Saturday, 28 July 2018

Spicy Hot at Shisen Hanten

The signature stewed fish fillet in super spicy broth!
An ex-colleague I used to work with in Beijing has been working in Singapore for three years now and when I told him I was going to visit, he suggested we go to a restaurant he quite likes.
It's called Shisen Hanten by Chen Kentaro, a two-star Michelin restaurant -- that retained its two stars a few days ago -- featuring Sichuan cuisine cooked by a Japanese chef.
 
The dining room is rather quiet with many chandeliers
It's located on the top floor of Mandarin Orchard Singapore, a snazzy building along Orchard Road, the Rodeo Drive of the Lion City.
We were greeted on one floor, and then walk down the stairs into the dining area that's very large, dim and lit by large chandeliers.
The restaurant was started back in 1958 by Chen Kemin, who, according to the menu's introduction, is considered to be the "Father of Szechwan cuisine" in Japan.

The salted egg fish skin were crispy but quite oily
The reins were passed on to the eldest son, Chen Kenichi, who was best known as Iron Chef Chinese in the original TV show, Iron Chef. You may remember he was the one who wore a yellow Chinese jacket with black frog buttons on it.
Probably because of his fame, Chen Kenichi was able to expand the business outside of Japan. The branch in Singapore opened in 2014 with now the third generation, Chen Kentaro as executive chef. And since the Michelin guide has been in Singapore, the restaurant has retained its two stars for three years in a row.
To start our meal we had some salted egg fish skin. It's delicious, very crispy, but a tad oily. We munched on them throughout our meal. 
 
Something not spicy, vegetables with three eggs in broth
Next came the stewed fish fillet in super-spicy Szechwan pepper sauce (S$38 per portion). Indeed the black cast iron pot arrived covered in dried red chillis that signaled it would be a red hot dining experience.
One of the waitresses used a ladle to wade into the chillis to find the pieces of fish to put into our bowls. It came with bean sprouts and slices of cucumber. The fish was perfectly cooked, and surprisingly not too spicy, while the bean sprouts were too hot for me and I must have drank an entire tea pot of chrysanthemum tea in a pathetic attempt to cool down.
The fish was firm, not flaky and had the subtle mala taste, while the sprouts overwhelmed my taste buds.
 
The signature mapo tofu that was spicy with a mala numbness
To help me balance out the spiciness, we ordered stir-fried seasonal vegetable with trio of eggs in superior stock (S$22), which was basically potato leaves mixed with thousand year old egg, salty egg and egg whites in an orangey broth. Perhaps this dish wasn't quite finessed, but for me was a welcome respite from the spice.
Finally another signature dish, Chen's mapo doufu, featuring stir-fried tofu in hot Szechwan pepper-flavoured meat sauce (S$26 per portion). This was also fantastic, the silken tofu combined with the spicy meat sauce -- I mean really spicy meat sauce to have that mala taste that numbed the tongue.
In the end I managed to eat as much as I could without needing to call the fire brigade, and it made me wonder why the Japanese would be interested in mastering such a cuisine, when something technically difficult like Cantonese or dim sum might be more interesting for them.
Nevertheless, it was quite enjoyable, though the atmosphere seemed too quiet for a Sichuan restaurant where chillis inspire people to be hot-blooded, no? Oh wait we're in a Japanese restaurant...
Shisen Hanten
Orchard Wing Level 35
Mandarin Orchard Singapore
333 Orchard Road
Singapore 238867
(65) 6831 6262
www.shisenhanten.com.sg

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