Singapore - It is not often that a newly opened, non-celebrity-chef restaurant garners the kind of hype that Japanese kushikatsu restaurant Han has - well, on my Facebook newsfeed, at least. Over the last fortnight, a number of my foodie friends have posted their raves and, invariably, some fuzzy images of fried food on sticks served up by Chef Seiichiro Arakawa.
At first I was a sceptical. After all, deep-fried food is all too easy to love. But there was all this talk about breadcrumbs as fine as snow and the bamboo skewers purposefully split so that Chef Arakawa can spin the oil out of the food without it slipping off the skewers. Such persistent hype left me little choice but to check it out for myself.
Indeed, the kushikatsu (Japanese food that is skewered, battered and deep-fried) here has no peer. And that's not just because Han is purportedly the only restaurant of its ilk in Singapore. It's also because the food is really that good.
A selection of kushikatsu.
Like all fine Japanese chefs, Arakawa-san is thoughtfully meticulous about his food. The fresh breadcrumbs he uses is imported from Japan and made to his exacting specifications, with just the right amount of sugar to ensure that they form the impossibly thin and crisp crust around the ingredients.
In his deep fryer, crowned by a custom hand-made bronze cooker hood, is pure pork lard that has a high smoke point so that it can maintain its frying temperature even when the pan gets crowded (regular oil tends to cool quickly when too much food is added, yielding sodden, greasy food).
A meal doesn't come cheap here, but there is value for money in the sets, particularly at lunch, when S$75 will get you an appetiser, salad, seven sticks of kushikatsu, a bowl of rice speckled with dried fish, miso soup and dessert. At dinner, kushikatsu sets start at S$120 for 10 sticks with an appetiser, salad and dessert.
At lunch, I was blown away by a skewer of deep-fried kinmeidai (golden eye snapper) topped with a smear of relish made with the fish's intestines marinated in a Korean kimchi sauce. It was a mere morsel, about the size of an iPod Nano, but it was meltingly succulent, with a gentle crunch, a hint of spice and a haunting of sweetness.
Shitake mushroom kushikatsu
"What if I want more of this?" I asked. "You can order it a la carte for S$8 a stick," came the reply. Gulp.
Chef Arakawa's attention to detail was again evident in the kushikatsu of ohmi beef, which he had cut into three pieces before battering so that the consumer could savour it in three bites. The beef was naturally oily and tender and still pink, and it was lovely dipped in the homemade (and quite fiery) mustard sauce.
Each stick of food was delicate, fresh and full of flavour - a sweet cherry tomato stuffed with silky cream cheese, a nugget of pike eel drizzled with a tangy ume plum sauce, baby squid topped with sea urchin and a smudge of fresh wasabi.
Chef Seiichiro Arakawa
You'll need more than seven sticks (or 15, for that matter) to fill you up, which is where the bowl of rice and soup help. But if yours are deep pockets, there's really nothing to stop you from ordering what is quite possibly some of the most elegant deep-fried food in town.
Where: #01-04 Odeon Towers 331 North Bridge Road
Telephone: 6336 2466
Opening hours: Daily 12pm to 3pm, 6pm to 11pm