SINGAPORE — As a food writer, I deign to review a restaurant just because someone on Facebook says it’s worth the visit or that the food is great or the service is exemplary (a rarity these days, believe me). However, I depart from this formality when it comes to Google reviews because, barring the very few planted users, most times, they have proven themselves to be trustworthy.
It could be because it takes considerable effort to post a review on Google, unlike on Facebook. So I reckon, if someone takes pains to leave the proverbial writing on the wall, it could only mean that they love the place so much that they want to rally support for the business or that it has left enough of a sour taste in the mouth for everyone else to be forewarned.
With a 4.6 stars review from 245 users, Ola Cocina Del Mar thankfully belongs to the former category. Set on the first floor of Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3, Ola sets itself apart from other recent restaurant graduates of 2020/2021 by adopting a handsome interior dominated by lots of dark woods and black upholstered chairs. The walls are liberally filled with photo frames and mirrors of all shapes and sizes while the bar and kitchen take centre stage in the middle of all this dinner revelry.
The chef-in-chief here is Daniel Chavez, a Peruvian native who has staged in storied establishments such as La Sucursal in Spain, Can Fabes in Barcelona, Ossiano in Dubai, and in Singapore, Santi and Les Amis. I would expect this wealth of experience to result in a very ‘chef-fy’ approach to food. You know the kind, where every plate is filled to the brim with egocentricity with nary a care about whether the consumer understands the food’s philosophy.
Instead, here the food is adoringly painted with simplicity and sensibility that at times bring ingredients into sharp focus and at other times, shifts the attention towards flavour and technique. It really is a joyful thing for someone who loves food. And as a person who’s partial to prawns, the complimentary appetiser of fried prawn heads sitting on a puddle of Romesco sauce gives me the kind of familiar rush and anticipation I associate with a restaurant that’s about to blow my mind.
And blow my mind it did. It starts with the Ceviche Clasico (S$28++), a bowl of cubed red snapper, served with Peruvian Corn, purple sweet potato, and White Tiger’s Milk—a Peruvian citrus-based marinade so named for its alleged aphrodisiac properties. There’s also slivers of raw red onions in here that lifts the dish and gives the coldness of the presentation a little warmth. Texturally, it’s faultless with softness and crunch bouncing off each other like stanzas in a haiku. It’s boldly seasoned which gives me pause—is Ola one of those restaurants that flavours bravely?
No sooner had I entertained that thought, a shallow bowl of Gambas (S$28++) appeared, a dish of peak simplicity that greatly impresses. Essentially, it’s prawns, pomme purée, garlic oil, and dried chilli. Not that it needs anything else, although, with a presentation as barebones as this, every little thing makes a difference.
Here, the prawns are incredibly plump, telling of its freshness while the infused garlic oil and garlic chips give it a flavour edge that takes this from simple to spectacular in just one bite. I noticed specks of salt in this too, which gives the overall brininess quite the lift.
Elsewhere, a plate of Spanish Grilled Octopus (S$28) comes drizzled with black olive mayo, topped with a herbaceous serving of Chimichurri sauce. I do wish the octopus was just a touch more tender, but here, there’s sufficient bite, so you know what you’re eating is octopus.
There's a Seafood Paella (S$38++/S$72++) that is beautifully done with soft rice where it should be soft, and a satisfying crisp around the edges as all paella should be. Although not a surprise anymore, everything in this paella pan is fiercely seasoned, with a creamy umami kick that keeps me coming back for more and more until eventually there’s nothing left.
I also had a go at the simply named Suckling Pig (S$65++ for loin, S$72++ for leg), roasted Spanish style and served with Pomme Purée, mixed salad, and sweet and sour sauce. This here is pork at its finest—it’s pork all day, every day.
And by that, I mean only order this if you have a craving for pork because the portions are incredibly generous and the meat beautiful, tender, and a bountiful of flavours that will make even the most discerning carnivore cry. It’s presented without pretence and filigree so much so that this was the only plate tonight that I had to eat with a little bit more deliberation. Maybe more sweet-sour sauce would greatly taper the porkiness and make this a more palatable experience for diners less inclined to the meat.
A dinner experience at OLA should be one that is plentiful—it would be a downright shame if you didn’t get to taste as much as you possibly could stomach. It’s probably why I strongly advocate for the Ola special Omakase menu (S$118++), a 5-course menu that’s only available for dinner, and requires the participation of everyone in the dinner party.
At Ola, the food is dependable, rustic, and downright sincere—don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I left with a spring in my step and a tinge of regret that it took me this long to make the trip down. But like all good things that come to those who delay, Ola was worth the oversight and the wait.
Website | Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3, #01-06, 12 Marina Boulevard, S018982
Lunch: Monday to Friday; 12:00 pm – 2:30 pm
Dinner: Monday to Saturday; 6 pm – 9:30 pm
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