Meet as strangers, part as friends. And do it over squid ink and sea urchin pudding – now there’s a clincher if I ever saw one.
Along with all the sensual, unctuous richness those six words conjure, there will also be chargrilled Alaskan king crab legs, melting braised beef tongue and steamed chocolate pudding … in all, 11 signature dishes from famed Singaporean restaurant Lolla, at its two-nights-only Kuala Lumpur pop-up collab with local bespoke food maestros, 23aubergine.
In the small, trendy dining enclave of Club Street and Ann Siang Road, Lolla is a creator and curator of Mediterranean-inspired plates, as small and precious as jewels.
In its opening year, it made the Zagat 2013 guide’s The 10 Hottest Restaurants in the World list – and that sea urchin pudding has been on the tip of dedicated foodies’ tongues since it made its menu debut.
Lolla’s brick-and-mortar façade grew from its more ephemeral roots in Lolla’s Secret Suppers, the here-one-night-gone-the-next guerilla dining initiative co-founded by Pang Hian Tee in 2008.
Pang lived in London for five years prior to this, and often returned home to Singapore armed with interesting, hard-to-find produce to share with friends and family. The result? “Countless meals with good food and conversation” and a steadily increasing desire to share the good things in life even more.
“One of the things I fell in love with in London was Champagne. I was excited by the variety and quality of small grower-producer Champagnes that were then not easily available in Singapore,” said Pang.
He started a small company with like-minded friends, to import these grower Champagnes – and they decided to host the first secret supper in 2010 as a fun, informal way to introduce the bubblies to friends.
Lolla’s Secret Suppers, in a different location each time, took off from then.
“We wanted the suppers to be faff-free, unpretentious and centred around good food, conversation, possibly accentuated by art, culture, and entertainment – eating exceptionally well in the unlikeliest of places,” said Pang. “After a few installations, the media caught wind of it and seats were selling out 30 minutes after we announced it.”
Encouraged by the response, Pang decided to open a brick-and-mortar incarnation with Lolla’s spirit – and Champagne spirits – and teamed up with his current partners.
“We wanted a casual environment serving inspired, yet simple, small plates,” said Pang. “Lolla combines the best ingredients and seasonal produce with Mediterranean influences. I wanted a place that serves what I would love to have at my own table.
“In keeping with our secret supper beginnings, we have a communal table at Lolla that seats up to 22. We often see guests from different groups starting conversations and eventually sharing their food and wine!”
That’s the Lolla spirit diners can expect at the intimate pop-up sessions next week.
Pang spent eight years working in KL, and finds the dining scene “dynamic and exciting”.
“I’ve been tempted many times to stage a secret supper weekend around KL, where I could showcase my favourite bak kut teh stall in Jenjarom and my favourite restaurant in Banting that serves fresh toddy!” he said.
But first, next week’s pop-up will draw on the 15-year friendship Pang has enjoyed with David and Jessica Nathan, the husband-and-wife team behind 23aubergine.
The company specialises in versatile, original event catering, each with its own narrative. “That’s why we don’t have a fixed menu; we like to meet with the clients and create something tailored for them, around their needs and their stories,” said David.
When Pang was working in event management in KL, many of his events were catered for by 23aubergine. And the relationship continued, regardless of his fixed address.
“Jess was actually our guest chef for Lolla’s Secret Supper 2 in October 2010,” said Pang. “When David mentioned that they had moved into a new space, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for us to reciprocate!”
That space is Larder by 23aubergine in Ampang. It’s not open to the public just yet, but will play host to special events like this for the time being. “It’s a simple, clean, unfussy space – we are not a white tablecloth sort of restaurant!” said David.
“I’ve seen Jess in action in the kitchen many times over the years,” said Pang. “Besides being very creative in her delivery, what is more important for us to be able to deliver the proper Lolla experience in KL, is her uncompromising demand for quality, and fastidiousness in the kitchen.”
Lolla’s chef de cuisine, Saiful Aziz and Gerard Raj, the junior sous chef, will be coming over to work with the 23aubergine chef in the kitchen, while Lolla manager Teh Su Fen will work with the service team.
No wines will be sold on the two nights, so a BYO policy (with a small handling fee) will be effected. David and Jessica will work on non-alcoholic beverage pairings as well, which can be ordered for a separate charge.
This pop-up is hopefully the first in a trio of collaborations between Lolla and 23aubergine.
“This instalment is purely Lolla’s food, because we really want people to experience the well-curated menu, which has such great variety,” said David.
“Take the sea urchin pudding, for instance. It’s so decadent, unlike anything we had tried before. The kombu butter. Even the way the ox tongue is cooked, the way it takes on the flavours of the aromatics, and is so super-tender and aromatic.”
The second planned instalment should see 23aubergine taking over Lolla’s kitchen. “Then perhaps the third will see a menu split between us both.”
“The ultimate aim for us, as always, is for the diners to have a nice time – enjoy our food, have great conversations, and maybe make a few new friends,” said Pang.
“There’s no secret – it’s just about good food, good wine, friendly, knowledgeable and efficient service!”
The Larder by 23aubergine x Lolla pop-up will feature a menu for two at RM500. It will run on Aug 4 and 5, at Larder by 23aubergine, 379A, Persiaran Ampang, KL. To book, call 019-907 7061 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.