There are dishes at Lola’s Filipino Diner that will whisk expats straight back to the Philippines. The adobo. The grilled pork belly known as liempo. The inasal grilled chicken. The calorific breakfast combos known as silog (more on those later). But for those not so familiar with Filipino culture, the menu also has some familiar names: popcorn chicken, say, or Dan Hong-style cheeseburger spring rolls.
“The Spanish probably had the biggest influence on Filipino food, but you have to remember that way back in history, the Philippines were a trading route, so there’s a lot of influences,” says Alasdair Craigie, one of the owners behind Lola’s Filipino Diner. (He and his brother also founded Royal’s Chicken and Burgers.) “So there’s also a lot of Malay-Chinese influence, a lot of Indonesian influence and it’s all kind of been merged into this one kind of cooking that’s also been Americanised a little.”
While Lola’s chefs are excited about wheeling out regional weekly specialties – the dishes cooked throughout the islands that make up the Philippines are as diverse and regional as the foods of China, Italy and India – the core menu is built around certified Filipino comfort winners. Here are six dishes worth seeking out.
Garlic chicken rice
Fat, fluff and flavour: Lola’s garlic chicken rice, while it plays nicely with much of the menu, transcends its (alleged) side status. The key to this dish, according to Estela Craigie – mother of Alasdair and Ken and something of an executive chef behind the entire project – is copious amounts of butter, a heroic quantity of garlic and the all-important chicken stock. Order with impunity.
Cheeseburger spring roll
Spring rolls – or lumpia as they’re known in Tagalog – hold a prized place in Filipino dining circles with lumpia stalls a ubiquitous presence at markets throughout the archipelago. Some lumpia are stuffed with vegetables. Others are filled with meat. None, it’s fair to say, are packed with a sweet and savoury cheeseburger-inspired mix – a nod to the brothers’ burgers at Royal’s and one of the hits from the original Lola’s that has been resurrected for 2021.
A calorific combination of condensed milk, jelly, ice and house-made purple yam ice-cream and leche flan (think of it as a Filipino creme caramel), the halo halo – “halo”, the Tagalog word for “mix” which rhymes with “tallow” – will be known to anyone familiar with the vast cannon of sugary Asian drinks. While this is a cooling, playful thing of a dessert, here’s hoping that the brothers decide to sell the ice-cream by itself. You can also order the flan with peanut praline and a purple yam jam.
Inspired by the fried chicken at Filipino fast food company Jollibee, Lola’s fried chicken is a joy to eat. Fried to order, served on the bone and brined with a mix of lemongrass and ginger, it’s a cool counterpart to the more American-influenced chicken served at Royal’s.
Pork belly adobo
The recipe for adobo varies from household to household in the Philippines with versions of the country’s ubiquitous braise ranging from dry to soupy. Lola’s version sits in the middle with the requisite vinegar and soy playing nicely with fat hunks of pig belly. A vegan version packed with fried tofu and eggplant is also available.
While these sausages will be instantly recognisable to Filipino expats, their appeal will be universal among omnivores. Made in-house, these chunky, bright red snags comprise the aforementioned silog: a heart-starting all-day brunch or dinner that stars three of the sausages alongside a fried egg and garlic rice.
Lola's Filipino Diner
8/885 Albany Highway, East Victoria Park
Tue to Thu 11.30am–9.30pm
Fri & Sat 11.30am–late