This is my second visit to Shisen Hanten. The first time we had a 10-course dinner with a big group so I was too shy to take any pictures. This time it was a smaller group and we were all foodies, so the cameras went snapping away.
The space is flamboyant, with high ceilings and plush furnishings set against a scenic view. Shisen Hanten by Chen Kentaro serves up sizzling Sichuan delicacies in the top floor of Hilton Orchard Singapore, but this is not the typical Sichuan cuisine that you would normally imagine.
Shisen Hanten was started in 1958 by the late Chen Kenmin 陳建民 who is regarded as Japan’s “Father of Sichuan Cuisine”. Executive Chef Chen Kentaro 陳建太郎 brings to Singapore his grandfather’s vision of contributing to a greater appreciation of Sichuan cuisine through Shisen Hanten’s signature dishes and a few new ideas of his own.
He is also the third generation of Sichuan chef, as his father was the famous celebrity chef Chen Kenichi 陳建一 from the Japanese Iron Chef series. He is nicknamed “The Sichuan Sage”, and currently the Chairman of the Shisen Hanten group of restaurants. Their story was made into a popular NHK TV series 『麻婆豆腐の女房』.
Shisen Hanten by Chen Kentaro celebrates the seven basic flavours of Sichuan cuisine: sour, spicy, sweet, numb, bitter, aromatic and salty using the 30 cooking techniques that Master Chang Dai-chien described in his calligraphy work written in appreciation to Chen Renmin’s hospitality towards him during a visit to their honten.
The appetisers placed on the table were house-made but they tasted exactly like their cousins from the homeland. Fuling pickled mustards 涪陵榨菜 and Sichuan mala beef jerky 麻辣牛肉干 are typical street snacks that were added to instant food like cup noodles to enhance the flavours of otherwise boring food. Here, the 2-star eatery reproduced the same street food flavours. The beef jerky had honshimeiji mushrooms added for umami. And the pickled mustards were less salty than the factory ones.
Grilled Wagyu Beef with Spicy Garlic Sauce
I didn’t know what to make out of this starter course. The Miyazaki wagyu beef was panfried to medium doneness and the spicy garlic sauce provided the flavours. But the flavours were surface deep and the beef did not go well with it.
Bang Bang Ji (Chilled Steamed Chicken with Spicy Sesame Sauce)
Another starter that I couldn’t make out. Shredded chicken with tomato-based slightly-spicy sesame sauce was not the same Bang Bang chicken I had in Chengdu. There wasn’t any hint of spiciness or numbness that are associated with Sichuan cuisine.
Also disappointing was the overcooked shredded chicken. It was quite mushy
Double-boiled Chicken and Conpoy Consommé, Abalone, Gobo Root and Chicken Quenelle
The abalone was tiny canned abalone, and the gobo root and chicken were lashed together to form the quenelle. The soups enhanced with green olives. It looked delicious.
Szechwan Hot and Sour Soup with Seafood
Szechwan Hot and Sour Soup with Seafood was a good balance of spicy and sourness. The thick soup was kept warm by the tealight candle at the bottom, which is great. This was one of the best Sichuan hot and sour soup I had had in recent time, miles ahead of Dintaifeng.
Crispy Roasted Pork Belly
The roast pork was very dry but very crispy. There was no trace of any fats and the meat just melt in mouth. Very unlike the Cantonese style.
It was the yellow mustard dip that came with the roasted pork belly that stole the limelight. Without it, this dish totally lacked lustre.
Boiled Sliced Live Marble Goby Fillet with Szechwan Pepper Sauce served in Claypot
Another Sichuan classic that was different, but in a good way. Firstly, there was less oil. There was no thick layer of chilli oil floating on top.
And then, the stock was clear and not oily, which makes me wonder how’s the flavour. The usually things like bean sprouts, mustard green stalk, kailan, were all present.
It was jarring not to find the same thing that one was familiar with, but Chef Kentaro’s version of 水煮鱼 was better and yet packed the flavour bombs when needed. While China’s Sichuan cuisine scene had been focused on getter spicier and number, this direction of focussing on getting the flavours right and balanced is welcomed.
Wok-fried String Bean with Minced Pork
This dish when done in Chongqing would be dripping with oil because the string bean would have been passed through hot oil. There was no hint of that. The flavours have been retained but with a healthier cooking method.
Chen’s Mapo Doufu
The most popular item on the menu is Chen’s Mapo Doufu, an original Chen family recipe using doubanjiang (chilli broad bean paste) that is fermented over three years. The end result is an extraordinarily soft and silky tofu dish. The sauce was meaty, a bit spicy, and complex deliciously paired with a bowl of fragrant Hokkaido rice. You would get a kick out of the part-numbing spices, but it wasn’t so much that it distracted from the flavours of the rest of the ingredients.
Chen’s Original Spicy Noodle Soup
Even though Shisen Hanten tends to tune down its spice levels, this dan dan noodles hit the right spot for me. It’s rather strong and definitely numbing, with some sweetness from the minced pork.
Chilled Almond Pudding
Wow, this was what the Japanese almond pudding tasted and I just realised how much I miss travelling to Japan. The almond pudding has a strong milk taste but it was the almond sugar syrup that elevated the whole dessert. I was glad I ventured into the dessert section even though I was so stuffed.
Many would say they don’t deserve the 2 Stars, I would agree that in certain way they were correct. But given the entire experience, they do fare much better than most Chinese restaurants in Singapore. And the way they have presented the food, they would fare better than most Chinese restaurant because of the portioning.
Food portion was right sized for two to have a variety, and not too expensive for a 2-stars Michelin restaurant in Orchard area. So for those collecting stars, this place is a must. But purist of Sichuan cuisine would frown on how much they have changed the cuisine. Some were successful changes, a few were complete rubbish. I would recommend to stick to the main courses. The appetisers were not outstanding.
Shisen Hanten by Chen Kentaro
Level 35, Hilton Singapore Orchard, 333 Orchard Rd, 238867
Tel : +65 6831 6262
Visited in Aug 2022
Michelin Singapore Guide 2 Stars 2016-2019, 2021, 2022