This restaurant is part of a group, the Singapore branch being located on the 35th floor of the Mandarin Orchard hotel. The other thirteen branches (at the time of writing) are in Japan, spread across Fukuoka, Matsuyama, Nagoya, Takamatsu, Tokyo and Yokohama, where the restaurant empire began. The group was founded in 1958 by Chen Kenmin, a Chinese immigrant. Although trained in imperial Chinese cuisine, his restaurant served Sichuan food, and he popularised this style of cooking in Japan via appearances in various TV shows. His son Chen Kenuchi appeared regularly in the famous TV series Iron Chef. The Singapore branch, opened in 2014, has a third generation of the family in charge of the kitchen, Chen Kentaro. The restaurant was given two Michelin stars in the inaugural Michelin Guide to Singapore in 2016. By contrast, the group’s restaurants in Japan, such as the Fukuoka branch and the Tokyo branch in Akasaka, remain a Michelin free zone.
The cavernous dining room has a high ceiling and an impressive array of chandeliers. Tables are large and well spaced. The menu is vast, and if you didn't know it was a Sichuan restaurant you would be hard pressed to tell from the menu. Here you will find Peking duck and xiao long bao and a whole variety of Cantonese dishes, but the Sichuan influence remains well hidden on the menu descriptions, other than it offering mapo doufu.
I was curious to try the xiao long bao, which was certainly very pleasant, the dumpling having reasonable texture, the meat filling decent and served with a vinegar sauce (13/20). Better was siew mai as it was spelt here, the pleated dumpling filled with shrimps, pork, mushroom, scallion and ginger, and lightly steamed, the texture good (14/20). Crab and sweet corn soup was a superior version of the breed, with a generous amount of crab and with a quite thick, broth like texture (14/20).
I was a bit disappointed by Hokkaido scallops, which had been sliced and topped with peppers and chillies. Hokkaido produces stunning seafood, and so it was sad that the shellfish here had been overcooked. I have had far more rubbery scallops served to me than these in my life, but they were definitely on the wrong side of being correctly cooked. I could still taste some sweetness in the scallops, but between the clunky cooking and the spicy topping the scallop flavour was rather lost (12/20).
Spicy prawns featured very large prawns that had been carefully stir-fried and had pleasant, sweet flavour, served with cashew nuts and dried red peppers that had a hint of Sichuan peppercorn about them, with its characteristic numbing sensation. It is unusual to encounter prawns of this size that are accurately cooked evenly through (15/20). Bak choy was steamed with garlic and was lightly cooked and tender (14/20). I particularly enjoyed a spicy dry noodle dish that had minced meat sprinkled on top, the noodles having very good texture and flavoured with a good kick of Sichuan peppercorns (15/20). Egg fried rice was fine if unexceptional (13/20).
Service was rather mixed. The waitresses had clearly been taught to top up drinks carefully, so our tea was refreshed with almost religious zeal, sometimes to the brim of the cup. On the other hand our main waitress appeared fairly forbidding, and did not seem like a natural for the hospitality industry. Our rice arrived late, well after the other dishes except the noodles, and dishes appeared in a rather haphazard order rather than, for example, the starters appearing together. The bill came to S$105 (£56) per person for plenty of food but just jasmine tea to drink. If you drank wine and had dessert then a typical cost per head for dinner might be around £80. If I ignore the Michelin rating, then Shisen Hanten delivered a very pleasant meal with a couple of really good dishes at a rather high price. However two stars for this food is simply crazy. Somewhere like Hakkasan in London blows this away on cooking and service, yet has just one star. It is also particularly odd that the Japanese Michelin shuns the original restaurants, yet the branch over here is awarded two stars. This is just another example of the grade inflation to be seen in Michelin in all too many of its Asian guides.