Those who follow Hong Kong’s food scene closely will have noticed a few mysterious mistresses flaunting their figures around town lately, from the sultry and seductive Chinese opera singer Fang Fang who presides over her all-noir lounge from inside LKF Tower; to Madame Ching, a formidable female pirate who washed up from the South China Seas to inspire Pirata Group‘s latest mod-Asian eatery in Wan Chai.
With the recent opening of Tai Kwun, you may also have heard whispers of Madame Fu — perhaps the most cryptic character of them yet — whose identity is said to be “shrouded in the mist of time”. With unknown origins (it’s believed that her mother was Macanese while her father was Shanghainese), she rejected a pre-arranged marriage and fled to Paris at the age of 16, where she hooked a wealthy admirer, thus beginning her rise to social stardom as a regular of the city’s posh cafés. Now she’s brought her intellect and stylish looks to her namesake salon in Hong Kong, Madame Fu Grand Café Chinois, where the romance of Paris gets juxtaposed with the glamour of colonial-era Shanghai (once considered the “Paris of the East”).
She may have possessed due intelligence and charm, but did this mystery madame have the cooking chops to match? We headed over to the swanky space in Tai Kwun to find out.
A concept from Christian Rhomberg (of the now-defunct Kee Club), we expected Madame Fu to ooze with exclusivity and elegance, and we weren’t disappointed. The elaborate backstory has been brought to life through a regal amalgam of textures, fabrics and colours, with different rooms each decked out with a distinct identity, giving the impression of wandering through a grand, colonial-style estate.
What seems like an extraordinarily complex undertaking — creating a new restaurant composed of nine separate spaces, in a city where the most profitable margins usually come from hole-in-the-wall, high-turnover spots — Madame Fu has excelled with aplomb. The ultra-stylish restaurant makes good use of the sprawling dimensions of the colonial-style building, while its aesthetics nod to both Tai Kwun’s heritage roots and its new designation as a lifestyle hub where Hong Kong’s fashionably heeled have flocked in droves (the latest estimate has reached 180,000 visitors) since the former police station and prison reopened in May.
With swaying palm plants and lamps draped in Hermès scarves, the Verandah is an elegant and sophisticated perch from which to peep down at those mingling in the courtyard below, all while tapping away vigorously on social media and sipping on a HK$125 cocktail. Move into The Library, and you’ll find Madame Fu’s vast collection of travel books and fashion magazines, to be absorbed on plush Chesterfield sofas with a cup of coffee and dessert. In The Whisky Lounge, a collection of rare whiskies and cigars provide ballast for the evening’s festivities; over at The Grand Café, an all-day dining area is punctuated by cushy banquette sofas, white timber ceilings and dark teak flooring for a distinctly colonial-style vibe.
But for Instagrammers and fashion bloggers, there’s only one destination to seek out: the Pink Room, where afternoon tea and long ladies’ luncheons are sure to be the thing this summer. Here, surrounded by a splash of millennial pink, we find ourselves seated on a recent weeknight on one of five cushy banquettes, feeling slightly out of sorts in the ultra-hip room decked out in pink velvet and artfully distressed walls.
Food & Drink
Tearing our eyes away from the smorgasbord of pink, we take a first look at the menu: a neatly digestible selection of seafood, soup, meat, and rice/noodles dishes. It’s grounded by a smattering of recipes that will be familiar to most Hong Kong diners, from steamed garoupa fillets to char siu pork, wok-fried black pepper beef, and Chinese seafood delicacies such as braised abalone and roasted sea cucumber.
The first morsels to arrive are the smoked beancurd rolls with shiitake mushrooms and carrots (HK$95), with a trio of finely sliced pickled mustard greens, bright orange carrots and wood ear mushrooms wrapped in cold tofu skin and plopped onto a plate like an edible still-life painting. While the crisp, fresh veggies deliver a satisfying crunch, we can’t help feeling it’s a bit like fancied-up rabbit food. The dish may be a hit with the long-legged patrons that are sure to comprise much of Madame Fu’s following, but we’re craving a bit more flavour than the whisper of vinegar in the filling to make the dish sing as a palatable snack.
The crispy calamari, in contrast, is a much heartier starter for a similar price (HK$105). Thick tendrils of squid are battered and enveloped in a light crumb, the fine coating dissipating quickly to reveal the tender, chewy, and subtly sweet flesh of the squid. Deceptively light and well-seasoned with a spicy salt, the calamari makes for a delightful bar snack, accompanied by a light vinegar for dipping and a golden shower of fried garlic and crispy vermicelli for extra crunch.
