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Plush decor, tasty food
3A River Valley Road
Merchant's Court, #01-02
Open daily for lunch and dinner: 12pm to 3pm; 6pm to 11pm.
IN a world of checks and balances, we have what we call our Theory of Equilibrium. You know, a belief that life should be fair. Good-looking people should not be smart, poor people should be happy, restaurants that spend so much money on their decor cannot possibly be good. Especially restaurants that spend so much and can't come up with a name that actually means something.
So there we are, standing outside Vee-El-Vee, even though our natural tendency is to pronounce it like "bleah" with a heavy Russian accent. But it's not because we disapprove of the place. It's really quite nice. In fact, it looks quite out of place in Clarke Quay in the searing lunchtime heat, surrounded by restaurants just biding their time till sunset when they can turn into the bars that they really are. Of course, VLV is also a bar - a big clubby one that looks like the living room of a house-proud playboy who enjoys doing a bit of dusting.
Comfortable-looking sofas, purple accent pillows, furry ottomans and vases full of lush white flowers in full (plastic) bloom create an inviting ambience. But before we can make ourselves at home, we're ushered up a narrow red staircase into the restaurant proper upstairs. It's an equally well-appointed space - modern, plush, inviting. The nicer it looks, the more worried we are about the food, partly because we've never had a decent meal in Clarke Quay and curse-breaking is not really our forte.
But we're heartened by the presence of a restaurant manager and staff who seem to know what they're doing, and a kitchen helmed by veteran chef Martin Foo, whose resume includes the likes of Lei Garden and Tung Lok. That they're open to doing sample platters is another plus, so we get to try a combo of kurobuta pork done three ways (S$8) - bite-sized portions of char siew, crackling pork belly and pork slices rolled around crisp celery sticks with a vinegar garlic sauce. The char siew boasts a bouncy texture and caramelised sheen but is a trifle salty and chewy. The cubes of crisp-skinned roast pork belly are worthy specimens and the rolled pork a fresh foil to its solid neighbours.
A black sesame-studded open-faced bun that could use a more resilient bite is a so-so case for a spicy chilli crab filling (S$6.80) that hits the right taste notes. But what's rather enjoyable is the dim sum symphony (S$28) - a collection of four different types of dumplings in different colours. You're instructed to eat them in a certain order so you eat the lighter one and work up to a more "heavy" morsel. The quartet is not lined up nicely from left to right (why we don't know) so you need to memorise the colour order that you're given. But they all seem to taste equally substantial to us. There's a slinky-skinned vegetarian dumpling, inky black-skinned fish har kow, siew mai topped with a truffle slice and a lobster har kow.
These are not delicate dimsum, mind you, but tasty, robust mouthfuls that hit the spot. Just like the shark's cartilage broth (S$32) - a lip-smearing collagen-rich broth stuffed with two thick pieces of fish maw and a slippery bamboo pith. It's served boiling hot in a claypot fitted with its own crackling fire below that offers great showmanship and constant heat.
Chef Foo seems to be of the old-school, who's-afraid-of-oil temperament where good old-fashioned rib-sticking cooking is the order of the day. The manager recommends an off-menu, claypot-braised whole marble goby (S$12 per 100gm), where the fish is chopped up and tossed in potato starch for a gooey-crisp skin that results after deep-frying, and braised in a thick superior stock gravy that begs for a bowl of white rice to go with it.
Any attempt to lighten your meal with some healthy greens goes awry when yet another sizzling claypot arrives with crisp romaine lettuce spears tossed in a fair bit of oil, a smidgen of shrimp paste and dried chilli, seasoned with strips of briny dried cuttlefish.
Orh Nee (S$12) is a cold yam paste tasting too strongly of commercial coconut milk, but is tempered by a scoop of vanilla icing. A few gingko nuts and what's described as salsify adorn the paste.
While nothing is really shout-out good (and it is generally pricey), there is consistency and overall tastiness to be found in VLV's menu. Where once we needed to be dragged into Clarke Quay, we may actually come willingly next time. And we will skip the Russian accent and call it by its meaningless acronym if it really wants it that way.
WHAT OUR RATINGS MEAN
10: The ultimate dining experience
7-7.5: Good to very good
Our review policy: BT pays for all meals at restaurants reviewed on this page. Unless specified, the writer does not accept hosted meals prior to the review's publication.