Our team goes undercover to suss out the latest and most talked about restaurants in town
Clarke Quay’s grand riverfront Teochew mansion, established in the 1880s, has been home to wealthy merchants, the spice trade and most recently, The Forbidden City by Indochine. Its sleek 21st century revamp therefore comes as a welcome surprise, in the form of lifestyle establishment VLV. The modern gold and leather Chinoiserie interiors finally reveal the splendor of the building’s architecture, giving a good first impression of this concept by the group behind CÉ LA VI and Catalunya.
To get to the second floor fine dining area, pass through the Courtyard, which offers al fresco casual dining and nightlife venue Club Lounge on the ground floor. Lunch is a genteel affair with bright daylight and a soothing soundtrack, while the evening service is raucous with loud live music from below followed by thumping house tunes on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
The kitchen under executive head chef Martin Foo is impressive. Foo was previously from Tong Le and Lei Garden, and his finesse and consistency was evident in the set lunch menu on our first visit. The generously portioned Set B ($58 per person, minimum two diners) presented most of their signature dishes, including Crackling Roasted Pork, Premium Soya Sea Prawn, Sous Vide Grain-fed Lamb, Kimchi Seafood Fried Rice and Or Nee.
The large prawns, with a sweet-spicy marinade, were deftly fried so you could consume every part, shell and head included. Lamb chops, slightly on the fatty side, were tenderly sous vide before developing a crackled fried crust brushed with the lightest of sauces. Tended to by solicitous, smart service, our lunch ended on a high note with their lighter, whipped rendition of Or Nee or yam paste, served with coconut ice cream.
The restaurant was packed on our return for dinner, with spotty service from less well-trained waitstaff though the assured wine service continued to be top-notch. Picking items from each category, we were most impressed with the Poached Ocean Fish ($45) from the seafood section, which yielded fillets of spotted coral grouper tenderly bathed in aromatic fish broth and balanced with piquant pickled chilli. Meats were equally faultless; Black Truffle Roasted Duck ($24 per portion, $45 for half) arrived alluringly fragrant with slices of real truffle, and Char Siew Spring Onion Noodle ($28) featured their succulent sous vide Kagoshima Kurobuta. Sizzling Romaine Lettuce ($24) was the let-down of the night, lacking the searing temperature and rich bean paste that we have encountered in Hong Kong.
After an indulgent, layered meal, desserts can make or break the experience. Thankfully, all ours passed scrutiny and should not be missed. Oriental Cheese Cake ($8 per person) is naturally sweetened with red dates, figs and goji for a refreshing take on the original, while the Luo Han Jelly ($12) served in a coconut contains grandmother-approved textures in the form of Chinese pear, dried longan and young coconut topped with longan sorbet. VLV’s jaunty repositioning of fine Chinese dining alongside luxe nightlife is just what our local scene was lacking, and it has the right ingredients in place to succeed where others have failed. Just don’t ask what the name stands for – apparently, that’s for you to decide. #01-02, 3A Merchant’s Court, River Valley Road. Tel: 6661 0197
Average dinner bill for two, with drinks: $220
Must-tries: Premium Soya Sea Prawn, Poached Ocean Fish, Or Nee