate chips for added crunch, was exquisitely balanced. The vanilla ice-cream provided a wonderful juxtaposition.

The dainty Doughnuts with Lemon Curd ($12) was perfectly nuanced, and I loved how the controlled sweetness of the fluffy doughnuts contrasted with the bright accents of the lemon curd.

22 Ann Siang Hill
Tel: 6423 1228
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 12noon to 2pm; 6pm to 12midnight
Closed on Sundays
Website: www.lolla.com.sg


Sakuraya Fish Mart, Anchorpoint

The original plan to get Swedish meatballs at Ikea got derailed by the ridiculous hundred metre-long, school-holiday-induced queue. So, we headed opposite to Sakuraya Fish Mart at Anchorpoint, a casual, supermarket-like eatery that's known for its value-for-money Japanese fare.

Sakuraya may not be the top of the line, but does serve up decent food that's affordable bang for your buck. Best of all, there's no service charge!  

The Bara Chirashi Don ($15), generously laden with an assortment of chopped sashimi on a bed of vinegar-ed sushi rice, was less than sparkling fresh, but interspersed with an unusually luxurious touch, the octopus tako.

The Ebi Fry Maki ($10) crispy prawns swaddled in seaweed, crunchy cucumber and moist sushi rice and rolled in sesame seeds and benito passed muster.

The Inari Sushi ($2), though humongous, was, however, a smidge too sweet.

For a mass-market mid-range Japanese joint, the Ebi Tempura ($7) here was surprisingly refined, boasting a thin crisp batter and fresh fleshy prawns.

A favourite snack of mine, the piping hot Edamame ($5) was fat (unlike those emaciated ones I so detest) and well-salted.

The Zaru Udon ($8) wheat noodles thick and chewy, were served refreshingly chilled.

These were sided by Tanuki ($2) flakes of tempura batter and Kitsune ($2) seasoned beancurd skin.

Sakuraya Fish Mart
370 Alexandra Road
#01-32 Anchorpoint
Tel: 6474 2495
Open daily from 11am to 10pm
Website: www.sakuraya.com.sg


Linguine with Arugula, Pinenuts and Parmesan

A most no-fuss dish that requires only 8 or less ingredients, I love how this can be varied into a meatless option. Just switch out the bacon, up the amount of olive oil and voila, the vegetarians can partake! I've added garlic to my version of this classic, because I find it adds aroma and flavour, and switched up the sequence of ingredients to toss into the pan to prevent clumping.

Ingredients (feeds 2):
200 grams linguine (you can use whichever string pasta you prefer)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 strips streaky bacon
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
100 grams arugula (this is the uncooked measurement) 
3 tbsp pinenuts
4 tbsp salt

1) Heat bacon strips in pan till sizzling and crisp. Remove, cut into 1"-dice and set aside, leaving the bacon renderings in the pan.

2) In the meantime, add pasta into boiling salted water (4 tbsp salt to 4L water) until just before it's al dente, about 3 minutes.

3) Add olive oil to the bacon fat, and fry garlic in olive oil-bacon fat until fragrant, about 1 minute.

4) Return bacon and heat through.

5) Add pasta, with 2 tbsp pasta water, and toss to coat evenly with garlic and oil.

6) Add arugula and toss thoroughly until arugula wilted, about 1 minute.

7) Turn off the heat before dumping in pinenuts and 3 tbsp parmesan to taste, and toss. The heat has to be switched off and minimal parmesan added here at this stage so the parmesan doesn't clump up.

8) Serve with extra lashings of Parmesan and freshly ground pepper.

Vegetarian variation: This was what I whipped up last weekend at a luncheon I hosted at home. Terrible plating, I know, but the food's what counts!


Flor Patisserie, Takashimaya

I'd long heard of the gorgeous and divine creations at Flor Patisserie, a confectionery that blends the minimalist sensibilities of the Japanese and exacting sophistication of the French. Pronounced "fu-ro-ru" in Japanese, the confections here are exquisite and sumptuous. 

Their signature, the Berry Berries ($28.25 for 12cm x 12cm cake), an airy-fairy sponge layered with lusciously gossamer fresh cream and studded with summer berries, is a must-order. I loved how wonderfully light this was. A most awesome round-off to a heavy luncheon.

The Fruit Tart ($51.35 for 18cm) didn't fare too badly either. Smooth creamy custard was set in a buttery crumbly shell and crowned with a melange of sweet fresh fruits.

