The Architectural Heritage Award building used to be a southern Chinese Teochew-style mansion owned by a wealthy Teochew merchant. Photo: Juliana Tan

In a country where almost everything has its own acronym, launching a lifestyle establishment with the name “VLV” begs the question – what do the letters stand for? The answer in this case is: nothing in particular.

That’s how VLV’s chief executive officer Dolores Au intends it to be, too, so that guests can be creative. She explains: “VLV is a brand I conceptualised from three letters I like very much. I didn’t want a name that sets expectations, that defines the offering even before they set foot in the venue. I wanted a name that has the freedom to encapsulate our multi-dimensional offerings, and from there, allows our guests to create their own personal experience.”

VLV takes up a total of 20,000 square feet in a two-storey heritage building in Clarke Quay, where the second floor makes up an 80-seat modern Chinese restaurant and the indoor segment of the first floor is a club lounge.

VLV Clarke Quay
It later became a warehouse for gambier, biscuits and other commodities. Photo: Juliana Tan

These two sections opened earlier this week with a private launch party on Wednesday night, while the al fresco courtyard bar and riverfront dining area will open within the next few weeks.

Ms Au explains that the process of putting VLV together took about three years, and was partly inspired from her visits to cities such as London and New York.

The other inspiration came from the building itself – a landmark “River House” built in the 1880s, which used to be a southern Chinese Teochew-style mansion. It was home to a wealthy Teochew merchant, and later became a warehouse for gambier (an extract from a tropical climbing shrub), biscuits, and other commodities. In 1993, the building was restored and it received a URA Architectural Heritage Award two years later.

VLV Clarke Quay
Image: VLV website

“I am inspired to create concepts based on the unique spaces I find. This century-old structure really spoke to me and I envisioned enhancing the space while embracing the rich history rooted in the Singapore riverfront,” explains Ms Au.

She adds: “When presented with the space with its high vaulted ceilings and two internal courtyards, the concept came together quite naturally so we decided to house a Chinese restaurant on the second level, where diners can look down into the lounge area while music from the ground floor makes its way up.”

VLV Clarke Quay
Diners at the Chinese restaurant on the second level will be able to hear the music coming up from the club lounge on the first level. Photo: Juliana Tan

To go along with this heritage building, Ms Au says Chinese food was also a very natural choice.

“This building is one of a few Chinese ‘towkay’ buildings preserved in Singapore. I like the idea of referencing the roots of the building and personally, this is the food that Singaporean Chinese have grown up with so it is close to my heart,” she says.

That’s how they ended up with chef Martin Foo helming the kitchen. This Singaporean chef has run kitchens in both Singapore and Beijing, and was most recently a senior executive chef at the TungLok Group’s fine-dining restaurant, Tong Le Private Dining.

His style of cooking involves classic Chinese flavours, but done with modern techniques and sometimes even non-traditional ingredients. For instance, the VLV Signature Peking Duck is a slow-roasted 45-day-old duck served with avocado and crispy beancurd skin, and diners can top it off with a truffle foie gras sauce, and even add on caviar.

Other dishes on the menu include the Empress Dowager Tzu-hsi’s Soup made up of poached abalone with tofu in a seafood consomme, honey-glazed foie gras with black sesame pancake, and sweet and sour Kagoshima kurobuta with water chestnuts and baby peas.

Says the chef: “The setting of the dining room creates a different dining atmosphere from the usual Chinese dining room – during dinner, the lounge music pipes up and gives a buzzy, convivial feel to the place. It creates a vibrant dining experience. I hope my menu which adds modern touches to traditional dishes will be able to achieve a similar vibrant experience on diners’ palates.”

This article first appeared in The Business Times in 2016.