Singapore may have some of the best restaurants in the world when it comes to food. But in terms of interior design, few can match the glamour of fine-dining restaurants in Hong Kong and Shanghai or the creativity of Bangkok eateries.
There is Joel Robuchon Restaurant in Resorts World Sentosa, of course, with its stunning Baccarat crystal chandelier and vertical garden. And I love the soothing pastels in Odette at the National Gallery Singapore.
Now, there is also VLV, a two- week-old lounge and restaurant that stands out as a refined oasis in a raucous Clarke Quay packed with noisy bars and eateries spilling out into the walkways.
The multi-concept newcomer occupies the conserved building that housed IndoChine's Forbidden City until it closed in 2014. VLV spent almost three years and a staggering $8 million on renovations, and it shows.
The ground floor is occupied by a spacious lounge with lush, inviting sofas where you can imbibe cocktails whipped up at the bar. There are outdoor zones too - a courtyard area and a riverside section where you can order food and drink.
For me, however, the main draw is the 140-seat restaurant that takes up the entire second floor.
To get there, I have to first negotiate a dark flight of stairs, for which the torchlight function on my smartphone comes in handy. But the massive dining room - with golden ceiling lights and spotlighting to guide you to the tables - is impressive. It feels soothing, a mood supported by the chill lounge music, but also reminds of the glamorous upmarket Shanghai restaurants I dined at.
I won't recommend VLV for family dinners with elderly members or children - especially with those treacherous stairs in the evening - but it is ideal for a romantic dinner or an outing with friends. It's a good venue for business lunches too.
The lounge-like ambience makes me half-expect an East-meets- West menu, so I am surprised to find a selection of very Chinese dishes. There may be little twists such as the use of premium Japanese or Western ingredients, but the cooking remains very traditional in most instances.
An example is the Kagoshima Kurobuta "Char Siew" ($32). Although marinated with honey, it is not overly sweet, which allows you to savour the wonderful flavour of the Japanese pork. It is also juicy and not too fat, boasting a pleasant bite.
For me, this is one of the best char siew I've eaten in a long time and a dish I will certainly order again.
The Black Truffle Roasted Duck ($24 a portion, $45 for half a duck) is ordinary in comparison. The meat is tender enough and the skin is decently crisp, but those are not enough to make it stand out. Neither do the shaved truffles, which I find are overused in Chinese restaurants.
The Poached Ocean Fish ($45), however, is updated more successfully. It is derived from a Sichuan dish of fish fillet cooked with pickled vegetables. Here, the garoupa fillet is fresh and cooked just right, before the fish turns tough. And it goes so well with the sourness of the vegetables and the mild heat of pickled chillies.
This is a soupy dish and the chef serves it with crispy beancurd skin rolls that you can dunk into the broth - a nice touch inspired by Sichuan hotpots.
01-02 Merchant's Court, 3A River Valley Road, tel: 6661-0197; open: noon to 3pm, 6 to 11pm daily
Food: 4/5 stars
Service: 4/5 stars
Ambience: 4.5/5 stars
Price: Budget from $80 a person, without drinks
Even a simple dish of stir-fried kai lan ($18) here is made more fancy by sprinkling crispy anchovies over the vegetables before serving. There is a bit of minced pork and chilli fried with the kai lan too, to pep up the flavours.
The nicest surprise comes at the end in the Australian Wagyu Millet ($38), where the birdseed-like grain is fried with minced wagyu and chopped capsicum, onion, celery and pickled chilli - just like fried rice.
The dish is very aromatic from the melted fat of the wagyu. But that also makes it rather rich and best enjoyed in small servings. Four persons would be just right for an order, I think. I am in a group of three and I find my serving too much.
Incidentally, if you're wondering whether the letters VLV stand for anything, they don't. You can put any meaning to them, says the manager when queried. "For example, if my name is Victor, it can be Very Lucky Victor," he adds.
For me, they spell: Very Lovely Victuals.
•Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke
•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.