SINGAPORE — You know the adage; When one door closes, another door to the bowels of Dempsey Hill overlooking a lush, green forest, opens. That’s what happened to Ola Cocina del Mar back in June 2021 when it shuttered its Marina Bay Financial Centre outfit after nine years of operations. They’ve never revealed the real reason for the closure. Still, an educated guess points to a drastic drop in foot traffic in the Central Business District area, which would undoubtedly affect patronage, especially for a restaurant that depends on office crowd.
Theirs is a story that is not unique to F&B owners in a time of a pandemic. Still, as suddenly as they shutter, no sooner do you have time to grieve and mourn the loss of yet another restaurant, another one opens—and often by the very same people whose businesses were forced to close. It’s happened often enough for me to almost label this a trend, as if these chef-owners are reborn and ready to start from scratch.
For chef-owners Daniel and Tamara Chavez, starting from scratch takes place at the hills of Dempsey, away from the more visible areas of the neighbourhood. In setting up Canchita Peruvian Cuisine, the Chavez-es have chosen to set up shop at the fringes where the view is of dense, green vegetation. When it rains, you can see tiny creatures of nature waltzing up and down the thick PVC wall that hugs the cavernous dining hall, which, on the Wednesday night of my visit, was packed, the air filling up with joyful conviviality.
At Canchita, Peruvian cuisine takes centre stage. It's authentic Latin America fare made all the more joyful by the affable personality of Chef Daniel, who makes an effort to greet each table and ask if everything’s okay. And it is. Fans of Ola would immediately take to this new space—at least where food is concerned. The couple has brought over familiar favourites from the Marina Bay outlet, such as the Ceviche Clasico (S$26++), which retains all the good things from the original. It’s still texturally superior, flavourful, with a dash of acidity that balances all the heavenly seasoning in this plate. Yes, seasoning and bold flavours, like at Ola, are very much omnipresent in everything I have today.
Like the Arroz Con Pato (S$36++)—a mound of wet, turmeric-hued rice made with coriander and a stiff stout for a flavour profile that’s incredibly savoury. Did it need the Homemade Duck Confit? I reckon not, but while it’s there, the duck is soft, amply seasoned, and generous. Like the ceviche from before, here, fermented onions are used to significant effect to give a little hit of astringency for balance.
When the Chicken Taco (S$18++) came, I had a sinking feeling in my heart that I wouldn't be impressed. Sadly, that turned out to be true as I munch on chicken that could be more deftly seasoned and a coriander chilli sauce begging for more personality.
Thankfully, the Sudado Amarillito (S$34++) fared much better. The Peruvian Fisherman Soup is chock full of clams, yellow chilli, tomatoes, and a hulking slab of Sea Bass with the crispiest of skin that never falters even when languishing in this moreish broth for longer than it should. The whole thing is full of briny seafood flavours that will convert even the harshest critic into a fan.
Elsewhere, the Loom Saltado (S$42++) offers up the tenderest cubes of Wagyu Beef tenderloin coated in a slick and imposing, dark sauce sitting on a bed of golden coloured potato frites. If you’re confused, you’ll find yourself in good company. Chef Tamara explained that in Peru, 10% of the population is Chinese, thereby giving birth to the Chifa culinary tradition—an infusion of Chinese-Cantonese practices with traditional Peruvian ingredients and cooking methods. Here, the potatoes are Peruvian, the beef is Chinese, and the history is rich with cultural significance.
Dinner ends with a serving of Tres Leches (S$14++), a rectangular stack of moist coconut cake doused in condensed and evaporated milk with strawberry and pastry cream jammed in between. The stack sits in a white pool of sweet milk, which means there’s a lot of cream on cream action—not the best thing for the average Asian who’s usually lactose intolerant. It is also rich and incredibly traditional—I can’t imagine a dessert being this simple. So if you’re the kind who loves your dessert sweet and milky, you can’t go wrong with this.
I like Canchita. I like that it’s far from the hustle and bustle of the mainstay of Dempsey, which could get a little crowded as more and more restaurants take over vacant spaces left by exiting tenants. But beyond that, there’s courage and a dedication to authenticity here that is laudable and deserving of praise. Perhaps, closing down Ola Cocina was the very thing the Chavez-es need to achieve greatness in a very crowded F&B space—a sort of silver lining in a cloud of temporary grey.
9A Dempsey Rd Singapore 247698
Tue to Fri: 12nn – 2.30pm, 6pm – 10.30pm
Sat & Sun: 12nn – 10 pm