The NCO Club opened earlier this year as a lifestyle destination within the upscale South Beach precinct. Within the conservation building’s halls are four venues:
- Madame Fan is a 222-seater Chinese restaurant conceptualized by restaurateur Alan Yau
- Cool Cats is a jazz bar inconspicuously tucked away from the rest of NCO Club by a doorway (which happens to have excellent soundproofing!) with a live band playing every night
- Fish Pool is a champagne and oyster bar set beside a diving pool. If you come here on the right evening, you may catch a mermaid swimming in full view!
- Stags’ Room is an intimate wine lounge that has a decor that doesn’t look out of place in exclusive gentlemen’s clubs
Recently, I was invited to check out The NCO Club – particularly the Chinese restaurant Madame Fan for a progressive and etiquette-free dining experience.
Entering the dark and well-appointed hallways of Madame Fan, there is little to suggest of this etiquette-free concept. The interiors are plush without a doubt with a deliberate French art deco inspiration and 1930’s music evoking pre-war Shanghai. Madame Fan is undoubtedly a place you bring your guests to impress. As if there aren’t enough bars in The NCO Club, this Chinese restaurant also comes with its own.
It was after I glanced upon the menu that I somehow understood the concept. The items are upscale but they’re not presented in an unabashedly decadent manner. The menu is refreshingly easy to order from and is only 1-page long – a striking departure from most Chinese restaurant’s menu that reads like a compendium! It probably wouldn’t surprise then that Madame Fan is one of the exceedingly few places in Singapore where you can order off a dimsum menu even for dinner. During my dining experience there, I managed to try all four dimsum dishes– the Scallop Shumai (S$18 for 3), Sri Lankan Mud Crab Wonton (S$18 for 3), Sichuan Vegetable Dumpling (S$6 for 3) and Chinese Chive Dumpling (S$8 for 3). Prices here are at a premium but you get what you pay for. The scallops that came with the shumai for instance, were plump and larger than what I usually encounter elsewhere. While having a taste of the dumplings, you’d also want to slather them on the relatively mild but flavorful inhouse chili sauce for the extra kick.
The Four Treasure Soup (S$28) is one of the specialties of the house and rightly so. The yellowish broth is double boiled and comes with sea cucumber, fish maw and dried Hokkaido scallop. The result is a consistency that is delightfully thick. One sip and it’s easy to appreciate the nourishing factors of the broth, with a flavor that’s further enhanced by the young coconut that the soup is housed in.
The Taiwan Noodles (S$16) with wind-dried pork and la-la clams continues a string of winning dishes. Pictured here is 3 servings on the plate. Think of it as a Chinese-style Pappardelle Vongole. The sweetness of the clams was highly apparent in the flat noodles and even more so in the addictive light sauce sitting underneath. While it may be the case that the carbohydrate dish in most Chinese restaurants serve as a filler to ensure everyone’s full, the Taiwan Noodles here is a must-order.
A more conventional dish was the Steamed Soon Hock (S$14 per 100 grams). Alan Yau actually prefers soon hock over grouper. Given that the courses that preceded it came with slight twists, the fish here was done in typical style with Ipoh soya sauce and plenty of ginger and spring onions.
The Home-Style Crispy Pork Stir-Fry (S$16) is a dish that most people of Chinese heritage would be familiar with. I remember eating these bitter gourds which often come with a side of pork or beef with some hesitation when I was a child. Madame Fan ups the ante on this “home-cooked style” offering with generous portions of pork making it equally a meat dish as it is a veggie dish. The preserved cabbage balanced out the bitterness of the bitter melon with a sour tinge coming from the preserved cabbage. All this enhanced the flavor of the tofu which absorbed all the gravy and were bursting with this sour-bitter combination once I sank my teeth on them.
Although not one of the five publicized specialties, I’ve heard quite a bit about the Crispy Duck (S$38 for half) here even prior to my visit. The duck is done in Beijing style which means less of that fatty layer and more of the meat. The fragrance coming from the crispy skin was palpable as soon as I approached the plate. In the true fashion of Peking Duck, the meat is cut into thin slices then sprinkled with spring onion, cucumber and sauce before being wrapped in dough. There is also an option to include Chinese Kaluga Caviar for an extra S$170.
All in all, I enjoyed my dinner in Madame Fan and there were quite a few dishes I specifically liked including the Taiwan Noodles, Four Treasures Soup as well as the Home-style Crispy Pork Stir-Fry. Despite the 1-paged menu, I realized I’ve barely scratched the surface with what the venue can offer. I am quite intrigued to try the seafood items next time to see how they compare. That being said, if your intention is to impress, you probably won’t go wrong here. The place is gorgeous and the food is above average even without being too fancy. As the restaurant is part of a lifestyle destination, it’s also quite convenient to dine here followed by drinks and entertainment at one of the NCO Club’s other venues after.
The NCO Club
32 Beach Road
+65 6818 1921
Daily; 12-3PM for lunch; 6PM to 11PM for dinner