It's taken us a few goes to get a booking at Lolo and Lola. Which attests to the place's popularity. And to the excruciating process of going out in a pandemic.
There are even people trying to go to the pub or to dinner and having to plan ahead. Plan ahead, like with a capital P and A. Who plans ahead for the pub? Pubs are almost by definition a desperation thing, as in to hell with it, can't find anything in the fridge, let's go to the pub.
Lolo and Lola is a restaurant, not a pub, and as far as we know Canberra's only Philippine eatery. It has the undeniable feeling of a local, the kind of place where you might say, it's Friday night, let's head down to the shops for dinner. That's the Watson shops. And you can't just head down for dinner because you have to book. And when you book you get a one-hour slot. This makes us instantly nervous.
Dinner in an hour? Of course, we shouldn't have worried. These people have the booking and timing system well in hand. It's a very switched-on outfit in many ways. Cheerful and welcoming, with a bit of a buzz.
The menu is short so they're not expecting you'll spend a great deal of decision time. And nor, as it turns out, are they expecting anyone to really order more than one dish. Given the impossibility of assessing an unfamiliar restaurant on just two dishes, we customarily over-order. So we request four of the nine options on the short menu: Chicken barbecue skewers, crispy-fried pork belly, Max's style fried chicken, and beef shank soup. The fried chicken is done for the night, though. And our waiter is adamant we don't need an alternative; there's already a lot of food on our list, she says. Reluctantly, we concede, partly because the menu is really heavy on meat.
And the food is arriving apace, all in a bundle, so it overwhelms our small table.
Chicken barbecue skewers ($13.50) are large, three threads of chicken, which taste strongly of the barbecue. It's a bit smokey for my liking but others won't mind this. It's tender, sweet and a bit unsubtle. The menu tells of a "banana-barbecue marinade" and spiced vinegar dip. It's rich and even this, the most manageable of the dishes tonight, is quite a plate to get through - for the intensity of the smokey and sweet flavours, more than the size.
Crispy fried pork belly ($19.50) defeats us. The deep-fried belly, with the skin turned to crackling takes jaw work to get though. It's intense and funky. The spiced soy vinegar dip goes only some way to counter the frying and the pork.
Beef shank soup ($23.50) also turns out to be a rugged dish. It's a large serve, tender beef left to its own devices in this clear bother, marrow and bone, chunks of corn cob, whole green beans and cabbage and spring onions. It's lip smacking from the marrow and feels like something you might be served in an Arctic hut in a snowstorm, axe at the door. Alternatively, something your grandma might have served as a remedy lunch. The menu promises "aromatics", but it's not especially aromatic; it is, in fact, very simple.
The drinks also feel a little like they're designed to make you feel better when under the weather. There's no alcohol and no BYO. Which is surprising, given it has the feel of a restaurant. Instead, there are a couple of juices on the menu, and a Philippine lemon honey tea ($5), which is warm and substantial.
The waiter was right about the Max's-style fried chicken. We have more food than we can eat and seeing a pile of fried chicken legs on fries arrive at a neighbouring table, we realise how ridiculous our suggestion must have seemed.
Still, we attack the dessert menu, again to the clear surprise of the waiter, who tries to explain that the glutinous rice balls and coconut dessert soup ($14.50) is a substantial bowlful. We ignore and order - and end up eating this over the next two days in takeaway form. It's a starchy bowl of pearls, sweet banana, jackfruit, yam, all in a sweet soup that is bright purple. The colour is crazy, but I think typical of Philippine desserts using the purple yam. The dessert is warm, filling, very sweet, and quite moresih over a few days.
We've also ordered the doughnuts ($8.50), which like everything else tonight, are large. The pieces of soft dough are shaped into a twist and deep-fried, served with a bright purple dipping sauce, again very sweet.
So our meal has been substantial. The focus has been meat and sweetness, adornment has been minimal other than in the flamboyant and rather joyous desserts. I think this is best described as comfort food. As to timing, we need not have worried about that one-hour slot to eat. Lolo and Lola works at warp speed.
Lolo and Lola
Address: 3 Watson Place, Watson
Hours: Wednesday and Thursday 5-8pm; Friday and Saturday, 11.30am-1.30pm, 5-8pm; Sunday, 11.30am-1.30pm.
Owner: Kim Cudia
Chef: Jay Prieto
Noise: No problem