Thaddeus Yeo, Pang Hian Tee and Lee Chin Sin (not pictured) of Lolla and Lollapalooza went from collaborating on a guerrilla supper club to running two restaurants in Singapore’s fickle food scene.
“If we could be (combined into) one person, we would be the perfect restaurateur,” says Pang. Indeed, their small plates bar-restaurant in Ann Siang Road just wouldn’t be Lolla without the motley trio behind its unaffected cool. Yeo, a natural at warming a room, plays the role of resident host. Le Cordon Bleu-trained Lee (who couldn’t make it to our shoot) oversees the menu. And Pang is the curator to thank for that amazing wine list.
A serendipitous meeting at a dinner party in 2009 led to the three collaborating on a dinner for Lolla’s Secret Supper (the guerrilla-style supper club founded by Pang in 2009, which has just held its 11th sitting), and eventually setting up Lolla the restaurant in 2012. A hit from the get-go, it made Zagat’s Hottest Restaurants in the World list in 2013.
The concept – small plates of fusion fare – tapped into the rage for tapas bars, but gave it a more original flavour. The restaurateurs followed their gut rather than the latest trends when coming up with inventive signatures like doughnuts with lemon curd (their deconstructed take: crusty bite-sized choux puffs served with fresh lime puree on the side) and sea urchin pudding. Yeo laughs as he recounts how Pang became obsessed with sea urchin after sampling it on his travels and was determined to have it on the menu. Lolla’s take tastes friendlier than the Japanese uni dishes common here – a creamy squid ink custard base topped with slivers of sea urchin, it treads the line between sweet and savoury.
More impressive than its critical acclaim, however, is the steadfast loyalty of its patrons – no mean feat in our city’s notoriously fickle food scene. A fan from the start, finance professional Adrian Pattison says the hook for him is simple: “It is consistent, excellent and atmospheric.” A comment that gels with my own impressions: I recall salivating while watching the chef grill a slice of cheese one evening. I had finished my meal and was dithering over whether to place another order, but before I knew it, he had sent over a plate – on the house. It’s gestures like these that make Lolla more than a restaurant to regulars. “We try to make this the kind of place we, as diners, would keep coming back to,” says Pang.
The team hopes to translate these same qualities to their latest venture Lollapalooza in Keong Saik Road. The more “grown-up” offering, which opened last month, features individual tables (instead of a communal table, a prominent feature at Lolla), sleek Bauhaus-inspired interiors, and a menu that changes daily. “We believe that true luxury is about choice. The idea is to keep the dining experience fresh by not restricting guests to the same menu, ” says Pang. “But we’ve kept the DNA of Lolla’s Secret Supper. Even as we expand, the constants are an open kitchen; simple, quality dishes; and sharing plates.”
Friendship is the secret ingredient at the heart of it all. “When we were developing Lollapalooza, it came to a point where we said we wouldn’t do it if any one of us wasn’t in,” says Yeo. And that spirit of camaraderie is what keeps customers going back.
Lolla is at 22 Ann Siang Road (6423-1228) and Lollapalooza is at 1A Keong Saik Road (6221-3538).
An adapted version of this story first appeared in Female‘s April issue, out on newsstands now.