“Even I don’t know what to call us,” Marcella Tanuwijaya chuckles when asked to specify the type of cuisine Makan House by Ollella would be categorised under.
Usually, that would be an easy question. But if you peddle the likes of French eclairs, Indonesian kueh and savoury Indonesian dishes, it becomes a little harder to classify.
You’ll find Makan House By Ollella tucked away in a charming Peranakan shophouse along the quiet streets of Racecourse Road. For those familiar with the Ollella name, Marcella and her sister Olivia used to have a small joint along Petain Road selling their famous choux pastries.
Well, people couldn’t get enough of those light-as-air choux puffs, and their business grew exponentially, with Ollella opening a takeaway outlet in Takashimaya. To cope with their ever-growing popularity, Ollella moved into bigger premises right here along Racecourse Road.
While the pairing of elegant eclairs and comforting homely Indonesian kueh are admittedly a little bizarre, somehow, it works.
As I stepped into Ollella, I found Marcella perched over the screen of a laptop staring intently at the screen. The interior Ollella was quaint and homely, with simple furniture that allowed for long talks over sweet treats. Since Olivia has moved to Chicago, Ollella is helmed by Marcella now.
Marcella steps off the high stool and greets me with a warm smile and proceeds to show me all the goodies.
The display is exactly how you imagine it, colourful, neat rectangles of wrapped kueh with the likes of Bingka Ubi (S$1.50 per piece), Kueh Salat (S$1.50 per piece) and Kueh Wajik (S$1.50), to name a few.
At the other end of the display, we have the dainty and beautifully decorated eclairs. With creamy swirls, glistening blackberries, glittering gold flakes, these pastries could rival the ones in any French Patisserie.
Not forgetting those delectable cream cakes that sat beside the hefty blocks of kueh lapis. It was an interesting sight, indeed. With such an intriguing display, one can only imagine what the kitchen looks like.
Given that most shophouse units are long and narrow, Ollella’s space follows suit. Their dry kitchen is stocked with different chocolate covertures, snow-white cream in large bowls, along with giant mixers and cookies sheets full of baked goods ready to go.
Right behind the dry kitchen, Ollella’s wet kitchen is where things get a whole lot more exciting. When you enter the kitchen, the air is warm and thick, the rich aroma of roasted coconut and curry wafting through the air.
In a corner, one of the cooks stood in front of an enormous wok, slow-roasting a sizeable portion of shredded coconut. The coconut had turned a glorious golden-brown and was giving off whiffs of those deep caramelly notes with each flip of the spatula. A task that requires the fire to burn low and slow, not to mention, constantly watched, so it doesn’t burn.
It’s a time-consuming process but once you take a bite of Ollella’s kueh, you’ll find that it’s well worth the effort.
From kuehs to eclairs and everything in between
After all the exploring in the kitchen, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the scrumptious kueh. After all, with so much artistry and time that goes into each kueh, they are well worth the calories.
It’s also interesting to note that Ollella uses gula jawa and not gula melaka. For all the gula lovers out there, fret not, gula jawa simply means palm sugar from Java.
‘It’s just easier if we call it gula melaka, then everyone understands!’ Marcella quips, so for the sake of simplicity, anything with gula jawa will be referred to with gula melaka.
I began with one of the kueh starlets, Lapis Sagu (S$1.50). This coloured multi-layered steamed cake is probably one of the most recognisable kueh out there. Made with coconut milk and fresh pandan juice, this was fragrant and just the right amount of sweet.
I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to peel back each layer of this kueh right down to the last strip. A must-try when having kueh, this one did not disappoint.
An unexpected favourite to emerge out of the assortment had to be the Bingka Ubi (S$1.50). This flaxen rectangle is made with eggs, tapioca, coconut milk and freshly-squeezed pandan juice—all winning ingredients. A little denser than your regular kueh with a cake-like texture, it’s like pandan cake but better. The richness from the eggs and coconut milk make this kueh an indulgent little nugget.
After all, what can be better than coconut milk together with fragrant pandan? I gobbled this up in no time and was already ordering my second piece.
For all the coconut lovers, the Kueh Dardar (S$1.50) is sure to satisfy that craving. This pandan burrito is wrapped around a serving of shredded coconut cooked in gula melaka, which we saw earlier.
The shredded coconut had a mild nutty aroma along with a good bite to them. Wrapped in a pea-green pandan crepe, all you need a is a cup of coffee, and you can call it a day. These were satisfying and hard to put down.
For hardcore gula melaka fans, you can’t go wrong with the Kueh Lopis (S$2 for four pieces). These are steamed glutinous rice rounds that are wrapped in banana leaves, covered with shredded coconut and drizzled with a generous amount treacly gula melaka.
These gula melaka drenched pucks were thick and starchy enough to make a meal out of them. Plus, that syrupy gula melaka was absolutely divine, a little runnier than usual but with slightly smoky notes that complemented and enhanced the taste of kueh lopis.
