The Chinese Restaurant That Doesn’t Want To Be A Conventional Chinese Restaurant

Opulent Art Deco design, circa 1930s + authentic Chinese cuisine = Madame Fan’s old-world intimate dining.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

"When small is better than big: Every table in Madame Fan’s dining space sits just four."

Unless you book one of its private rooms, you are not likely to get a table for more than four at Madame Fan at the refurbished NCO Club. That’s because Alan Yau – the Hong Kong-born restaurateur, and founder of Asian food chain Wagamama in Britain – has prioritised intimacy and interaction in his first South-east Asian establishment.

“At big Chinese restaurants, the huge tables mean there is no dialogue among the guests, except those next to you,” Yau says. “That’s not the point of a dining experience.”

For Yau, who has an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to the restaurant industry in Britain, the best Chinese dining experiences were in the 1930s, the jazz age – an era that Madame Fan has brought back in a building that used to house a social club for British officers in the 1950s.

With its European Art Deco aesthetics, an elevated platform in the restaurant for live bands, and its music choices, which are never Chinese but either jazz or English pop, “Madame Fan isn’t just a restaurant; it’s also an entertainment concept”, says Yau.

Its old-world grandeur complements Yau’s recipe for what makes great Chinese food: all that is reassuringly traditional. “I love that Chinese food is about sharing and community,” says Yau. “There is homeliness and a certain comfort in that affinity.”

The impresario doesn’t mess with what works. On the menu are favourites like lobster noodles, doubleboiled soup, black pepper crab and dim sum, all with no-frills plating.

Serving classic fare doesn’t mean that no technical nous diff erentiates its Chinese food from that of others. For example, chef Mike Tan (who has had stints in New York and Beijing) elevates the drunken crab rice noodle dish with a broth that uses a 20-year-old rice wine – an ingredient that isn’t easily available commercially. The wine’s two decades of ageing results in a more robust flavour that makes this dish one of Madame Fan’s signatures. – CH


My Reading Room
Swing for a Bellini or a Vieux Carre at The Library, the cocktail bar adjacent to the dining area. You’re (almost) in Europe now, after all.
My Reading Room
True to keeping it old-world, other than wine and champagne, only classic cocktails are served here.
My Reading Room