I think, VLV may be my best find of the year with respect to Chinese fine-dining.
Taking over the spot previously housing The Forbidden City under the Indochine Group, it's a multi-concept space encompassing an outdoor courtyard bar, casual riverside diner, full-service restaurant, and club lounge.
I've been waiting for the restaurant to pass its first birthday, before I popped by for dinner. The chef is an alumnus of Michelin-starred Lei Garden and the illustrious Tung Lok Group, so you know he's got his fundamentals down pat. However, at VLV, I think he's been given a freer rein to showcase his creativity. Dishes here marry the best of the traditional and modern, making for innovative dishes that are at once familiar yet exciting. Everything we had, barring the clams, (which was A LOT) was bang on.
Prices may be on the premium end, but you get what you pay for. The food here is totally worth it; and the well-heeled agree. Both times we were there, the restaurant was flush with towkay-types, with their ah lian girlfriends toting their sugar daddy-sponsored Pradas or big-haired wives with their husband-sponsored birkins. VLV is as 'cheena' as it gets, but that's also how you know the Chinese-ness of the food is authentically delicious.
Service was well-meaning and gracious but fumbling. The staff looked like they could benefit from a bit more training, to up the efficiency of the service. Our water arrived halfway through our meal, after a reminder, and they only got topped up upon our requests to do so. The dehydrated towelettes were only hydrated when our last dish arrived.
The Chrysanthemum Tofu Soup ($14) with bamboo pith was as exquisite as it looked. A delicate seafood consomme sweetened with wolfberries, while planks of matsutake mushroom lent an earthy tinge, it was the consummate knifework involved in the carving of the silken tofu that was breathtakingly intricate.
The Lobster Wanton Hot & Sour Soup ($14), thick with silky tofu, black fungus, shitake, enoki, bamboo shoots and an egg drop, was robust and punchy on its own, but that lone wanton, decadent with lobster chunks, elevated this to a cannot-miss standout.
We weren't too keen on the Black Truffle Roasted London Duck ($24 for one-portion) because we think truffle is just overdone these days, but the waitress said it was a must-try. She was right. Here, the truffle complemented the rich soy emulsion and rounded off the juicy sumptuousness of the duck.
We saw this served on every table, you know what they say about being in Rome... Possibly the most popular dish at the restaurant, the VLV Beggar Chicken ($68) was crazy good. A small spring chicken, served with a hodgepodge of chestnuts, bamboo shoots, cep mushrooms, and lily bulbs, was doused in aged Hua Diao wine and swaddled in lotus leaves for a fall-off-the-bone lusciousness.
The serving of the dish was kitsch and theatrical: the clay pot was first lit on fire, and a diner got to smash off the top of the claypot with those wooden sticks, to unveil the lotus leaf-bundle of deliciousness within.
The chicken was sided by "rock rice", which plainness was a lovely counter to the rich potency of the chicken.
The Stir-Fried Live Grouper Fillet ($38) redolent with the smoky char of the wok, was kept light and nuanced with a melange of honshimeiji, coloured peppers, leeks, and spring onions.
The numero uno must-try was the perfectly Poached Ocean Fish ($45), dotted with black fungus, pickled chilli for a piquant-spicy contrast, and ginger threads for a woodsy heat. The sublime fish broth, which had evidently been brewed for hours to a milky countenance, pulled it all together. A bonus: the beancurd skin rolls served on the side which unfurled when dunked into the soup. Eat that sopping wet for maximum pleasure.
I love crabs, and VLV whips up a few variations, all with its own spin off the traditional flavours, like the Fried Sri Lankan Crab in White Wine ($81 for 900gm), a creamy concoction heady with butter and the tang of white wine reduction, and jazzed up with black olives.
An inventive twist to the usual mushroom beancurd, the Charcoal Tofu ($22) was blackened with squid ink for a moreish accent, and topped with a milky soybean sauce and grounded with the earthy tones of wild mushrooms and sweet wolfberries.
The Sizzling Romaine Lettuce ($20) was lightly tossed in an unctuous dried shrimp paste, sliced chilli, and lashings of garlic. Robust and heady, this was one of the best renditions of sauteed lettuce ever.
We also ordered a few dishes off the courtyard menu (ask nicely, they usually oblige if it's a few dishes), and the Crackling Pork Belly Egg Noodles ($22) with XO chilli sauce and lard cubes a-plenty, was punchy and flavourful. A signature indeed.
The only lackluster dish, also off the courtyard menu, the Porridge with Flower Clam & Prawn ($28) was let down by the less-than-fresh clams. That being said, the porridge itself was outstanding, a smooth yet grainy texture and brimming with the sweetness of fresh prawns.
The appetizer of green beans, peanuts & beancurd ($3) was exceptional; I usually skip these things but the spicy-nutty flavours made this quite the addictive nibbler.
3A River Valley Road #01-02
Tel: 6661 0197
Open Tuesdays to Thursdays 12noon to 2am;
Fridays 12noon to 3am;
Saturdays 11.30am to 3am;
Sundays from 11.30am to 12midnight;
Closed on Mondays