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FOOD REVIEW: Lolla Autumn-Winter menu — Overflowing with savoury brilliance

Tart (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
Tart (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

SINGAPORE — Here’s a tip for your next visit to Lolla. Go forth with zero expectations but prepare to have your palate awakened with the kind of joyful splendour that makes one genuinely grateful for life. And in a time like now, I will take whatever little joy that comes my way. Soft music now allowed in restaurants? Pop that champagne, honey. Five people can now dine-in together? Well, bust out that handwritten invite and have a great, safe-distanced night out, why don’t you.

Chef Johanne Siy still runs this joint one year on and with a culinary personality that’s original, unburdened, and oozing out from every pore of Lolla's new Autumn/Winter menu. Seasonality in Singapore’s dining scene is almost laughable, given a climate that tethers too quickly between hot, humid, or wet. As they say in Yishun, when it rains, it rains. And when it’s hot, you can almost see the heatwave rising from the orifices of the tarmac.

Still, Chef Jo trudges on with a menu that leans on ingredients that thrive abundantly this time of the year. Curiously, this season sees a brief hiatus of Lolla’s signature urchin pudding which makes me incredibly happy. It was the only item from her previous menu back in January which I opined, ‘was steeped in longevity and nostalgia, which makes me wonder if that would render it untouchable and impervious to improvement’. Not that it’s dull, but it’s hardly Chef Jo’s ideals of what full flavours taste like, now decidedly more refined and well-thought-out as if putting all of her heart on her sleeve.

Oyster (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
Oyster (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

It starts with a Tart of spanner crab that’s served hidden beneath a bed of kelp in a dramatic shade of night, topped with a quenelle of crab fat. To say this is umami would be doing umami a great favour. As I would soon learn, savouriness is the name of the game, and as I go down the menu, it manifests itself in all sorts of shapes and forms.

In the deceptively avant-garde presentation of Oyster, the produce is similarly hidden, though this time, under a kelp foam made with oyster jus, seaweed, mirin, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. Torn oyster leaves make an appearance again, lending a quiet but commanding brightness to the whole dish. And that’s before we get to the plump oyster cooked with burnt cabbage for a Drag Race-inspired “Oh, you wanted a twist, eh?”

(PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
(PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

By now, my palate knows something is up. “How did this boy go from a cup of instant 3-in-1 coffee in the morning to this?” I imagine it asking. It doesn’t help that the following two dishes are a masterclass of briny taste of the sea goodness that is impressively second to none. Take, for instance, the Squid Linguine that languishes lazily in a dark but clear beef chorizo broth, coaxing out oodles of glutamate through hours of cooking. The linguine here is made of slivers of squid, which makes this the third seafood offering for the afternoon. There’s a theme running here, and I’m all for it.

Elsewhere, a seared Hokkaido Scallop sits dead centre on a shallow puddle of opaque shellfish stew in the colour of a setting sun in all its savoury prowess. It’s all so dramatic with the dark green dill oil and a mound of sexy smoked celeriac puree that sits unassumingly underneath the stew. There are Bouchot mussels, too, as if a fat cut slice of Hokkaido Scallop is not impressive enough. It is, Chef Jo, it so is.

Silk Handkerchief Pasta(PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
Silk Handkerchief Pasta (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

The only fungi-forward course comes, as has been the case for this lunch, hidden under swathes of Silk Handkerchief Pasta tinged black through the use of charcoal. It’s a simple and straightforward presentation that needs little else by way of moreish excellence.

The subsequent two courses veer away from the seafood theme and venture into the world of meats. But not just any ordinary meat, mind you, lest you forget that this is Lolla. There’s no place for common proteins here, no ma’am.

Veal (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
Veal (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

There’s a glazed Veal sweetbread that sits off centre at the edge of a pool of Espagnole sauce that retains elements of richness despite being slightly diluted. For those unfamiliar with this meat, the sweetbread is made from a young calf’s thymus or pancreas gland and is creamy with a slight hint of sweetness. Here, it comes topped with contrasting flavours from the sweet Lingonberry and the tart pickled green peppercorn, making the whole presentation a brave attempt at something not many people have seen or had the pleasure of tasting before.

And then there’s the Koji-cured Quail breast and leg, brined and then pan-seared till a handsome char forms on the outside. The expectation of quail is that it’s small, bony, and quite impossible to appreciate fully. But here, it’s fat, juicy, flavourful, and so immensely tender. It comes served with a confit of egg yolk surrounded by adobo-scented quail sauce—a subtle nod to Chef Jo’s Filipino roots.

Apple (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)
Apple (PHOTO: Zat Astha/Yahoo Lifestyle SEA)

Dessert comes by way of a 3-month blackened Apple served with juice rendered during the curing process. This treatment gives the juice a brown, almost burnt hue, with a slightly tart finish on the tongue. I’ve never had apple this way—a culinary brilliance that makes for a heroic denouement to a satisfying lunch. And what better ice cream to enjoy this with than a Miso-flavoured one—savoury and entirely in line with the thread of umami that binds each course together in one cohesive whole. With this Autumn/Winter menu, Chef Johanne Siy shows that she now marches to the beat of her own drums, and if you listen carefully, she’s not about to stop anytime soon.

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22 Ann Siang Rd, Singapore 069702
Mon to Sat: 12nn – 2.30pm; 6pm – 11pm
Sun: 11.30am – 3pm; 6pm – 10.30pm