Set on the 35th floor of Mandarin Orchard Singapore, the restaurant is spacious and lavishly outfitted—think thick carpets, plush seats and elaborate chandeliers, along with atmospheric views of the Orchard Road surrounds. The tables are well spaced. For more privacy, request for one of the semi booth tables by the windows. The restaurant enforces a smart casual dress code, so no shorts, singlets or slippers.
As the food here at Shisen Hanten would prove, there are more dimensions to Szechuan food than the spicy, tongue-numbing qualities it is known for. While certain dishes packed the heat we were braced for, others boasted an almost delicate quality that showcased the nuances of the cuisine elegantly.
Begin the meal with the stewed fish fillet in super spicy Szechuan pepper sauce—unlike what its name suggests, this dish is only moderately spicy and almost delicate in flavour. The broth is light and accented with lingering heat from the spices.
Next up, the stir fried lobster with chilli sauce is slicked in an aromatic sauce not unlike that in Singapore chilli crabs. The lobster is sweet and firm, and the accompanying fried mantous a delight to mop up the sauce with.
Chen’s mapo tofu on the other hand is high up on the spice level, but also one of the tastiest renditions of the classic Szechuan dish we have tasted. The beancurd is soft and silky, the sauce is complex and packed a lot of heat, and it is delicious when paired with steamed white rice.
For something not at all spicy, the roasted crispy duck is perfectly prepared with tender meat and crisp, golden skin. Save space for Chen’s original spicy soup noodles. Also known as dan dan mian, the springy noodles are bathed in a chilli and peanut laced broth, along fragrant minced meat. For dessert, the Chinese pancake—crisp golden pastry enveloping a centre of smooth red bean paste—is sure to tame any lingering heat.
The wine list is decent with fair representation of labels from both the Old and New World. The cuisine actually pairs better with their selection of either sake or traditional Chinese wine. There is one red and one white wine available by the glass.
The service is friendly and personable, although we found it rather difficult to catch the servers’ attention despite the restaurant being only half full. That said, they displayed good knowledge of the food menu and made great recommendations. More effort can be made towards training them in getting to know their alcoholic beverage offerings.
Lunch for four, including two wines by the glass, cost S$239 before GST. It works out to about $60 per person.