Friday, January 03, 2014

Szechwan Fan Dian by Chen Kentaro

Shui Zhu Yu

On one of my first trips to Tokyo many years ago, a local colleague of mine wanted to take me to Chinese food. I was a bit disappointed, as I didn't exactly go all the way to Japan from Singapore to eat Chinese food. But to my surprise, it was delicious. It wasn't really Chinese food though; it was basically Japanese food made to look like Chinese food. But it was good. And now we have something similar at this new place on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Orchard Hotel (333 Orchard Road, 6737-4411), where Sichuan food is done with a Japanese approach.

Basically, this is an outpost of Iron Chef Chen Kenichi's Shisen Hanten restaurants in Japan. And if one comes here expecting Sichuan food, then disappointment is inevitable, as it really is Japanese food. That could not be more epitomized than in that dish above, which is supposed to be shui zhu yu, but clearly is nothing like the bright red concoction that one gets at proper Sichuan restaurants. This one was clear, and more importantly, featured an amazingly tender and rich cod (think: gindara) that just blew me away, especially when paired with that savory broth (yes, one can actually drink it, unlike the proper Sichuan version!). No, it wasn't really spicy, but one just had to grab one of those dried peppercorns and chili pods to remind you of the explosion in your mouth that one is supposed to get. They had a wagyu version of that dish as well.

I loved it, and it was a bit of an odd - but good - feeling to be eating mapo doufu over pearly polished koshihikari rice. To be sure, the prices were through the roof, as they were at least three or four times more expensive than eating at a typical Sichuan place around here. That was clearly due to not just the quality of the ingredients, but also the service and decor of a very upscale fine dining restaurant (the opulent jellyfish-like chandeliers were just borderline gaudy enough to stay on the elegant side). I'll pass on their non-spicy ganbian sijidou next time though; that one will have to be saved for the day that Hometown reopens, whenever that is.

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