The Keong Saik neighbourhood has never been short of quality gastronomic options. Home to the likes of Burnt Ends (which recently placed 10th on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list) and one-Michelin-starred restaurant Meta, which specialises in French-inspired fare incorporated with Asian influences — the dining enclave is an ever-reliable spot for local epicureans.
It’s enjoying an additional burst of vitality this year, thanks to the opening of Kēsa House, a 10-shophouse property comprising rooms, bars and eateries. Among the latter is Olivia Restaurant & Lounge, which specialises in cuisine from Barcelona.
The establishment is helmed by co-founder and chef Alain Devahive, whose CV includes cooking at the now-defunct Catalunya and legendary Spanish establishment El Bulli. Don’t expect Olivia’s food to be inflected with the type of molecular gastronomy touches the latter was fond of, though. Chef Devahive’s cooking here leans towards tasty comfort fare that champions substance over style — and we are completely smitten.
An Instagram-friendly space
Decor-wise, Olivia checks all the right boxes. Wooden installations and exposed brick walls lend a rustic touch, while wicker chairs, hanging pendant lamps, and an abundance of potted plants evoke breezy island vibes. These are juxtaposed with splashes of blue from cushy booth seats and a massive wall centrepiece.
Most of its furniture and features such as floor tiles, tables and kitchen counter are imported from Barcelona, so you can pretend — at least for the duration of your meal — that you’re in the stylish Mediterranean city.
The restaurant is exceptionally photogenic in the day, especially in its private room that features a long communal table awash in sunlight spilling in through the windows. At night, it becomes a more boisterous venue with dim lighting and an eclectic soundtrack (we heard an assortment of Top 40s hits and funky dance tunes during our visit). Adding to the conviviality of the space is an open kitchen, where diners can watch the chefs in action.
Flavours of Barcelona
Expect an extensive repertoire of Catalan-style tapas and dishes ranging from Spanish omelette to cured anchovies and addictive “bikini” sandwiches (S$12) — crisp toasted bread bedecked with truffle, jamon Iberico ham and melted cheese. Olivia offers excellent croquettes too — go for the Iberico ham version (S$7), where salty chunks of meat are enveloped in béchamel sauce and encased in a gloriously crunchy exterior. A mushroom and truffle option is also available for vegetarians.
Also present on the menu are specially-imported ingredients such as piquillo peppers and 45-day dry-aged Galician beef (S$32). The latter is obtained from cattle over eight years old, as it’s believed the additional years of life (and grazing in the fields) will imbue the cows’ meat with a higher marbling and more intense flavour. These qualities make Galician beef particularly sought-after.
Our verdict? We’re now converts — the thinly sliced Galician beef at Olivia is deliciously tender, salty and streaked with smoky fat.
Another dish that had us hankering for seconds was the lobster avocado roll (S$25, see main image above), a Catalunya signature that chef Devahive has retained in his culinary arsenal. It comprises chunks of lobster meat sheathed in silky layers of avocado, and speckled with ikura and caviar for a dash of saltiness. A tangy ponzu sauce is poured over the roll to create a wonderful contrast of flavours.
Surf or turf
Other seafood-centric standouts on the menu include Suquet (S$38) — a robust stew of potatoes, clams and monkfish — and tuna cheek (S$35) drenched in a rich combination of beef jus, mashed potato, and Marmitako gravy, a Basque-style sauce made from red peppers and tuna bones. Olivia also does a scrumptious Arroz Negro (S$30), rice that’s stained black with squid ink and cooked in a seafood stock so every grain is laced with umami.
It’s typically topped with calamari, but we got lucky on our visit and had it with Carabinero prawns instead, which happened to be available that evening.
For those craving meatier offerings, the restaurant serves an artery-clogging steak tartare coated in Avruga caviar (S$48), as well as suckling pig (S$32) with a gorgeous crackling skin. The pork is sinfully succulent and comes with a side of grilled pineapple, which helps cut the fat.
If you have room for only one dessert, make it Olivia’s cheesecake (S$14 per slice/ S$80 for a whole cake). Freshly baked in-house, the confection looks like a giant tart at first glance with its crumbly biscuit base. Cut into it and it breaks apart to reveal a molten blue cheese centre that oozes out. The indulgence doesn’t have to end there — you can opt for black truffles (an additional S$28++ for five grams) to be shaved over it, injecting an earthy fragrance that envelops every bite.
Brimming with promise
Olivia hasn’t been open for long, but we hear it has already been drawing the crowds with its bold, punchy flavours, wide-ranging repertoire, and lovely interior. Adding to its winning formula is its attentive service, courtesy of Chief Operations Officer Miquel Sabrià and his team — many of whom once worked at Catalunya. The restaurant is planning to release a weekend brunch menu soon; we’re looking forward to seeing (and tasting) what chef Devahive has up his sleeve.