Undercover restaurant review: Torikin

Torikin is possibly Singapore's most refined Japanese chicken and collagen hotpot specialist. 

Winner, winner, chicken dinner
Winner, winner, chicken dinner
26 Mar 2015

Winner, winner, chicken dinner

We love Tsukada Nojo, that wildly popular Japanese chicken collagen “beauty hotpot” chain from Kyushu’s Miyazaki Prefecture. But who has the patience to queue for over an hour for a table there? At Torikin, which opened last November in Bukit Timah’s quiet Crown Centre, you simply call ahead to reserve a seat, then swan in for a leisurely meal. For now, at least. It offers a more sophisticated, slightly pricier (about $10 more per head) version of the famous hotpot dish. This being from Kyushu’s Hakata region in Fukuoka, the recipe for the soup is cleaner and lighter, as opposed to Tsukada’s far richer, saltier one. Quite similar to those we tasted while on holiday in Fukuoka. It’s owned by a Fukuoka-based restaurateur (Torikin is his first Singaporean venture), and he has deployed his fellow countryman to helm the kitchen here. 

THE FOOD:
After overdosing on Tsukada’s ultra-thick broth, we admit it took a while for us to adjust to the more delicate version here. But after several sips, it’s evident Torikin’s Hakata Mizutaki (from $70 for two pax) is more wholesome and less cloying than Tsukada’s stock, which is apparently imported pre-cooked from Japan in great gelatinous globs.

Singapore's most refined Japanese chicken and collagen hotpot specialist
Singapore's most refined Japanese chicken and collagen hotpot specialist
26 Mar 2015

Singapore's most refined Japanese chicken and collagen hotpot specialist

Here, everything is made in-house. That means although no native Japanese chicken is used, you get antibiotic- and hormone-free Sakura chook simmered for six hours till its collagen seeps into the cooking liquid, which turns faintly cloudy but not gummy, and gently savoury-sweet. This forms the canvas of the hotpot, served in a large ceramic pot atop a portable stove. Our server first scoops up some of this nourishing brew into cups, which you are encouraged to season with some salt and spring onion from the condiment tray. Next, she fishes out springy hunks of chicken, which she drenches with beautifully fruity ponzu sauce, the vinegar adding zing to the meat. Dab on some fiery, fragrant yuzu chilli paste — or amusingly, chilli padi (“to suit local tastes”, chirps the waitress). She then pops some tasty, tender minced chicken balls, tofu, mushroom, glass noodles and veggies into the broth.

When you’re done eating this, she returns with a bowl of rice, an egg and nori, all simmered with ceremony in the remaining brew till a watery porridge is formed. We’re not crazy about this slightly bland gruel, but it’s a rather comforting end to the meal — which also comes with a tiny scoop of ice cream.

While the signature dish is light on the palate and modestly portioned, many of the other plates we sample are unabashedly full-flavoured and hefty. Like the Hakata Tonpei Yaki ($17.80), a tastier riff on okonomiyaki, with papery sheets of succulent pork cloaked in fluffy omelette, and zig-zagged with piquant brown sauce and mayo. The main course-sized Chicken Cutlet ($15, pictured above) is even more decadent. A panko-crumbed, golden-brown beauty that’s crusty, juicy and served with sharp tonkatsu sauce and sesame-dressed coleslaw. 

Singapore's most refined Japanese chicken and collagen hotpot specialist
Singapore's most refined Japanese chicken and collagen hotpot specialist
26 Mar 2015

Singapore's most refined Japanese chicken and collagen hotpot specialist

THE LOOK & VIBE:
Serene and understated elegance with wooden booth seats, soft lighting, and relaxing, folksy tunes (‘Country Roads’ sung by a Japanese lass, anyone?). The crowd comprises mostly Japanese corporate types thirsting for a taste of home. We espy them making merry in the semi-private horigotatsu (“low table over a hole in the floor” describes its Facebook page) room with envy — you’re only allowed to sit there if you have at least four in your party. Two pretty Japanese servers work the floor, and the rest are locals. Ironically, the latter give us warmer, more earnest service.  

VERDICT: 3.5/5 Elegant, wholesome Japanese chicken hotpot. A nice change from the steamboats we’ve been hoovering this Chinese New Year. Besides, if a native Fukuoka chef (Shelter in the Woods’ chef Masashi recommended Torikin to us) approves, who are we to demur?   

#01-14/16, 557 Bukit Timah Rd, Singapore 269694, Tel: 6465-5908.
Open weekdays 6pm-midnight; weekends noon-3pm and 6pm-midnight. Last orders 2.30pm and 10.30pm. https://www.facebook.com/torikinsg

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