A divine food tour at Ann Siang Hill

Last week, my husband planned a food tour for both of us, when we finally have some time off  for ourselves while Buddy is ensconced in daycare. He picked two restaurants located at Ann Siang Hill, with very good reviews. Well, actually he found about the first one from a FB post by our Prime Minister, who took the visiting President of the Philippines to a famous Nasi Lemak eatery known as The Coconut Club. To be honest, we didn’t know about this restaurant until the post appeared. It is said to serve one of the best Nasi Lemak (“coconut flavored rice” in literal translation) in town, and also one of the most expensive. 

My husband did some research and found out that the popular eatery generates long lines everyday, and informed me that we have to be there when the restaurant opens at 11.00AM so that we won’t have to wait too long. And so we arrived at 10.50AM, hoping to beat the queue. The restaurant was opened by then, there was no line and  only one occupied table inside.

Ann Siang Hill is known for its pre-war conserved shop houses, and The Coconut Club is housed in one of them. Because of the high ceiling, despite the scorching heat outside, the eatery is rather cool even with the door wide open. (Yes it does have A/C, and yet it keeps its doors open.) The restaurant mostly caters to groups of 2 diners, with a long table in the middle for large groups. There is not a lot of seating capacity, though there are a few tables outside the restaurant. 

When we entered the restaurant, we were told we could have a seat and order our drinks, but the kitchen would not be ready until 11.00AM.

The menu is very simple, there is only Nasi Lemak with side orders of either Otak (fish paste marinated with coconut milk and Chili), fried fish or fried egg. Since we were on a food tour, we couldn’t fill out stomach at TCC, so we only ordered one set of Nasi Lemak, an Otak, and a chendol (coconut milk dessert). Yes, death by coconut milk is a real possibility here!

 

Here we have the famous dish, which comes with fried chicken, a fried egg, fried ikan bilis (anchovies), fried peanuts, cucumber and the all-important sambal Chili. However the first thing I tried was the grilled Otak, wrapped in banana leaf. Sure, I love Otak, but my husband was busy digging into the Nasi Lemak, while saying, “while stock last!” and “this is sooo… good!” 

So let me review the Otak first, which is $8.50 per piece and possibly the most expensive Otak in Singapore. I have to say it is really good! I could see the fish meat in it and  taste its texture. It also has no fishy taste, unlike the mass produced ones and is marinated with the right amount of spices and a hint of smokiness. 

As for the main course itself, I have to say it is the best Nasi Lemak I’ve ever had! Yes, it is quite steep at S$12.80 a plate, but it is truly amazing! The rice is perfectly cooked with a subtle coconut milk flavor, unlike most where it can be overpowering. The fried chicken is so yummy, crispy on outside and moist inside,  and the rest of the condiments are done well. My husband loves the sambal Chili which is vital to a good plate of Nasi Lemak. 

Ending the meal is the chendol, which is lightly sweetened with Gula Melaka in very fine ice, and I have to say it is a sweet conclusion. Though I am a little disappointed that there is no red bean added into the dessert. My husband, however, thinks otherwise as this is how the original chendol is. 

So, what do I think? I will definitely come back for the Nasi Lemak, even at $12.80 a plate because it’s truly the best I have ever had! There is one famous local food blogger who is a little dismissive of the food, saying that he couldn’t taste the difference compared to other prominent Nasi Lemak sellers. Well, he is entitled to his views but I strongly beg to differ. In fact, I would have returned to the restaurant if not for it being closed currently for the year end break. But I do think the Otak at $8.50 is a little steep, even though it is pretty good and I might not order the chendol (S$3.80) again.  

As we were savoring our meals, the restaurant was filling up fast. When we left at 11.45AM, it was full and a line was starting to form. My advice is to come here before 11AM if possible. 

Our next stop is located a stone’s throw away at 22 Ann Siang Road, Lolla. I had not heard of this restaurant until my husband told me he had made a reservation for our food tour, but that’s because I have not been following the food scene here. And it is only until now that I am writing this review post and doing a little research on its background that I found out it was featured in the New York Times, and was one of the  top 10 hottest restaurants in the world in the 2013 Zagat list. Since I have tried the food, I can say it deserves the hype!

As mentioned, I went to Lolla without any idea of what to expect though my husband told me the restaurant offers food in tapas style. (I found out from research that that is not how the owner wants the food to be known.) Well, it is only similar to tapas in the sense that the food comes in small plates. The influence comes from the Mediterranean. 

Lolla is a small eatery with a 13-seater bar counter surrounding an open kitchen, similar to a sushi counter restaurant. I understand that there is more seating available in the basement but we did not venture there. We were the first customers that day, and a whimsy menu lies on the counter in front of each seat. (It’s also available on its website.) 

There is a special menu if you want to order something different, and the dessert menu on the chalk board.

The chefs in the kitchen, where you get to view their culinary skills. 

Looks at all these spices and ingredients! Under the counter top, there are a few fridges that are set to different temperatures. I noticed the Chef taking out a potted basil plant from one of them. It’s like having a mini herb garden right in the kitchen!

First to serve is toasted Maison Kayser bread with Konbu butter. Though I am sensitive to wheat, but I decided to have a small piece of bread so that I could try the butter. What can I say? I went for second helping of bread and more. To hell with bloated tummy! 

Like what my husband said, there is something about the combination of konbu (dried edible kelp used by Japanese in their cooking) and butter that makes a divine spread. Creaminess with an umami taste! 

The simple but delectable tomato salad, marinated with olive oil and chopped basil. 

Another starter: the fabulous bread with duck rillettes. On its own, the latter is not something amazing. But when I followed my husband’s lead in spreading the butter with duck rillettes on the bread and topping with tomatoes to make an open face sandwich, it’s drool-inducing good!

We ordered the grilled avocado for more vege. The avocadoes are topped with pine nuts and pickled cabbage with some sort of creamy sauce on the base. The combination is amazing! The pine nuts and cabbage add crunch to the creamy texture of the avocadoes which are enhanced by the sauce.

The piece de resistance of the meal is the lamb rack, which is amazingly tender and tasty, with none of the smell that put some people off lamb. If not for me wanting to have dessert, I would have had both racks. I gave one to my husband who was eyeing it longingly despite having had most of the Nasi Lemak earlier. 

For dessert, I tried the smoky chocolate ice cream. Upon tasting it, I realized that the ice cream was like gelato, not frozen but with a creamy texture. The smoky taste enhances the chocolate flavor like salt does. But I understand the steamed dark chocolate pudding is a hit with many customers; I will try that at my next visit.

I guess it is obvious from my review that I have fallen in love with Lolla food. It is one of the best meals I’ve ever had, and even now I’m still thinking about it! I’ve suggested to my husband for a return, but he feels that there are other good restaurants we have not tried and we should check them out instead of going back to the tried and tested. That is true, considering that we didn’t know Lolla is so good until we had the food. So, do make a trip to Lolla for the fabulous cuisine, and make reservation for lunch, which is easier to get a seat. 

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