You know food is taken seriously in a country when even schools play host to excellent restaurants. When I was in university, a good dinner was when the dining hall hadn't burned the potatoes, but with The University Club, the students at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have no excuse for not impressing their dates on Valentine's Day.
Located in the gleaming Shaw Foundation Alumni House, on Kent Ridge Drive, the restaurant can be a little difficult to get to if you don't drive, although there is a fairly extensive bus network within NUS itself.
The University Club is run by the owners of the Prive Group, so it's not surprising that the restaurant looks fantastic: an expanse of wood panelling greets you as you step out of the elevators, and when you enter the restaurant proper you realise that it's really quite a large, spacious set up.
Cleverly, however, diners are ushered into a smaller, more intimate antechamber where a large window affords a great view of the kitchen, and floor to ceiling glass windows allow a generous amount of light to come through, brightening up the dining room and ensuring that the decor is shown off to its best advantage.
The complimentary amuse-bouche was a little cherry tomato that had been hollowed out and filled with some beef carpaccio. Not bad as an introduction, though the tomato understandably lacked sweetness and juiciness.
The soup course was unusual: I do not believe I've ever had a mushroom consomme before. This was made mainly with shiitake mushrooms, which I think was unfortunate, as it gave the dish a distinctly oriental flavour, almost as if it were a herbal chicken soup. Perhaps something more earthy and robust, like cremini or portabello mushrooms, would have been a better choice.
My main course was a seafood risotto, which is an unusual choice for me since I generally prefer meats, but I'm glad I ordered it - topped with a generous helping of mixed shellfish and molluscs, the dish succeeded because of the rich stock used to cook the risotto. It was like getting two dishes in one: a starchy, filling risotto, and a piquant, fragrant bisque.
The University Club also does a credible slice (more a slab, really) of roasted pork, with a generous amount of crackling. While it looked delicious, it might be too heavy for delicate feminine appetites.
Dessert was a flourless chocolate cake, which was decadent, but rather too rich (someone once told me that that's because eggs and butter replace whatever flour used to be in the cake, which, as Wikipedia explains, is not so different from molten chocolate cake). Replacing the coffee ice cream with something tart might have helped to balance it all out.
Overall, The University Club scores fairly well above average across almost all categories: food is interesting, though perhaps not yet truly exceptional; service is prompt, efficient and friendly; and prices are fairly reasonable. Perhaps it's not too late to be a student again.
The University Club
Shaw Foundation Alumni House, Level 4
11 Kent Ridge Drive
Tel: +65 6779 8919
Opening hours: Noon to 2.30pm, 6.30pm to 10.30pm (Mon to Sat)