Another chef’s recommendation — denoted throughout the menu by a stamp to the left of the dish — is the crispy cod (HK$286), which again shows off the kitchen’s skill with the deep fryer: filets of flaky, buttery cod are coated in a thicker batter this time, fried to a golden crisp with enough heft to absorb a sticky black vinegar glaze without going soggy. While the fat-on-fat combo of succulent cod and crispy batter could easily become cloying, the oily mouthfeel is tempered beautifully by the vinegar glaze, its bracing notes adding a tart overtone to cleanse the palate. The shredded ginger on top is another component to cut through the richness of the dish, although we would have liked more than the frugal sprinkling on top.
Attempting to inject some vegetables into our meal amounted to less satisfying results. The prawns and broccoli had well-cooked seafood, but we could barely detect the XO sauce that was advertised on the menu, save for a few straggles of dried scallop left clinging to one of the shrimp. It serves its purpose as a supporting role in the meal, but doesn’t quite live up to its HK$280 price tag.
While classics are prevalent on the menu, a few signature dishes stray beyond the conventional realms of Chinese cooking. It seems to be the consensus amongst modern-day chefs to add truffle to just about everything, but Madame Fu’s signature dish of crispy-skinned chicken (HK$230 half, HK$450 whole) might just be a de facto argument in favour of the return to a more judicious use of this aromatic funghi.
While the roasted half-chicken arrives with the appetising visual cue of a burnished, crispy skin, the artful arrangement of chive and truffle sauces on the plate are at odds, with the aroma and fragrance of truffle overpowered by the invisible yet potent presence of Sichuan peppercorns in the bright green oil. It’s a clever combination in theory and a slight balancing act could tip the scale in the dish’s favour, with some added relief on the plate to temper the numbing spice and build-up of oil rendered from the chilli sauces and chicken fat. The meat, however, is tender and beautiful on its own, soft and fragrant with a satisfying crackle on the skin.
With several rich mains, we skip dessert in favour of a nightcap: a well-made Negroni sipped from the counter at The Fù Bar, a communal dining hall framed with emerald green curtains, tall windows interspersed with vibrant artwork inspired by old Hong Kong, and dark wood tables and flooring. Here, the vibe is vastly different: While The Pink Room feels more like a private room where dinner conversation is to be had in hushed tones, The Fù Bar has the promise of a more eclectic and energised buzz, with a line-up of live music and art-movie nights to draw in Hong Kong’s creative set.
In fact, the overall impression of Madame Fu is quite impressive — an ambitious, well-designed multi-use space that could easily become a major social hub in any major metropolis; unfortunately, a lack in staff training and basic hospitality means that visitors will struggle to navigate the different spaces and menus without proper direction. For instance, when we requested to see a dim sum menu, it would have seemed intuitive to direct us to a table in the adjoining Fù Bar (where dim sum is served all-day), instead of stating plainly that dim sum was unavailable in The Pink Room during dinner.
That being said, Madame Fu’s stylish surrounds and leisurely vibes are particularly conducive to long meals comprised of small sharing plates, and the afternoon tea and dim sum menus seem enticing enough to warrant a return visit. We’ll be coming back to pit the BBQ pork buns, har gow and siu mai against other dim sum parlours in town.
With so much creative energy funnelled into an overwrought theme, story and décor, Madame Fu seems to have lost a bit of steam when it comes down to instilling the menu with the same sense of magic. You can come here for a tasty meal, undoubtedly: The kitchen hangs its knives on reassuring flavours that, for the most part, deliver comfort, if not groundbreaking novelty. However, as is par with similar high-minded establishments, expect to be paying upwards of HK$700 per person with drinks, for dishes delivered here with less refinement than you might find at other bastions of Cantonese fine dining around town.
For showering out-of-town-guests in the mysterious allure of East Asia while sipping a posh afternoon cocktail with a few crispy bar morsels (an order of crispy calamari is mandatory), Madame Fu offers plenty to satisfy. However, if a mind-blowing meal punctuated by pure epicurean pleasures is what you’re after, you may find yourself less than enamoured by her charms.
Opening Hours: Mon–Sun, 11am–midnight.
Recommended Dishes: Crispy calamari, crispy cod with vinegar glaze, chicken with truffle and chive sauce, assorted dim sum plates.
Price: Dinner ranging from HK$600–$800 per person with drinks.
Noise Level: A hushed atmosphere in The Pink Room, while The Grand Café and Fù Bar, when busy, promise to deliver a more boisterous vibe.
Service: Fast and accommodating, but lacking in warmth and hospitality.