SINGAPORE - (SOSHIOK) Have you ever eaten something that made you feel as if you were being carried straight to the golden gates of Heaven on a souffle of clouds?
That was what the Foie gras chawanmushi with Hokkaido hairy crab soup (S$24) at Shisen Hanten was like.
Served in a pot warmed by a burning flame, the seasonal dish boasts a smooth texture that felt like silk on the tongue. That and the distinct sweetness from the crab make it one of the most remarkable dishes on the restaurant's menu. With every mouthful I took and each warm dollop that slid down my throat, I wondered, "What have I done to deserve such magnificence?"
This is only one of the many scrumptious offerings at Shisen Hanten, a renowned chain of Szechuan restaurants in Japan. Its legacy goes back to 1958, when the late Chef Chen Kenmin founded the country's first Szechuan restaurant.
The prestigious brand made its debut outside of Japan at Mandarin Orchard Singapore in 2014. It is helmed by third generation and rising star Chef Chen Kentaro, who specialises in authentic Szechuan cuisine.
What is known as the Shisen Hanten experience starts the moment you step into the establishment's dining hall, where guests are greeted by a sophisticated interior marked by glitzy chandeliers and oriental decorations. I would have been able to admire the stunning views of the city from 35 levels above Orchard Road too, if not for the haze blanketing the area the day I was there for a food-tasting session.
We kicked off our meal with Salmon sashimi with leek and oyster sauce (S$16), a new addition to the restaurant's ala carte menu. Fresh and sliced to perfection, it was a refreshing start to what was to be an outstanding dinner.
The Braised 8-head whole abalone with Szechuan soy bean sauce (S$38) made me wonder which was the true star of this exquisite dish. I took my time savouring each bite of the abalone that was springy without being too chewy, before polishing off every bit of the sauce which had a slight spicy punch and yet wasn't overpowering.
Compare that to the Fish fillet with pickled vegetable served in claypot (S$30) and you'll realise that while both dishes come with a mouth-watering gravy, the latter's is saltier and more flavourful. Add the natural sweetness of the fish and invigorating taste of parsley into the equation, and you'll have what they call a match made in heaven.
Those were not the only seafood we got to relish at Shisen Hanten. I thought I knew my oysters, whether they were fried with omelette or fresh off the ice. But nothing could have prepared me for Shisen Hanten's Stir-fried oyster with spring onion, ginger and Szechuan chill (S$32). A tang that reminds you of the breezy ocean and found only in fresh oysters, coupled with the distinct Szechuan marinade, make it a dish like no other.
We also tried the Braised pork belly and autumn mushroom with Szechuan pickles (S$28), all of which superbly complemented one another. The meat was soft, succulent and practically melted in my mouth (like it did my heart).
The Sauteed wagyu beef with red pepper (S$34) that was served next was another hot favourite of mine - literally. As a beef lover and fan of spicy food, I had high hopes for the dish after seeing it on the menu, as it sounded like the combination of two of my favourite things in one. I was not disappointed.
The beef was cooked to crispy perfection on the outside and tender on the inside. Despite its fiery and salty exterior, it retained the vivid sweetness you would expect from quality wagyu beef. I was secretly thrilled when I bit onto a particularly juicy and slightly fatty piece.
Ask Chef Chen Kentaro what his favourite dish is, and he will tell you that it's the Stir-fried tofu in hot Szechuan pepper-flavoured meat sauce (S$22).
Dousing my Hokkaido steamed rice in the smoky minced meat sauce and flawlessly smooth tofu, I could totally see why this is one of Shisen Hanten's signature dishes. Also known as "Chen's Mapo Doufu", it was spicier than any of the other courses we had been treated to earlier and left a lingering smack on my tongue - ideal for my adventurous taste buds and the epitome of bona fide Szechuan fare.
For dessert, we were served Hokkaido ice cream with Warabi-mochi. Light, refreshing and sweet, it was the perfect way to top off an impressive dinner. Plus hey, who doesn't like matcha or vanilla?
Shisen Hanten's operating hours are from:
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