Since the opening of Hong Kong’s Tai Kwun Centre of Heritage and Arts – the former police headquarters in Central – people have been waiting with bated breath to find out which restaurants would be moving into the premises.
So far, among the early arrivals is Madame Fu, a contemporary Chinese restaurant on the third floor.
There was some initial confusion about the existence of any lifts to the restaurant. I was directed by someone who pointed vaguely in the direction in the building and told “in the middle”.
I ended up finding a cargo lift and having to walk past the kitchen back to the restaurant, which was interesting. It turns out there was a proper lift for guests which I missed!
The first sight of the restaurant interior was a pleasant surprise. Despite a limited size, the restaurant looks cosy and breezy at the same time – no doubt thanks to the palm tree standing proudly in the middle of the room.
Vivid artworks by Beijing abstract artists such as Mao Lizi, Yuan Zuo, Feng Lianghong and Li Di also adorn the walls and the seats were comfortable.
The restaurant also has private dining rooms and an outdoor area for dining and drinks.
The concept of Madame Fu is built around the story of a woman of mysterious origin, known for her beauty, elegance and wit.
As the tale goes (this is in the menu), she escaped an arranged marriage and eventually ended up in Paris where she fell in love with the Parisian cafes of the roaring 20s.
On her return to Shanghai, she opened her own grand salon where she entertained the artistic set.
The menu and the decor of the restaurant is very much a nod to this era: a mix of old Shanghai with a whiff of the West in the desserts menu, which featured sweets such as crème brûlée and chocolate cake.
Not looking for anything too heavy, we opted for more choices of starters and decided on the crispy pork belly served with mustard sauce (HK$120, US$15), a perennial Chinese favourite; the deep-fried baby oyster mushrooms drizzled with honey (HK$85), and the salt and pepper crispy tofu (HK$75).
There were nine generous cubes of pork belly, with skin roasted to crispy perfection, but the meat still very juicy and tender.
The crispy tofu was a little softer than I liked, but I had to appreciate the delicate balance of the salt and the pepper.
The deep-fried baby oyster mushrooms was a wow moment. On sight, it reminded me of the typical Shanghainese baby river eels deep fried in light batter. Yet once you bite into the crispy and honey-sweet batter, the aroma and taste of the oyster mushrooms was pungent and delicious
Our attentive server recommended their rice stew with abalone and minced duck (HK$258) and the steamed grouper fillets with glass noodles and fresh chilli (US$380), and we were glad we took his advice.
It was my first time having grouper served with glass noodles and chilli, which is usually how shell fish such as razor clams and scallops are served, but the soft texture of the grouper worked surprisingly well with the glass noodles, too.
The pièce de résistance was the rice stew, which was served with four small abalones on top. The rice had fully absorbed the gravy, but remained at a comfortable level of dryness.
The little bits of minced duck and the spring onions added more depth to the texture of the dish.
Despite the simplicity the wok-fried Chinese kale with ginger (HK$90) was also delicious: the kale was young and crunchy and the balance of the ginger gave it a nice tang.
We ended our meal with a generous serving of aromatic osmanthus tea fragrant jelly (HK$45 per person). The shape of the jelly, which kind of reminded us of a fish or an omelette, offered more of a surprise than the taste.
Madame Fu really ticked the boxes in food, service and ambience, and it’s likely to stay as one of our favourite new Chinese restaurants for a while.