Lolo and Lola’s graffitied roller door grumbles open, and Filipino-born Kim greets a steady stream of customers like old friends. Her warm welcome and generous laugh is an irresistible force. No one remains a stranger here.
Lolo and Lola’ means grandma and grandpa in Filipino. Kim and her chef husband Jay wanted to pay homage to all grandparents.
“My grandma made great food out of nothing, without any recipes. She cooked with her heart,” Kim says. “She always told me, ‘Don’t measure your garlic or onion. Your heart will tell you how much to use’.”
“That’s what I learnt. Always, always cook from the heart.”
Blinking back tears, Kim describes weeping with homesickness when she first arrived in Australia. She would mash avocado with ice and condensed milk each night to conjure up a familiar taste of home.
The first glimmer of Lolo and Lola’s inception began at their daughter’s birthday party. Kim served a traditional Filipino bread, ensaymada. Days later, a friend from the party ordered four dozen.
This first order opened the floodgates. Kim and Jay, a chef, aligned their days off to make and deliver the ensaymada orders. As orders rose, two days were not enough. A stint at the Westside Acton Park’s popup village cemented Lolo and Lola’s niche in Canberra, so moving into their own space in Watson two years ago was a natural next step.
Resident dessert chef Cristina describes Filipino cuisine as a fusion of Indo Malaysian, Chinese, Spanish, American and its own traditional influences. Aromatic flavours, rich without a spicy heat.
The food and drinks begin to arrive, eventually filling the table.
The sweet ginger tea leaves a chilli-like heat on the tastebuds, the burn of fresh ginger.
Served ice cold, the freshly squeezed calamansi juice is tropical limeade with a cumquat-like zing.
The purple yam thickshake’s earthy sweetness renders my tastebuds weak at the knees with the addition of ‘candied young coconut’.
Some dishes will appeal to the masses, like the crispy pork belly, double fried for that extra crunch.
Succulent chicken skewers marinated in banana ketchup arrive – smoky, yet sweet and straight off the grill.
The twice-cooked pork sisig disguises an entire pig’s head within its creamy deliciousness. The contrasting crunch and smoothness is freshened with a sprinkle of spring onion and chilli on the side.
Luxurious beef callos, influenced by more than 300 years of Spanish occupation is another standout, though not always on the menu. Melt-in-your-mouth beef, succulent tripe and chunks of chorizo in a thick paprika-red broth, it’s a prized Filipino dish cooked only on special occasions, like Christmas.
Atchara, a zesty pickled green papaya salad lifts and enhances the richer mains.
Save room for dessert.
Halo halo espesyal is the ultimate tropical dessert and so Instagrammable. Think shaved ice topped with exotic texture elements combining smooth, crunchy, sweet and sour.
Lolo and Lola’s silken leche flan comes with a crunchy salted peanut meringue.
The menu offers three unique ice cream flavours. Ube (purple yam), cheese, and an avocado ice cream that tastes exactly like smooth avocado with subtle sweetness.
The taste of ripe avocado captured so perfectly in the ice cream brings an image to mind. An image of young Kim, weeping over her avocado dish all those years ago.
Today, Kim, Jay and Cristina continue to create the taste of home. Dishes that transport their Filipino customers back to their motherland. Filipino or not, the food here is like a warm hug, made with love.
Grandma would be proud.
Jay, the head chef also specializes in celebration cakes.
Lolo and Lola. 3 Watson Place, Watson.