What a difference six years can make. When Ola Cocina del Mar first opened in 2012, it was saddled with the usual challenges faced by many new eateries in Singapore — manpower shortage, stiff competition in the over-saturated dining scene, and trouble with filling its seats. The latter was exacerbated by the Spanish restaurant’s CBD locale at Marina Bay Financial Centre, which was essentially a ghost town on weekends without the office crowd.

Despite a demoralising start, the restaurant’s team and executive chef-owner Daniel Chavez soldiered on and gradually won over customers with its easygoing vibe, solid cooking, and collaborations with culinary luminaries the likes of Gaggan Anand, and Thomas and Mathias Sühring.

Today, Ola Cocina Del Mar is constantly bustling. It even recently expanded its space with two new private dining rooms. Named ‘Valencia’ and ‘Barcelona’, the rooms seat up to eight diners each and are furnished with leather armchairs against a long table. Wooden shelves adorned with random trinkets collected by Chavez during his travels, lend a whimsical touch — great for lightening the mood at your next serious business lunch.

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The new “Valencia” private dining room. (Photo: Ola Cocina del Mar)

Another highlight at Ola Cocina Del Mar is its newly refreshed menu, which showcases a variety of tapas, paellas, mains and grilled meats. Chavez and his head chef Ng Yi Yi rolled out a selection of these dishes during our recent dinner visit.

Ceviche (S$25) isn’t a new addition to the menu, but it’s something that will never go out of style at Ola Cocina Del Mar, which serves a deliciously zesty medley of New Zealand wild-caught snapper soaked in Tiger’s Milk (a citrusy marinade made from chillies and onions) and garnished with raw onions and fried baby calamari. Peruvian canchita, or toasted corn, was thrown into the mix for a satisfying crunch, while a dash of chilli lent a subtle burn.

The grilled octopus (S$28) was also a classic that didn’t disappoint. Marinated in smoked paprika oil, it was first cooked sous-vide, before being seared on the plancha for a slightly charred exterior. This left the octopus delightfully tender with just the right amount of bite. As a final touch, it was paired with a creamy Rouille sauce (a Mediterranean-inspired saffron-infused mayonnaise), Josper-grilled fennel, and orange zest — which lifted the overall combination of savoury and smoky flavours.

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Ola Cocina Del Mar’s Huevos don’t look fancy, but they sure taste delicious.

Just when we thought those two scrumptious concoctions were pretty tough acts to follow, we were greeted with a rather unassuming-looking platter of Huevos, or Spanish-style scrambled eggs (S$24). It wasn’t the most photogenic creation, with its haphazard-looking presentation of eggs tossed with bits of meat and vegetables.

We were glad to be proven wrong. The eggs were perfectly scrambled with a velvety texture, and every bite unfolded to reveal succulent pieces of crispy and salty grilled Iberico pork jowl. Complementing these were spinach and king oyster mushrooms that helped balance out the fat in the dish. Now, who needs yet another picture-perfect composition of scrambled eggs on toast, when you can have Ola Cocina Del Mar’s not-so-glamorous but unapologetically tasty rendition?

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The Wild Market Fish features seasonal fish cooked in salsa verde. (Photo: Ola Cocina del Mar)

Also a hit was the Wild Market Fish (S$43). The fish changes depending on what’s seasonally available and is sourced from New Zealand seafood supplier Lee Fish. Our Basque-style New Zealand snapper was seared atop the plancha before being drenched in salsa verde, a green, herbaceous sauce containing fresh herbs, green peas, olive oil and garlic. Dry Spanish manzanilla sherry was also poured in for a boozy kick. Rounding off this comforting, hearty dish were crunchy asparagus stalks and sweet clams.

A trip to Ola Cocina Del Mar isn’t complete without its famed paella. It offers two variations on its menu: Fideua De Cigalas (a noodle dish prepared paella-style), Paella “Ola” — which comprises rice with fish, baby shrimps and baby calamari — and Paella “Valenciana” (S$35), which comes with saffron rice, grilled chicken and chorizo.

Opting for the latter was a decision well-made. The rice was first cooked in sofrito, a tomato and onion base, which left every grain swathed in a delicate sweetness, before being bedecked with meat, chickpeas and beans. The rice was particularly enjoyable thanks to its slightly crispy texture — the result of being finished in the oven before serving — and was topped with dollops of garlic aioli, which prevented it from being dry.

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Clockwise from left: Ola Cocina del Mar’s Paella “Ola”, Paella “Valenciana”, and Fideua De Cigalas. (Photo: Ola Cocina del Mar)

The food at Ola Cocina Del Mar doesn’t strive to be fancy or Instagram-friendly; but that just contributes to its laid-back charm. In fact, dining there feels like you’re in Chavez’s own private residence, tucking into a home-cooked meal that’s rich in flavour and soul. This homey atmosphere is also present at his Peruvian restaurant Tono Cevicheria, where tangy ceviches and upbeat salsa music take centre stage. Chavez is now gearing up to launch his third restaurant Tonito, at Jewel Changi Airport next year. It will focus on Latin American comfort food like choripán and Cubano sandwiches, and we expect it to carry the same likeable, convivial vibe as his other establishments.

Ola Cocina Del Mar, Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3, #01-06 12 Marina Boulevard, Singapore 018982, +65 6604 7050

Sara Yap
Deputy Director, Digital Operations (Asia)
Sara Yap is the Deputy Director of Digital Operations at BurdaLuxury, and a contributing writer to Lifestyle Asia’s dining and jewellery beats. When she’s not on the lookout for exciting new restaurants or bejewelled trinkets, she’s probably buried in a riveting read, or reminiscing the good ol’ days with her favourite playlist of ’90s boyband hits.