Readers of the Wandering Palate may have noticed that I rarely write negative reviews on restaurants, with a self-compliance adopting the old adage “If you’ve got nothing nice to say, say nothing at all. ” Furthermore, I find it best to refrain from criticizing the work of other journalists or publications out of respect for both their opinion and avoiding conflicts of interest.
However, sometimes you just have to speak out; when you know something is just not right. A recent online article by Zagat ‘The 10 Hottest Restaurants in the World: Where to Eat Right Now’, had me scratching my head, with a new establishment in Singapore, Lolla, singled out as ‘The hot place’ to dine.
Notwithstanding the barrage of online venting and perplexity at the some of the selections of the ‘Hot 10′ on the Zagat website and other foodie forums, my ‘red card’ came out when the New York Times online Travel Bites posted an article June 11, 2013 “Restaurant Report: Lolla in Singapore”, which appears to be on the back of Zagat’s embellishment of Lolla.
I have dined at Lolla, an impromptu visit on a Thursday evening around 8.00pm, and despite the New York Times article claim “one of the hardest tables to book is Lolla”, there was no queue and we walked straight in and were seated at the half empty “coveted zinc-topped bar”. It is a worrying sign that a restaurant purported to be the hottest place in town is half-empty at primetime Thursday evening moreover, a completely misleading illusion of notoriety when you only seat 13 people and do not take reservations; delusion I would call it.
I am not about to write a review on Lolla but would like to say that any restaurant that serves tinned beetroot straight out of the can with a vinaigrette of sorts and calls it ‘Beetroot Carpaccio’ and charges $15 for the dish is not going to remain ‘hot’ for long.
Frankly, I found the place totally amateurish and seemingly plagiarizing the tapas bar concept of the deservedly popular Esquina, a dynamic partnership between the design/concept talents of Loh Lik Peng (unlisted collection) and the expertise of Chef Jason Atherton (Pollen Street Social) and the cooking skills of his Executive Chef at Esquina, Andrew Walsh.
The open-plan kitchen-bar concept is a brilliant way for diners to get a real ‘live’ sense of a commercial kitchen and all the theatre, flare and tension that goes with it, warts and all. Chef Walsh at Esquina does it well, with his commanding professionalism and bit of audible chefs vernacular, his team rocking along with a reassuring air of confidence, even when it looks like the ‘shit is hitting the fan’ and they are drowning in orders, you get the bonus entertainment of how they struggle through and their perseverance makes you all the more patient waiting for your dishes to arrive.
At Esquina there is a palpable connection between the cooking and the diner with Chef and cooks interacting with people and engaging them in the theatre. At Lolla there was no entertainment, in fact what we experienced was a completely uncoordinated pathetic huddle of amateur cooks talking amongst themselves and thinking they are cool, whilst completely ignoring the diners.
This is of course all highly subjective but in the current trends of the Singapore dining scene, it would be fair to say tapas bars and Spanish influenced restaurants are definitely ‘the in thing’ and I would suggest Esquina remains the ‘hot spot’. And despite being open over a year now, it shows no signs of flagging, if anything it has become even more popular with an ever-changing menu–and yes, it still hard to get in–with diners queuing for long periods then enduring an Alcatraz easy chair and ‘reality’ cooking.
Anyway, if there’s a challenger to Esquina, it has to be Catalunya which I would say is running ‘white hot’ at the moment and if you want to exercise a bit of self-induced humiliation, turn up at the door here without a booking. That said, you might be able to talk (grease, beg) your way into the bar and from there you could be lucky to score a table with the chance of no-shows and some table-juggling from the highly-polished (a little arrogant) team.
Catalunya is a stunning restaurant with an arguably the best cosmopolitan view in Singapore across the Marina Bay. It is slick and modern in every respect; contemporary Spanish cuisine incorporating both tapas and regional dishes–a bright airy tastefully designed and appointed dining room with highly-groomed professional front of house staff–an impressive wine list focused on Spain with loads by the glass and well-informed sommeliers and waiters to help in choosing wines.
Personally, I think Catalunya is the best new restaurant in Singapore, at the same time it is expensive and outrageously busy but the food is great and it’s a fun and very cool place to be; you could say it is ‘hot’…but Lolla, is definitely not.
And if dining at ‘hot’ restaurants is not your thing, or if you are like me and simply just not cool and get more enjoyment out of wholesome eating at an affordable price, you might like to try Jade Palace Seafood Restaurant, my ‘Best Restaurant in Singapore’.