At most restaurants, the chef de cuisine dominates the kitchen and the dessert chef is relegated to a minor role. But this four-month-old restaurant, which took over the premises of Five & Dime cafe in River Valley Road, boasts two chefs of equal competence, but with very different personalities.
In the hot kitchen at the back is Sam Chablani, a hyperactive guy who talks at bullet speed and dishes out charcoal-grilled food with liberal doses of spice. Then there is Pang Ji Shuang, a quiet, poker-faced guy who goes by the moniker Song and whips up modern dessert concoctions at his counter, which shares space with the compact dining room.
Together they form Sam-Song, an odd couple that is making a success of the venture. Both times I am there for dinner, all 38 seats are taken, with a second late seating as well.
This is not surprising because the food is good and the prices reasonable.
Let's first talk about Sam's dishes.
Using a small charcoal grill, he fires up an impressive range of food that hits the spot every time. Whether it's meat, seafood or a vegetable, it's cooked perfectly. Nothing comes out under- or overcooked.
But what makes them stand out are the bold flavours. The spices are very much in your face, yet they never overpower the main ingredients or leave your mouth burning.
Besides the menu, check out the blackboard on the wall too. A dish you find there is called Spicy Iberico Pork Sataytay ($12 for five skewers), which is the best satay I've eaten. It is charred enough to have plenty of aroma, with a spicy savoury sweet marinade that is so delicious, it is served without gravy.
Meats from the menu are not to be ignored either.
The Grilled Mangalica Pork Collar ($24) has a light seasoning that allows you to savour the flavour of the Hungarian pork. It comes with lightly charred sambal okra, which is dusted with a delicious spice mix. I will happily pay for just the vegetable.
For a different take on grilled pork, Duh Meat Board ($28) comes with a sambal pork chop heavily marinated with a tasty sweet and spicy mix. There is also skirt steak, which is left plain, but is no less delicious. And to balance the two meats is a bunch of grilled kailan, an unusual vegetable to cook over charcoal, but it turns out rather nice.
The best-value dish is the Spicy BBQ Full Rack Pork Ribs ($28), which is enough for two to four people, depending on how many other dishes you order. I usually find BBQ ribs too sweet, but Sam's marinade of smokey kicap manis sauce, coriander and lime is so different - sweet, savoury and tart all at once.
To take a break from all that meat, order the Steamed Little Neck Clams aka Fat Lala's ($19). They are cooked in a broth flavoured with garlic and bacon. Small pieces of burnt sourdough bread are snuggled among the clams to soak up the juices.
FAT LULU'S 297
River Valley Road, tel: 9236-5002; open: 6 to 11pm (Sundays, Tuesdays to Thursdays), 6pm to late (Fridays and Saturdays), 11am to 4pm (brunch on Saturdays and Sundays), closed on Mondays
Food: 4/5 stars
Service: 3.5/5 stars
Ambience: 2.5/5 stars
Price: Budget from $50 a person
Make sure you leave room for Song's desserts. They are playful and as good as what I've eaten at fine-dining restaurants.
Again, check out the blackboard for the day's special - which is now a Pineapple & Coconut Ice Kacang ($14), with liquid nitrogen-frozen coconut foam, pineapple granita and a generous scoop of coconut ice cream. Dig underneath and you find pieces of pineapple as well as nata de coco and chendol. The coconut milk is not freshly squeezed, but I enjoy the dessert for its refreshing take on a local favourite.
From the menu, Childhood ($16) is a playful dessert that is presented as a peanut popsicle smashed on the plate, where it appears to break into pieces of chocolate cookie and bleed bright-red raspberry granita. It looks like the handiwork of an angry child, but the expert balancing of flavours and textures is the work of a master.
On weekends, Fat Lulu's offers a totally different menu for brunch, with dishes such as Fried Chicken With Pancakes ($22) and Vanilla & Pandan Sticky Rice ($12). I have not tried them, but if the regular dishes are anything to go by, I certainly will.
•Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke and on Instagram @wongahyoke
•The Sunday Times paid for its meals at the eateries reviewed here.
We have been experiencing some problems with subscriber log-ins and apologise for the inconvenience caused. Until we resolve the issues, subscribers need not log in to access ST Digital articles. But a log-in is still required for our PDFs.