‘The kitchen is the soul of the restaurant’ is a tagline that describes the exceptional dining experience at OLA Cocina Del Mar. The contemporary Spanish restaurant, located at the heart of the CBD at the Marina Bay Financial Centre, features an open kitchen where all guests are welcomed to witness the dishes being created right before their very eyes. Helmed by Chef Daniel Chavez, former Executive Chef of SANTI at Marina Bay Sands where I had one of the most memorable dining experiences, the restaurant aims to serve up the freshest and most seasonal produce with an aim to tickle your tastebuds through a range of Tapas, Paellas, Mains and an extensive wine menu. Its casual, laidback and cozy setting is a distinct contrast from the more businesslike and financial atmosphere of the area, proving its worth as probably one of the finest place to chill in the city.
One of the private dining corners in OLA
Counter dining provide front row seats to the open kitchen
Chef Daniel Chavez, a Peruvian by birth, has worked with the late Santi Santamaria for many years before arriving in Singapore to head the celebrity chef’s kitchens at Marina Bay Sands. The one thing that I took away from my own dining experience at SANTI was the philosophy that good flavours and food are nothing but a product of an exquisite harmony of robust, distinct flavours found naturally in each ingredient. While SANTI was labelled as a gastronomic yet homely adventure from start to finish, Chef Daniel’s OLA is positioned more as the everyday restaurant diners will want to step into for some excellent Spanish cuisine albeit with a still memorable journey for the tastebuds.
Start off dinner with some fine in-house baked bread, served alongside a serving of Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Riserva di Famiglia Balsamic vinegar. The olive oil is exceptionally smooth and luscious with a complex, nutty scent. The balsamic vinegar, itself nicely aged over three years, gives off a sweet, alluring fragrance that encapsulates its tanginess, only to complement the olive oil in harmonious proportions.
The first tapas served up was the Fish Ceviche ($25) is considered the national dish of Peru. It comes as a dish of freshly marinated fish, lime juice and onions, with the fish sweet and tender and a highlight that blends in nicely with the crunchy red onions. The ‘tiger milk’ marinade is tangy, rich with a delicate note of sweetness and goes exceptionally well with beer.
The Fish Cevice is recommended to be paired with the Estrella de Galicia “Spanish Beer”.
I thoroughly enjoyed the humble Gambas Al Ajillo ($25). Prawns in garlic oil and dried chilli was a simple yet divine concoction that boasts of sweet prawn flavours immersed in a specially created oil infused with garlic and shallots. With some bread by the side, this would make an excellent dip.
The 2011 Agusti Torello Mata Rose “Spanish Cava” is the recommended pairing for the Gambas. The sparkling wine from the northern part of Spain has a level of acidity and fruity sweetness that fizzles nicely with the sweet prawns and its oily disposition.
For something with an ingredient that is a little more classy, go for the Conchas A La Parmesana ($35). These Hokkaido Scallops baked with parmesan cheese and lime juice is delectable and wholesome all in one bite. The parmesan cheese with its salty overtones complements the sweet and juicy scallops that were quickly flash baked in the oven for that crisp, brown top. The side of breadcrumbs in all its flaky nature contrasts the sweet onion compote very well. An interesting dish overall.
The 2009 Toques & Clochers Haut Valle is the recommended pairing for the scallops. 100 percent chardonnay, aged 12-14 months, and comes with a balance between alcohol and acidity.
I would highly recommend going for the Pulpo A La Brasa ($24). The main ingredient of octopus is sous vide for 4 hours at 180 degrees Celsius and thereafter grilled to serve. The result? An octopus portion that is elegantly tender, yet with a bite that is unmistakable of its octopus-y nature while leaving a slightly charred flavour that emanates from each bite. The tomatoes and peas nicely carries an envelop of olive oil and salt that lifts the overall dish’s flavour.
Have this with the 2012 L’Equilibrista, a Northern Spanish wine.
The Grilled Asparagus with Potatoes, Onion Compote and Ham Chips would be one of the more memorable moments for the night. The Peruvian white asparagus are grilled in a charcoal oven that both cook and infuse the vegetable with waves of smoky goodness in a midst of savoury and stocky flavours. Each bite leaves a lingering scent on the tongue and is a distinct contrast from the regular asparagus by the side. The ham chips give a charming textural contrast to the potato and grated parmesan side.
The 2010 Juve y Camps Blanc de Noirs “Spanish Cava” served clears the palate, refreshing it for the next bite.
One more for the photobook.
The classic Squid Ink Paella takes a different turn at OLA. Presented as the Fideua Negra Con Calamares ($40), this dish is now a creation of Squid Ink Noodle Paella with Baby Calamari and Alioli Sauce. The fried baby calamari and springy noodles are a most delightful combination. Crisp, flavourful with a delightful infusion of garlic midtones from the alioli sauce, this is a classic worth waiting for. My favourite dish of the night.
Pair the Squid Ink Noodle Paella with the 2009 Anima Negra 2. This second wine of the winery is medium, not too heavy with a gentle spice throughout.
The final main of Roasted Suckling Pig and Grilled Iberico Pork with Lentils and Chimichurri is one classic Spanish dish to try if you are in the mood for something substantial and robust. The suckling pig is fine and fatty, leaving its meat soft and tender and in overall clean and delicate. The recommended pairing for this white meat dish is the 2009 Anima Negra 2 in order to bring out the dish’s elegance. On the other hand, the iberico pork is flavoured in degrees of complex, meaty flavours that would go well with a serving of a more hearty Romanico 2011.
The simple Spanish cheese selection came with a marvelous serving of Lustau East India Solera Sherry. This blend of dry aged Sherry wine and sweet Sherry wine, each produced separately and then mixed together for another three years, is one of the best pairings for blue cheese. The aromatics of this wine are wonderfully floral and sweet.
The house’s dessert for the night is the “Ola” Apple Salad ($16). A simple and original creation of Caramel Cream, Lemon Jelly and Green Apples for that light and elegant finish. Have it with the 2011 Josefina Pinol Blanco, sweet and intense on the tastebuds with a caramelised aftertaste.
Me, Anastasia and the former team from SANTI (second from left – Juan, fourth from left – Daniel, Anil & Chris)
Me and Chef Daniel Chavez
Dining at OLA made me realize once again how much I enjoyed dining in Singapore. Although we may be small, the diversity of authentic flavours from all around the world is increasingly accessible, perhaps a stop short from dining in another country. I thoroughly enjoyed the selection of tapas and mains, each carefully paired with a beer or wine for the night. Its location in the financial district is a welcome addition that is targeted at those who yearn a casual and comfy place to wind down the night with some fine wine and tasteful bites to share. The personal nature of Chef Daniel and his team will also make this an intimate dining experience that transforms regular dining into a homely experience. On overall, a very flavourful culinary adventure that is both fulfilling and enriching.
Thank you OLA for the invitation.
All dishes pictured in this article are tasting portions.
|OLA Cocina Del Mar
Marina Bay Financial Centre
12 Marina Boulevard
Tel: 6604 7050
Mon to Fri
Lunch 11am to 3pm
Dinner 5pm to 10pm
Happy Hour 3pm to 8pm
Dinner 5pm to 10pm
Closed on Sundays
Set lunches over the counter available on weekdays.