Review: Tai Kwun’s Madame Fu Excels In Style Over Substance
A successful restaurant often relies on a number of factors to keep guests on returning. Good food and drinks are crucial, so are offering a pleasant dining experience through ambience, setting, and sufficient service to match. Many would argue an intriguing story about the creation of the establishment to be significant. Yet there is a fine line between a real-life inspiration story than a fictional tale, the latter, in many cases, can make or break a restaurant.
Opened and operated by Christian Rhomberg of the late Kee Club, Madame Fu opened a month ago at Tai Kwun, the season’s most celebrated revamped local heritage site. Under the historical colonial architectural arches of block 3 of the complex, we could find the Chinese-inspired establishment occupying the entire floor, a restaurant and a bar occupying the respective end of the floor. The restaurant took efforts in creating a unique narrative about a mysterious heroine named Madame Fu, whose colourful life story of mythic proportions, trials and tribulations inspired the opening of the establishment, all seemed so perfect and poetic. The main restaurant space, a brick-walled square room with high ceiling, is embellished with canvases spread with notable colours and shades, while spacious jade-toned sofas are paired with marble tabletops, evenly spaced across the room. Stylish they may be in a lounge but sinking low in these seating made it tricky for some guests to balance between sitting up straight to maintain good height at the table.
The menu is small at Madame Fu. Four appetisers, a few mains and carb options round up the two-page menu. We began our meal with smoked tofu roll with mixed vegetables. A traditional Northern Chinese cold dish, fine juliennes of vegetables filled a tight roll of smoked tofu sheets. While the filling was a melange of fine textures, the tofu sheet exterior was over smoked, imparting a bitter, and slightly burned aftertaste. Crispy yellow eel with ZhenJiang sweet vinegar and ginger was served in tiny portions. Shreds of eel were crunchy, yet bone-dry within, dressed with a sweet black vinegar glaze. Frizzled ginger on the top enhances the crunchiness to the starter.
Honey barbecued pork, advertised to be Iberico pork, was perfect by appearance – caramelised on the top with a sweet glaze evenly spread on the meat. The meat was slightly tough and over-seasoned throughout. Luckily enough our next dish, roasted chicken with black truffle and chives, was perfectly prepared. Our small party of two ordered the half-chicken portion, where the bird was deep-fried, deboned, and snuggly presented surrounded by a condiment mixed with black truffle paste and chopped chives mixed with ground Sichuan peppercorn and dark soy sauce. The chicken was impressive, where every piece from thigh to breast is tender, paired with translucent crispy skin. We suggest skipping the lime juice and five-spice salt on the side and enjoy with the truffled condiment, where earthiness hit and is muted by a sharp sting of numbing Sichuan peppercorns.
Crispy codfish with vinegar was on point, where thick fingers of cod fish were battered and deep-fried. The vinegar glaze was different from that of the crispy eel and was too cloyingly sweet. For carbs, we opted for stir-fried noodles with bean sprouts and soy sauce. It may not be on the menu but it is a piece de resistance as an off-menu bestseller. The noodles are loose and well-tossed in the hot wok, and more importantly, they were not oily and well-seasoned throughout.
Desserts at Madame Fu are more Western-inspired, the ginger crème brulee with fresh fruits and white chocolate rice crispies was too sweet to begin with and the ginger disappeared as Earl Grey tea infused crème brulee overpowered everything else.
The wine list is modest at Madame Fu and cocktails came highly recommended, although the selection is meagre and only two out of three signatures were available. The Kung Fu blends vodka with passion fruit and served in an ice-filled goblet glass, watering down the light cocktail throughout the meal.
Service can be a hit-and-miss case at Tai Kwun. On our night of visit the restaurant was full by 7:30 pm. Service was slow at first but it was quickly picked up and delivery of dishes was prompt despite mains took an extended period of waiting on end. Most of the members of the staff team were keen to recommend the restaurant’s signature dishes, including a kind reminder to pre-order the favorites that were prepared in limited portions. It was, however, in the case of food and wine pairing, that the team needed work the most. In one case the staff member produced a cheat sheet and showed us what was in a cocktail when inquired.
While Madame Fu intends to impress with its 8,000 square-foot space and its vast collection of art pieces displayed throughout its bar, restaurant, alfresco verandah and private rooms, we felt that the restaurant needs a stronger push on polishing the service and food and drink offerings to keep the guests on returning, as its current offerings are not nearly as magical and intriguing as the narrative, or the mythical heroine, herself to be.
Madame Fu, 3/F, Barrack Block, Tai Kwun, 10 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2114 2118
A meal for two with one beverage and service: around HK$1,500
How we rate
Each of our reviewers score restaurants based on four main criteria: setting, food, service, and drinks, taking into account more than 35 different points of reference including manners of staff, usefulness of the wine list, and whether or not the restaurant makes an effort to be environmentally aware. 5/5 indicates an exceptional experience; 4-4.5/5 is excellent; 3-3.5/5 is good to very good; and 2.5/5 or lower is average to below average. Before visiting a restaurant, the reviewers will book using a pseudonym and do not make themselves known to restaurant staff, in order to experience the venue as a regular guest—if this is not possible, or if we are recognised, we will indicate this in the review.