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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Ole! for Ola

Finally, a Spanish restaurant that is spot on in its authenticity has opened in Singapore. But strangely, it took an Italian to open it.
The Business Times - August 20, 2012
By: Jaime Ee
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Ole! for Ola AUTHENTIC AND DOWN TO EARTH \\r\\nOla Cocina Del Mar is a homey, welcoming Spanish seafood restaurant which offers a deceptively simple confit of octopus served with fried potatoes - PHOTO: ARTHUR LEE

New restaurant
Ola Cocina Del Mar
Marina Bay Financial Centre (Tower 3)

#01-06, 12 Marina Boulevard
Tel 6604-7050

FINALLY, a Spanish restaurant that is spot on in its authenticity has opened in Singapore. But strangely, it took an Italian to open it.

With the name "Osvaldo" blazing in big fat letters like a beacon in the otherwise cheerless F&B level currently being created at the Marina Bay Financial Centre, you wonder: Why is Osvaldo Forlino opening another Italian eatery so close to his other place Amarone in Capital Tower? Together with his original No Menu, is he trying to corner the financial district pasta-eating market with his brand of home-style Italian specialties that he doesn't even cook himself anymore?

Then you look closer at the signage and you see it: Ola Cocina Del Mar, in small print beside his name, alluding to the homey, welcoming little Spanish seafood kitchen within. Pretend the friendly Italian lady who greets you is speaking to you in a Catalan accent, and ignore the displays of Italian oils and other products interspersed with Spanish vinegars and spices on the display shelves.

It's harder to ignore Forlino, though, as the chef-turned-restaurateur proudly presides over his new baby - a clever joint venture with two capable chefs Daniel Chavez and Pepe Moncayo, who were the executive chef and chef de cuisine respectively from the defunct restaurant Santi at Marina Bay Sands.

It transpires that Forlino used to be a regular at Santi, and had long offered the two chefs a platform if they ever wanted to strike out on their own. So with Forlino as their financial benefactor, the two have made Ola their own - almost - with a no-fuss, down-to-earth menu that is comfortingly good.

There were a couple of false starts in our meal there recently, though. The assembly-made toast with chorizo as your token amuse bouche was a mere afterthought, while the tapa of griddled prawns with garlic, chilli and olive oil ($15 for four prawns) was pretty fresh but tasteless with barely any seasoning or chilli kick. The ubiquitous croquetas ($10 for four) helped to pick things up a bit with its savoury creamy roux-like filling surrounded by a breadcrumb crust that is appropriately crispy without being shatteringly so.

The Basque specialty of stuffed piquillos (small red peppers) appears too - filled with a bacalao (salt cod) mixture that isn't at all salty and coated in a Biscayne sauce made of pureed peppers and tomatoes. It's neither pretentious nor sophisticated, like something you would eat in the home of a Spanish friend.

Still, Chavez and Moncayo are restaurant chefs after all, and their professional flair appears in the rest of the menu. The deceptively simple confit of octopus served with fried potatoes ($16) is meaty and firm rather than fork tender, offering a satisfying bite and smoky paprika flavour. By the way, these are all tapas portions (ie small) so watch the temptation to order too many because the bills add up very quickly.

Ola does a good paella ($20) - rice infused with saffron-scented seafood broth that retains a bit of bite in each grain. Served in an individual-sized pan, you don't get crusty bits at the bottom but the sides of the pan yield some very tasty scraps. Unlike the dried out meat and seafood that is the norm for most locally-made paellas, this version has tender moist chicken and perfectly cooked prawns and squid. Also good is the seafood stew with its tasty briny broth, although it was marred slightly by the rubbery fish and undercooked potatoes.

Ola's signature dish is likely to be the suckling pig's trotter - cooked sous vide at 65 degrees for 18 hours before being roasted in a hot oven for 45 minutes till the skin puffs up beautifully crisp while the fat beneath it melts away. Served with creamy potatoes and vegetables, it's a hefty piece of work so leave room for it. And for the delicious dessert of creamy rice pudding cooked with coconut milk and raisins that's perfumey and chewy and far more interesting than boring creme catalan.

Chavez and Moncayo make a compatible pair - the gentle, mild-mannered Peruvian Chavez working in a calm, assured manner in the open kitchen that can be seen from the counter seats, even as the over-caffeinated Moncayo - born and bred Catalan from Barcelona - bounces around as order-taker, food-plater, customer relations officer and in-house comic. From the way he tells you that his octopus comes in "absolutely, one hundred per cent, super - frozen!" to his refusal to tell you what his favourite dessert is until you order one and he says, "that's my favourite", the guy could well find a second career in entertainment if he ever tires of his day job.

But for now, he and Chavez are doing just fine at Ola (incidentally, the octopus needs to be frozen for two weeks to break down the tough fibres) serving the kind of earnest, gutsy food that never goes out of fashion. The restaurant may be "Osvaldo" in name now, but once you're inside, it's Pepe and Daniel's show, which is how it should be.

Rating: 7.5/10

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