Francis Lim has long been a fixture in the food industry. Many of you might know him for his confident takes on Thai and Chinese cuisines and fun bar food. His concepts have usually been the kind that embodies social noshing—the stuff that’s easy to enjoy and pair with drinks.
What Lim does may look simplistic in a sea of upscale, chef-driven restaurants dominating Manila right now but the tattooed and amiable chef is the type of character who can turn even the simplest of dishes into a spectacle. Check out his TikTok @eatsfranlim and you’ll get what I mean. And it is also evident in his hot pot bar in Newport Mall called Chairman FU where he literally puts on a show.
So if you didn’t believe that the effervescent Lim is a pillar of the restaurant industry then Chairman FU may finally convince you otherwise. The high ceilings, large windows, and plush feel of the space already tell you that there’s plenty more special about Chairman FU than your conventional hot pot place.
It’s here where Lim practically reminds you of his deft touch as a chef in the form of sparkling small plates of fried spicy eggplant, stir-fried pork stomach, crispy tripe, and chicken feet before he goes in and gives you a soothing, lukewarm or extra hot embrace of a Chinese communal dining experience.
Lim tells us that he found inspiration from the 2019 Netflix series “The Hot Life” where they explore “regional specialty hot pots” around China but that the audacious variety of regional cuisines in the Philippines helped form his approach to Chairman FU.
The name of the game at any hot pot restaurant is to choose your own adventure and it’s the same case here, only with a special attention to five broths that allow you to build an extraordinarily personal bowl for your palate.
The satay warms, the laksa curry soothes, and the two collagen broths (corn and chicken and wild mushroom) revitalizes and restores. Then there’s the killer mala beef cube broth that simmers and seethes and taps into its Sichuan origins in northern China.
“It’s spicy because it’s cold there so it has that tingly flavor,” explains Lim about the beauty of the explosive mala broth. That said, the longer you put up with it, the more you get to appreciate the pummeling effect of the soup.
Just as thunderous is the selection of add-ins you throw into the broth. Lobster and mushroom balls, cheese dumplings, and spongy fish tofu are easy-going starters alongside the variety of noodles (try the flat sweet potato noodles), seafood like New Zealand mussels that are larger and firmer than the local variety, and even the 24K gold flakes (yes, they are edible just like the gold leaf topped on soft serve in Kanazawa, Japan), but the meat is clearly the main event.
Think ridiculously good New Zealand lamb shoulder and full-bodied English pork ribeye, thinly sliced and tender Australian wagyu brisket and a melt-in-your-mouth US Angus prime chuck roll. The stunning Japanese A5 wagyu (either the ribeye or striploin cut) meanwhile is a fitting end to a celebratory gathering.
“Eat the wagyu last because it’s the most subtle and it’s best without any sauce,” advises Lim.
It’s only been nine months since Chairman FU opened its doors to the public but it feels like an institution that’s yet to be discovered by most.
That may be a weird take but coming from someone who has known Lim and his memorable restaurants over the years for some time now, Chairman FU feels like a reset. A recharge. Or a return to form for an underrated chef who deserves his place in the industry.