As I rounded out my kueh circuit, Marcella tells me that most of the recipes are from her mother and grandmother. Of course, these are slightly tweaked to be more palatable since these treats tend to veer on the sweeter side.
Apart from all the sweet treats, there are a couple of savoury goodies you can get your hands on. Lemper Ebi (S$2.20 per piece) is glutinous rice stuffed with spicy shrimps fried in rempah (spice paste)—you have to try it. A toothsome little mouthful, if I say so myself.
This parcel bears a couple of similarities to pulut udang but with the addition of lemongrass. So, this rendition is a little lighter with subtle citrusy notes in each bite. An umami-bomb and one of my favourites, it’s hard to stop at one.
Nevertheless, you’ll have to make room for some of Ollella’s darling eclairs. Since choux puffs are made with the same choux pastry, it was a natural transition for Ollella to swap to eclairs. As with Ollella’s kuehs, while I would love to wax lyrical about each eclair, I leave some to the imagination.
I knew I had to start with the Flowy Gula Melaka Ondeh Ondeh (S$6.90). Snowed in with a shower of grated coconut and piped full of pandan cream. When asked for the inspiration for this particular one, Marcella tells me that all you have to do is put ‘ondeh ondeh’ on something and it will be a hit.
I have to say, she’s right. I’m a sucker for anything ondeh ondeh and will literally eat it up.
When it comes to eclairs, looks do play an important part, but they can’t just be a pretty face. For Ollella, their pastry was tender with a crisp top which provided good texture. Coupled with the velvety smooth pandan cream, I couldn’t want for anything more.
A good judge of any patisserie has to be their chocolate item. Anything chocolate is easy to make but hard to get right; it’s either too sweet or too milky.
This Intense Dark Chocolate (S$6.90) is sure to delight any chocoholic. With a rich and dark chocolate pastry cream, crunchy chocolate streusel topping and bittersweet chocolate glaze, this put Ollella to one of the top eclair spots.
When it comes to pastries, texture and balance are crucial roles, you don’t want everything to be just creamy or crunchy.
Berries are a popular ingredient for pastries alike, not only for their colour but their flavour. Raspberries being naturally tart already provides an excellent contrast to anything you add to it. The Raspberry Pistachio (S$6.90) was not only striking in colour but also complemented the buttery pistachio creamuex.
As an ardent lover of anything and everything pistachio, I was pretty impressed with Ollella’s pistachio and raspberry combination.
Since Ollella is a makan house, I had to try some of their savoury mains. The mains operate on a rotating menu and changes according to what Marcella wants to cook. All the more homely, I’d say.
The Soto Ayam (S$7) was one of the two available mains that come with rice. An Indonesian version chicken soup, warm as a hug in a bowl.
This bowl comes with a generous serving of tender shredded chicken with a robust broth. I was told to squeeze the wedge of lime to give the broth a zingy touch.
Since the soup has been stewed for a couple of hours, the broth was thick, full-bodied and downright comforting. Given that it was raining cats and dogs outside, this was the soothing salve I needed.
A forkful of tung hoon and a scoop of rice drizzled with the broth, and you’ve got lunch settled.
After stuffing myself silly, I had a chat with Marcella to delve a little deeper into what it takes to run a business on top of being a mother of two.
Being your own boss
It’s not as charming as it seems, Marcella tells me. Apart from being the CEO of Ollella, she is also the ‘head’ of Marketing, PR, Logistics and R&D. While her team of capable bakers and cooks are more than able to handle the day-to-day operations, it’s up tp Marcella to carry out the mundane but necessary backend duties.
Plus, there are not many people who are willing to take up the task of making the kueh and eclairs. You see, French cooking is detailed, controlled and somewhat a little rigid when it comes to preparation.
On the other hand, making kueh is more of an art, adjusted daily according to the batch of raw ingredients. Sometimes, the pandan leaves are more fragrant than others, or the gula jawa is smokier than the last. There is a constant need for tinkering when it comes to kuehs.
Still, Marcella does it with a smile, and the success with Ollella and her tight-knit relationship with the team is testament to that.
While the choux pastries got Ollella its start, it has been the kueh that has sustained them. As I sat there, I watched an endless stream of customers pop in to get their daily kueh fix.
The comfort and familiarity we have with these kuehs will outlive any trendy food and one we will always go back to.
Perhaps, it was my mistake earlier when I asked Marcella to define what Makan House was. After my visit, I decided the only things that needed to be in a box are either kuehs or eclairs. Wouldn’t you agree?
Expected Damage: S$2 – S$8 per pax
Our Rating: 5 / 5
Makan House by Ollella
454 Race Course Road, Singapore 218697
Makan House by Ollella
454 Race Course Road, Singapore 218697