The NCO Club is one of the latest lifestyle destinations in Singapore this year and it houses four distinctive F&B concepts - Madame Fan (Chinese restuarant), Cool Cats (jazz bar), Fish Pool (Champagne and Oyster Bar) as well as Stags' Room (wine bar). Located on 32 Beach Road, The NCO Club is located in between the JW Marriott Singapore South Beach as well as the distinctive Raffles Singapore. I was recently invited down by the team to check out Madame Fan which in their words, is a 'etiquette-free entertainment lifestyle concept' - this means that while the food is authentic, the dining experience is different from what is typically associated to traditional Chinese restaurants.
Madame Fan at The NCO Club is the brainchild of Alan Yau, a famous restaurateur behind famous restaurants and dining concepts like Hakkasan as well as the Park Chinois just to name a few. The restaurant here in Singapore accommodates up to 222 diners comfortably and it features five private dining rooms (up to 10 pax each), a VIP private dining room (up to 12 pax) as well as a terrace (up to 30 pax). Unlike most Chinese restaurants, Madame Fan actually serves a small selection of dim sum during dinner (there is a much more extensive menu during lunch time) and I was lucky enough to try all four. The Scallop Shumai (S$18++ for 3) is my personal favourite as it comes with plenty of chunky fresh prawns and there's really so little you need to do when you are using premium quality ingredients. I really enjoyed the Chinese Chive Dumpling (S$8++ for 3) as well - the translucent, chewy and starchy skin had the right thickness in holding all the ingredients carefully together. The two other dim sum items that are available in the dinner menu include the Sri Lankan Mud Crab Wonton (S$18++ for 3) and the Sichuan Vegetable Dumpling (S$6++ for 3).
No dining experience at any quality Cantonese restaurant is complete without first tasting the soups - in my opinion, this is always one of the clearest indications on the authenticity of a restaurant as well as the proficiency of the culinary team. The Four Treasure Soup (S$28++) is one of signature items here and it comes with sea cucumber, fish maw, dried scallop and crab meat. Using fresh and young coconuts, the flavour profile of the soup is further enhanced by the natural sweetness of the coconut water and the result is an interesting concoction of flavours that have both depth and that lingering satisfaction that you get from traditional double-boiled soups.
While vegetables in Chinese restaurants typically have the reputation for being quite healthy, we definitely cheated here in Madame Fan with the Home Style Crispy Pork Stir-Fry (S$16++) that was served with bitter melon, preserved cabbage and yu tofu in a black bean sauce. If you are not a fan of the bitter melon (and I would have to agree that it is an acquired taste), do not bother with this dish but if you are a fan like me, you would really appreciate the chunky cuts of the melon which creates a great contrast between the sweetness, savouriness and bitterness in the whole dish. My personal opinion? It would be better with the white bitter gourd (instead of the green one) but that's probably seasonal and getting it in Singapore might be a challenge.
Now let's talk about that famous Crispy Aromatic Duck (S$38++ for half duck) that everyone loves. To put it very simply, this is Madame Fan's answer to a traditional peking duck and as you might expect, it is served with pancake, baby cucumber, Thai spring onion as well as duck sauce. If you are in the mood for indulgence, the is also the option to add on Chinese Kaluga Caviar (often considered to be the best alternative to Beluga Caviar) for S$170++. For the rest of us, the duck itself is probably enough to make this an memorable dining experience. Personally, I thought that the duck was a cross between the famous fried duck in Ubud and a traditional peking duck from well, Beijing - the smell of this was heavenly and despite being fried, the protein itself still packs some moisture that helped to seal in all the flavours.
The Steamed Soon Hock with Ipoh Soy and Spring Onion (S$14++ per 100g) is another signature dish at Madame Fan and even though it is possibly more common to find the use of fishes from the Grouper family in fine-dining Chinese restaurants, Alan Yau actually prefers using Soon Hock for its natural succulence and sweetness. Even though I am typically not a big fan of steamed fish (since there are bones to pick out and the occasional surprise when you bite into one), I really enjoyed the piece that I was served here at Madam Fan.
There are a number of interesting carbohydrates here at Madame Fan like the Inaniwa Udon Carbonara and the Chinese Pasta but we ended up with the Handcut Taiwan Noodle (S$16++ per portion) which is served with wind-dried pork (a.k.a. chinese sauce) and la la clams. The photographed portion above is three portions put into one so do not expect that ginormous serving size if you have only ordered one. This was a really nice break away from the typical fried noodles and fried rice that you get at regular Chinese restaurants and honestly it reminded me a little bit of Fujian cuisine sans dipping-sauce. The broth and the fresh la la clams are the star here - I highly recommend this dish if you are looking for something a little special (but nothing too radical).
Madame Fan is a breath of fresh air in the Chinese fine-dining restaurant market where the dining experience is typically associated to warm lighting, boring music and old (but sometimes nice!) waitstaff. Diners here at Madame Fan are immediately greeted with a juxtaposition of old world nostalgia and new world charm. The music is an eclectic blend of jazz, alternative takes on Chinese classics as well as the occasional reggae (honestly, there's no predicting what the DJ is going to play next) but strangely enough, it all works out great to create the unique DNA and soul of this place. Forget everything you know about traditional Chinese restaurants and come in with an open mind because while the food is authentic and delicious, let's just say Madame Fan is a disruptor that is here to stay.
This was an invited media-tasting session, though all views expressed are my own.