Rich but nuanced, the Cacao Royale ($6.95) layered chocolate sponge with dark chocolate ganache and hazelnut feuillitine.

Flor Patisserie
Takashimaya B2 Food Hall
Tel: 6737 1789
Open daily from 10am to 9pm
Website: www.cakeflor.com.sg


Beo Crescent No Name Hainanese Curry Rice

In the sleepy estate of Beo Crescent, there's a hainanese curry rice stall, nameless but oxymoronically well-known. Located in an old-school coffeeshop adjacent to the Beo Crescent hawker centre, it's distinguished by a perpetual queue of fans, and sells out by mid afternoon. We gave this a shot over the weekend, seeing as it's closer to home than our current No. 1 choice at Jalan Bukit Merah. The selection may be a little less extensive than Tian Tian, the coffeeshop's always crowded, it may not be a viable dinner option, BUT it has a decent mix of hits, making a revisit a worthwhile venture. And at about $20 for 6 dishes, it's ridiculously cheap.

In spite of its grungy appearance, the plain white rice, slopped with 3 types of gravies, was absolutely sublime, I would have been happy to eat it on its own.

The Hainanese Pork Chop was excellent, even if it was 90% batter and 10% meat. Just think of it as a fresher, less stinky version of pork rinds.

I liked the Braised Cabbage Chap Chye, a most simple dish sweetly infused with all that beautifully rich shrimp-based broth.

The Braised Pork Belly lor bak was better than most, with a decent fat to meat ratio,good flavour and meltingly tender.

The Braised Egg was pedestrian, forgettable but well-flavoured.

The juicy Braised Pork Ball boasted a hand-chopped texture and aromatic garlicky accents.

The sole lackluster dish, the Chicken Curry was missing in marination, too tough, and needed more time over the fire for a fall-off-the-bone texture. That said, we mopped up every last bit of the spicy full-bodied curry.

Hainanese Curry Rice
Blk 40 Beo Crescent
Open Thursdays to Tuesdays from 6.30am to 3pm; Closed Wednesday


Auntie Kim's Korean Restaurant, ARC

I hadn't been very impressed with Auntie Kim's Korean Restaurant along Upper Thomson, but decided to give it another go at their southern outpost. This time, we ordered the right stuff, and while I still think their banchan needs work, I finally understand the hype about this place. Some of their dishes, if done right, are executed with aplomb, such that a return visit is now on the cards.

The Kimchi fell a little flat. I was hoping for a more piquant kick.

The Sigeumchi Namul, seasoned spinach, was bordering on tasteless, save for the metallic taste of the spinach.

Like the seasoned spinach above, the Kong Namul, seasoned beansprouts, was lacking in flavour too.

The Buhsut Jorim, sauteed mushrooms, with its clear and earthy tones, was one of 2 banchan that was halfway decent.

The Doljaban Muchim, seasoned kelp with chilli, while fun to chew, wasn't quite my cup of tea.

The Panjeon, a sweet and crunchy vegetable pancake with carrots, was nice too.

We really liked the Gochujang Hotdogs, these were a little difficult to go wrong.

The seasoned spring onions were decent, but not memorable.

The Parboiled Cabbage was cool, crunchy and refreshing.

The excellent Kimchi Mandu ($18 for 8 pcs), fat bronzed dumplings stuffed with spicy kimchi and glass vermicelli, was a game-changer. For this alone, I would return.

Another hit was the Haemuljeon ($18), a flat seafood pancake dense with fresh squid and prawns, and enlivened with spring onions and sliced chillis.

The Japchae ($16), stir-fried glass noodles with vegetables and beef, was decent, but not spectacular.

The Bibim Naengmyun ($18), spicy cold buckwheat noodles loaded with half a boiled egg, cucumber, radish and parboiled beef, was refreshing, bright and punchy.

Terribly disappointing, the Samgyetang ($25) was insipid, and the chicken tough and dry.

The Chicken Bulgogi ($15) was succulent and balanced the sweet and spicy. A most value-for-money set.

Auntie Kim's Korean Restaurant
460 Alexandra Road
#02-21 Alexandra Retail Centre
Tel: 6274 3383
Open daily from 11.30am to 3pm for lunch; 5.30pm to 10pm for dinner
Website: www.auntiekim.sg
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