Remember the original Iron Chef series? The one entirely in Japanese and dubbed over by some super animated commentator? That was one of my favourite shows growing up. I was obsessed, watching the 3 chefs, all masters in their own right, battle it out in that massively cavernous industrial kitchen against some poor overreaching sod. In just 1.5 hours, the chefs were able to create three-four masterpieces, putting their own spin on whatever "secret ingredient" theme highlighted in that episode.
One of the chefs was the ever imposing, cleaver-wielding Chen Kenichi, a Japanese-born, ethnic Chinese chef also known as Iron Chef Chinese. Affectionately called the grandfather of Sichuan cooking in Japan, he went on to set up a restaurant empire, one of which is now in Singapore, Shisen Hanten. The name itself is already a mouthful (I just realised I've been mis-pronouncing it "Shinsen Hanten"), and really, I was initially hesitant about Japanese-Sichuan cuisine. I mean, what on earth is that, right?
Turns out, the fare at Shisen Hanten is quite simply, Sichuan fare; made just a little more refined and nuanced by the quintessential Japanese exacting precision.
The extensive menu is a tad daunting, and while we loved almost everything we ordered, it wasn't a 100% hit-rate. So, my tip is to stick to the traditional stuff for a slamdunk meal.
One of our favourite starters here, the Cold Steamed Chicken ($22) seasoned with sesame and leek oil, was incredibly aromatic, and despite subtle kick of the chilli pepper spice, was clear and refreshing. This was like Hainanese chicken, but all shredded up and given a spicy twist. Absolute must try.
The other appetizer of Grilled Wagyu Beef ($30), beautifully burnished and glossed with a delicate garlicky spice blend, was sumptuous, albeit forgettable. The earlier starter really stole the limelight.
A cannot-miss soup, the Hot & Sour Soup ($12) was exceptional, punchy and robust, but finished with an exquisite polish that I've never seen before.
Skip the Braised Corn Soup with Crabmeat ($12); it was insipid and clunky.
The Roasted Crispy Chicken ($46 for whole and promotionally half-priced on Thursday lunches) was outstanding. For once, I actually only ate the breast meat, which was wonderfully moist and flavoursome. This may seem a little trite, but the crackers were superb as well.
The Sweet & Sour Pork with Black Vinegar ($26) was a controversial dish. A galfriend thought it was "too porky", but I thought it was acceptably full-bodied. The one thing we all could agree on, was that the heady, sweetish, piquant glaze was absolutely delightful.
Another must-order, Chen's Mapo Doufu ($22) was big and bold, but restrained. I liked the complex nuance finessed into this.
The Rice Vermicelli with Crabmeat ($28) was just magnificent. The noodles were lush with stock, but managed a light elegance; and the generous pile of scallops, shitmeiji caps, freshly shredded crabmeat and egg white scramble lent texture and dimension.
The well-braised peanuts appetizer was so delectable, so soft and melty, we practically inhaled this. Also, we were starving like a marvin, so that could have been a contributory factor.
Orchard Wing Level 35
333 Orchard Road
Tel: 6831 6262
Open daily from 12noon to 3pm for lunch; 6pm to 10pm for dinner