It was not too long ago when I walked away, impressed, from Mandarin Orchard’s Shisen Hanten traditional signatures. Chef Chen Kentaro whipped up a delightful portion of Mapo Tofu that was excellent with rice, and his rendition of Wagyu with Chilli Pepper left me craving for more. With such beautiful memories, I was set to visit Chef Chen at his flagship restaurant located in Akasaka, Tokyo during my December trip to Japan. What I expected from a simple lunch of Mapo Tofu during a cold winter was never meant to be as Chef Chen surprised us all with a filling (and luxurious) 7 course set that showcased his skill with the best of Japanese produce. Is it worth a visit? Definitely a recommendation.
Shisen Hanten (or Szechuan Restaurant) was first started in 1958 by Chef Kentaro’s grandfather – Chen Kenmin. The elder Chen was the first to introduce Szechuan cuisine into Japan. His son, Chef Chen Kenichi (and Kentaro’s father) was the celebrated Chinese Iron Chef throughout the entire television series. Today, Chef Kentaro is the third generation within the family to helm the business, and he is occasionally at the Akasaka branch.
I began my meal with an impressive range of six appetizers, each delicately plated in a contrast of colour suggesting a presence of rich flavours through and through. Most memorable for me was the Botan ebi with shoyu and a touch of alcohol . Sweet, spicy and with a depth of hearty flavours, this was a marvel to indulge in. Chilled green bamboo shoots served with a touch of tobiko are then best as a palate cleanser, bringing forth crisp and fresh impressions before the next starter.
The next dish of Beef with Bell Peppers was a winner for me. The freshness of the peppers was immediately noticed as a tender, grassy scent wafted upwards from the plate. As recommended by Chef, it was important to gently toss the beef and peppers together before tucking in. This allowed a good mix of the two key ingredients, which was crucial in enveloping the buttery beef with the sweetness from the pepper.
Chef certainly had his team going full steam with the next dish of Fried Oysters with Jindu prefecture chilli. Back in Singapore, I found it similar to the fried oyster omellete because of its slightly drier and starchier texture. However, with the right ingredients at his hand, Chef took that exact same dish to the next level. The oysters were plump, and still rich in sea sweetness. The chillies, lent both a tender heat and colour throughout. This was certainly, a better executed dish than the Singapore variant.
The next presentation was a Sharksfin Stew. Deep, earthy flavours with a thorough savoury presence well elaborated by the shavings of mushroom. This was one dish I wished that I had some rice by the side as the gravy was collagen rich and hearty. Unfortunately, chef had it planned that the rice was best kept for the mapo tofu.
I was surprised to see a Szechuan restaurant serve up Xiao Long Baos, but with the extent of hybridity of a Chinese restaurant in Japan, almost anything goes. The regular white dumpling was stuffed with crab, while the black variant had a mix of pork and black truffle. I gave a thumbs up for the Shanghai crab dumpling as it was sweet and the juices flowed out easily. The black truffle was subtle and more of a novelty factor.
And finally, the dish that I came here for – Mapo Tofu. Except that this particular portion was taken a notch further with the freshest Shirako (cod’s milt) that Chef personally went to Tsukiji market for. The heat from the sauce was subtle and broad, with it slowly increasing portion by portion; never excessive and great on its own. The shirako, sweet and buttery, was a perfect complement to the tender tofu and bits of mince. It was a combination I never expected. I loved this dish, and would specially visit Shisen Hanten for more.
For dessert, Chef had out a Mango pudding served with persimmon, sago, coconut milk and touches of gold leaf. The dessert, identifiably a tropical inspiration, pays homage to chef’s culinary travels. I enjoyed the sweet mango and crisp persimmon, but found the coconut milk a touch lacking. However, considering that I hail from Singapore where the thickest of delectable coconut milk is freshly and readily available, this was still a dessert well worth a mention.
Shisen Hanten at Akasaka is one of my to-visit places when I have the craving for some excellent Chinese food within Tokyo. The Mapo Tofu with Shirako is delicious, and the Beef with Bell Peppers was outstanding for me – even more so considering that I generally do not enjoy bell peppers. Now, if only a similar experience can be reproduced in Singapore. A possibility, if the same produce can be found. That is unlikely so for now. But I guess if I do crave for Chef Chen’s Mapo Tofu, the next best alternative would be to head down to the Singapore branch at Mandarin Orchard.
|Akasaka Shisen Hanten|
|Zenkoku Ryokan Kaikan Building
5th to 6th Floor
11.30am to 2pm
5pm to 10pm