The demise of celebrity restaurant Santi was a sad day for the culinary world lost one of its legends. Regretful as it was, there's the silver lining - several alumni of the Michellin-starred affiliate went on to establish restaurants of their own here in little ol' Singapore. So, instead of just 1 culinary heavyweight, our little island now has at least 3 restaurants, all Spanish, helmed by ex-Santi staff. Purportedly, the executive chef at Santi was so enamoured of our sunny island that, instead of returning to his homeland, he put down roots here to set up OLA Cocina Del Mar. The cosy restaurant, innocuously tucked away at the commercial hub that is MBFC, has been surreptitiously churning out Spanish cuisine with a Peruvian inclination. It's totally underrated, and flies so low under the radar, that it was 3 years before I learned of its illustrious lineage.
Dinner-time will find the restaurant a lot more chilled and tranquil, compared to the frenzied boisterousness of the lunchtime crowd. I much prefer dinners here; there's a languorous ambience perfect for savouring OLA's exquisite tapas, and catching up with old friends. Service is also a lot more intimate and attentive.
Ola's amuse bouche, a trio of baby squid, thinly breadcrumbed and fried to a golden crisp, served with an yin-yang dip of white bean puree and squid ink, was addictively good. So good I was seriously tempted to hoard my galfriend's portion for myself. If I was more thick-skinned; I'd have shamelessly requested another portion. Or three.
No visit to a true-blue Spanish restaurant is complete without an order of their jamon, and the 36-months aged Jamon Iberico '5J' ($48), fatty salty ribbons of cured pork shoulder sided by catalan toasts and fresh tomato puree, was just sublime. Pricey, but sublime nonetheless.
An off-menu special of the day, the Burrata with Pesto ($35) with heirloom tomatoes, edamame, and crispy jamon curls was a fantastic recommendation by the affable manager. Incredibly balanced in terms of flavour and texture, this is a must-try if ever it's in season.
A classic, the Gambas ($25), of fresh sweet prawns swimming in a medley of roasted garlic oil, dried chilli, and espelette pepper, was heady and aromatic.
The complimentary crusty bread was great fodder for the robustly flavoured oil.
Another must-try, the Pulpo ($26), Spanish octopus grilled to a luscious and smoky finish, was complemented by a nutty lentil sauce, and lightly spiced romesco vinaigrette. I'm not a fan of octopus (the tentacles scare me), but even I was blown away by this.
The Conchas a la Parmesana ($35), a duo of plump Hokkaido scallops baked to a succulent caramelization, was set atop parmesan grains, and a creamy lime and brandy aioli. Decent, but not outstanding.
I really liked the Fiduea con Secreto Iberico y Setas ($45), a flavourful noodle paella dish loaded with organic oyster mushrooms and grilled iberico pork, even if my galfriend found its sweet undertones disconcerting.
The only lackluster dish was the Ceviche ($25), where the potent taste of the wild seabass overwhelmed the delicate flavours of the lime, chilli, and onion marinade.
OLA Cocina del Mar
Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower3
12 Marina Boulevard
Tel: 6604 7050
Open weekdays from 11.30am to 2pm for lunch; 6pm to 10pm for dinner;
Saturdays from 6pm to 10pm for dinner;
Closed on Sundays