THE BUZZ The most impressive and oldest building in Clarke Quay, the River House was built in the late 19th century by a wealthy trader. A large two-level mansion that hasn’t been changed since, it recently underwent a refreshing makeover thanks to a change of hands from its former years as a tired restaurant and bar. Taking over is VLV Singapore that aims to up the versatility of the mansion by dividing the space into four concepts: a fine dining Chinese restaurant, a club, an outdoor lounge and riverside dining called VLV Riverside.
AMBIENCE It’s pretty hard to fault dining by the Singapore River where it can get surprisingly breezy. The basic alfresco setup is meant to be a casual, frills-free Chinese seafood joint but sitting at a large table without a Lazy Susan requires some manoeuvring. For entertainment here, you get a medley of the live band at the Courtyard opposite and Cantonese chatter from the waitresses.
FOOD & DRINK A veteran in Chinese cuisine, executive head chef Martin Foo leads the culinary programme for VLV’s dining concepts including Riverside. It’s clear that his time spent at the Tung Lok Group and Tong Le Private Dining has helped hone his skills at executing authentic Cantonese fare. We were thoroughly impressed by his rendition of Congee with Flower Clam & Prawns (S$28, serves 2 to 3), which was of the right consistency: the grains in the congee are boiled so that they melt away in your mouth.
Also on the menu are a handful of local dishes such as the Salted Egg Yolk Chicken (S$18), a reflection of the salted egg yolk craze that took hold of the nation not so long ago. While the Stir-fried Sambal Prawns with Petai (S$28) and an assortment of vegetables fried in sambal, called 四大天王 meaning ‘four heavenly kings’ (S$18) as a play on the name of a group of Cantonese popstars, are Malay food inspired. The mix of shrimp paste, chilli, herbs and aromatics isn’t watered down and spiciness levels are comparable to those at a nasi padang stall.
Not all items on the menu are tried-and-tested recipes. Foo flexes his creative muscles in dishes that, unfortunately, don’t quite hit the spot. The highly anticipated Roasted Truffle London Duck (S$24 per portion, S$45 for half a duck, and S$90 for a whole duck) is wonderfully scented with truffle oil and slices but didn’t contribute much to the fowl’s original flavour. Less perfumed, the Chairman’s Steamed Crab (S$9/100g) comes swimming in a thick egg gravy that is a little bland and a sprinkle of ikura or salmon roe. Frog legs typically cooked in dark soy sauce is reinvented as Crispy Bull Frog with Fried Ginger Slices (S$26) but falls short with batter that is too heavy and pesky small bones.
And in the place of amphibian parts are pork belly slices; the Stir-fried Pork Belly with Salted Fish (S$20) is fried in dark soy sauce, ginger slices, spring onion and dried chillies. It’s best eaten with rice or noodles to counter the saltiness but we suggest avoiding the flavourless Crackling Pork Belly Ginger Scallion XO Noodles (S$22).