|Interior of Shisen Hanten @ Mandarin Hotel (Singapore)|
Like most famous eateries, the recently opened Shisen Hanten at Mandarin Orchard Singapore has come under scrutiny by Singapore’s vocal eat-and-criticize crowd. After all, this Japanese import is no ordinary restaurant and sells more than your typical Szechuan fare.
The 15th outlet – and first overseas outpost – of Shisen Hanten is the product of Iron Chef Kenichi Chen’s son, Kentaro Chen, whose late grandfather, Kenming Chen, founded the original Yokohama eatery in 1958. Not content with learning the ropes of the trade in his hometown, Kentaro spent 3 years (2005 to 2008) honing his ma la (numbing and spicy) craft in Chengdu, the capital of China’s Szechuan province, before deciding to take his family business regional recently.
Kentaro’s Singapore foray is the brand’s first overseas debut under the stewardship of an Asia-wide (excluding Japan) franchise contract with Overseas Union Enterprise Limited (“OUE”). Perched on the 35thfloor of Mandarin Hotel, it takes the former space of a Chinese restaurant, Mandarin Court (once named Pine Court), and was renovated to the tune of S$4 million.
Unveiled in January 2014, OUE’s franchise flagship is stunning. Sporting a lofty ceiling festooned with baccarat crystal lampshade chandeliers, the roomy gold-and-black interior boasts panoramic city views through glass-to-ceiling windows decorated with wooden blinds and elegant baccarat crystal standing lamps. The best seats in the house are the semi-private alcoves flanked by baby palm trees lining the windows but if these are taken, the round tables in the main dining room are not too shabby either.
Befitting the grandeur of space, the Szechuan fare at Shisen Hanten @ Mandarin Singapore is decidedly upscale. Aside from a dim sum menu available exclusively at lunch, the menu beckons with the usual trappings of bird’s nest soup, Buddha jumps over the wall, abalone, sea cucumber, Peking duck, suckling pig and steamed live fish, plus various lunch and dinner sets.
But Shisen Hanten’s raison d’etre is clearly Szechuan fare. The trick to having a good meal here, we feel, is to eschew the sets, sieve through the a la carte’s formulaic distractions and pick out the chillies and Szechuan peppercorn-laden gems. Thankfully, majority of these signatures are highlighted by a “signature dish” symbol although it must be said that the restaurant has also slipped in the bird’s nest soup (S$78 per person) and Buddha jumps over the wall (S$78 per person) as house signatures.
|Mapo doufu with Hokkaido rice is Shisen Hanten’s biggest pride and joy|
Chen’s Mapo doufu (S$20 to S$40), served with Hokkaido rice, is Shisen Hanten’s biggest pride and joy. Velvety beancurd is stir-fried with minced meat in a Szechuan pepper sauce and flavoured with 3 year-fermented spicy bean paste sourced from Pi Xian (a county within Chengdu). It’s easy to be intimidated by the fiery red-and-greasy façade of the dish but, thankfully, its taste is strangely refined – if slightly smoky – and balanced without being overly spicy. If only they douse the dish with a blanket of creamy shirako (cod milt) – like they do in Japan – it may have yielded a richer finish.
|Szechuan boiled fish is the biggest standout at Shisen Hanten|
The Szechuan boiled fish (S$26 to S$52) is another standout. Sea perch fillet is served basking in chicken stock strewed with bean sprouts and tongue-numbing Szechuan peppercorns. Crowning the claypot is a riot of blistering dried chillies flecked with sesame seeds and parsley. Unlike the original ultra-cloying chilli oil-coated version, Shisen Hanten’s take on this popular Szechuan dish exercises restraint without taking away its spicy-numbing flavours. Better yet, one can sip on the intoxicating chicken broth while nipping away on the perfectly cooked sea perch.
|Sauteed chilli pepper chicken is yet another favourite|
Joining our list of favourites is Shisen Hanten’s sautéed chilli pepper chicken (S$22 to S$44), a more sophisticated take on kung pao chicken. Nuggets of cubed chicken thigh are first deep-fried in Japanese potato starch, and then stir-fried with leek plus heaps of chilli peppers. The crisp crunch of the chicken that carries a tinge of fiery spice tempered with the sweet fragrance of leek is highly addictive, to say the least.
|Grilled Australian beef slices with spicy garlic|
While Shisen Hanten is completely worth the schlep for these 3 signatures, there are other well made – albeit less noteworthy – small plates that will complement the meal, not least the appetizers of hot & sour soup (S$10 per person) and grilled Australian beef slices with spicy garlic (S$28 to S$56).
Shisen Hanten has risen to the occasion with tip-top execution that commensurate with a Japanese-run kitchen and we’ll happily return for its deliciously refined take on Szechuan fare. Looking at the packed room at lunch, many are in agreement with us.
Level 35, Orchard Wing, Mandarin Orchard Singapore, Singapore 238 867 | +6831 6262 | shisenhanten.com.sg
© Evelyn Chen 2013
All photos (except Szechuan boiled fish photo) are courtesy of Diana Kwek.
Please note that the reviews published on this blog are sometimes hosted. I am under no obligation to review every restaurant I’ve visited. If I do, the reviews are 100% my own.