SINGAPORE - (ASIAONE) If you're a fan of Sichuan cuisine, you would know one of the places to head to for Sichuan food is Shisen Hanten by Chen Kentaro, a popular chain of restaurants in Japan that was started by the late Chef Chen Kenmin, who was widely regarded as Japan's 'Father of Sichuan Cuisine'.
Since the restaurant's 2013 debut at Mandarin Orchard Singapore, it has attracted its share of tourists who are curious about its Sichuan food offerings, Japanese expatriates who have come to be familiar with the restaurant back home, and foodies who swear by the authenticity of the spicy Sichuan food.
But the restaurant offers more than that.
I showed up for the food tasting with a colleague who was not a fan of spicy food. As for me, I was nursing a very sore throat, which gave me much concern about what potential damage oily, spicy Sichuan food could do to my vocal cords.
So we were pleasantly surprised at the variety of non-spicy food items that were also available on the menu. These included barbeque meats and Cantonese-style dim sum, seafood, pork, beef and lamb items that utilises traditional Chinese preparation methods of stir-frying, stewing and sauteeing.
Yet, we couldn't resist trying its famed Sichuan food. In between admiring the view from the 35th floor of the hotel and worrying about the spicy taste adventure we were about to embark on, our very lovely waitress made recommendations for us to try - mostly skewed to the Sichuan cuisine that the restaurant is famous for, with reassurances that the chef could tailor the level of spiciness to suit our tastebuds.
So we did. For starters, we began with Grilled Wagyu Beef with Spicy Garlic ($28). The beef was medium well-done, with no sign of blood on the meat and its centre the right shade of pink. The level of spiciness was mild, which led us to eagerly anticipate the other dishes to come.
We also had the signature dishes of Mapo Doufu ($20, above left) paired with steamed Hokkaido rice, the Sauteed Chilli Pepper & Chicken ($22, main image), and a Chilli Lobster ($26 per portion, above right). All were done to perfection - the silky toufu steeped in a spicy minced pork black bean sauce which was spicy, smoky and warmed me right to the bones on that drizzling rainy afternoon, the fried chicken nuggets sauteed with peppercorns, dried chilli, ginger, garlic and spring onions with just the right amount of heat from the chillies and tang - sweet, sour, spicy all at once. They were not too oily or tongue-numbing, which are characteristics that most of us have come to associate with Sichuan food.
The chilli lobster reminded me of Singapore's version of chilli crab - eggy, with tangy tomato sauce and the right amount of spice to add body. The dish can also be served with prawns, but we went with the waitress' recommendation, and I was glad we did. Even though it was slightly difficult to eat lobster that was slathered by the generous serving of sauce in fine-dining restaurant, the lobster meat was so fresh, sweet and succulent - a yummy dish even without the sauce.
A deep-fried mantou came with the lobster dish to let us sop up the remainder of the sauce. I surprised myself by slurping up all the sauce, despite my earlier misgivings due to my sore throat.
The dishes dispelled for my colleague and I our earlier notions of what Sichuan cuisine was. It's not just tongue-numbing, sweat-inducing hot peppers. Instead, the complexities of taste in our dishes gave us interesting flavours and was thoroughly enjoyable.
But for diners who have a preference for non-spicy foods, the restaurant had as much to offer. We had the Foie Gras Chawanmushi with Crab Roe Soup ($20, above left), a smooth chawanmushi with the distinct taste of foie gras. Drunk like a soup, you can opt to have it with a splash of black vinegar, which gives it a different flavour, although the foie gras will get muted somewhat. This was a winner for both of us.
Another soup we tried was the Double-boiled Conch in Superior Chicken Stock ($18). Prepared in a signature Cantonese style, the broth was sweet and full of flavour. This was a seasonal item and not listed on the menu, so do check with your waitress for recommendations.
Another non-spicy item we tried was the Fried Pork in Sweet & Sour Sauce in black vinegar ($24, above right). The pieces of bite-sized pork were generously coated in a vinegary sauce was reminiscent of the confinement food I used to consume. It's a hearty dish, and for the record, I did enjoy my confinement meals, especially the pig trotters in vinegar. For tastebuds that are not used to soury vinegar, this dish will take some getting used to. For those who love pungent flavours, this is surely something to try.
Besides the a la carte items, the restaurant offers a 7-course business set lunch (from $42++), as well as set menus that have spicy as well as non-spicy items for variety (from $68++).
To finish off, we were offered seasonal peaches from Japan (seasonally available), poached so that the fruit's sweetness was well-rounded. We also had the milk-based Cold Almond Pudding ($8), and Cold Mango Pudding ($8) with generous chunks of the fruit inside. Light and refreshing, it was a perfect way to finish off our meal.
Shisen Hanten's operating hours:
Monday to Sunday
Lunch: 12noon to 3pm (last order: 2.30pm)
Dinner: 6pm to 10pm (last order: 9.45pm)
For enquiries or reservations, please call 6831 6262 / 6831 6266 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: Level 35, Orchard Wing, Mandarin Orchard Singapore, 333 Orchard Road, Singapore 238867