Photos by Chong Yap, unless otherwise indicated
TEPPEI Japanese Restaurant is probably the only restaurant that I waited for more than six months for a seating. Tucked away inconspicuously at Orchid Hotel, it is a short two minutes walk away from Tanjong Pagar MRT and many would probably overlook it. Well at least I did! Having visited their sister outlet, Hanare, a couple of months back and leaving on a positive note, we were waiting in anticipation for our turn at tasting their famous omakase.
Omakase is a Japanese phrase that translates to "I'll leave it to you" and is often used at sushi restaurants where diners leave the selection to the chef. As such, it can be quite a challenge to the chef to present a series of plates which typically begins with the lightest fare and concludes with the heaviest and richest dishes. It is also common for the chef to demonstrate as many cooking techniques as possible within the multiple courses to be served which may range from sashimi to grills and stir-fries.
Famous for their affordable omakase, there were only three options to choose from, S$50/++, S$60/++ or S$80/++ and at such rates, it is no wonder that there is a minimum six months queue. When I made my first call to them in December 2013, I was told to call back in the first week of January to place a reservation. As Singaporeans, I suppose we are all dutifully abused by Food Nazis, commonly in the form of black-faced hawker uncles and aunties but in this instance, it took me 23 phone calls before they finally picked up the call to take my reservation on 2 January 2014. They hastily told me that the wait is at least six months and I was pretty much left with no choice but to take whatever date and slot they assigned.
So...a few months passed and we finally got to try Teppei. Was it worth the wait though?
As we entered the rather cramped restaurant, the chefs were already busy at work, preparing the dishes! As we settled down, somewhat uncomfortably at our elevated wooden stools, a lady would go around the table to take orders from the diners and we settled for the S$60/++ offering. There was a very homely vibe about the place and how the ladies went around to individually take our orders. Do note that everyone within the group has to order the same offering (i.e. S$50, S$60 or S$80) so make sure you arrange to go with the right makan kakis!
While the sashimi served were fresh, they were sliced in various forms which resulted in a rather disorganised and inconsistent assembly on the platter. I was rather disappointed with the quality of the sashimi given that I had a much better fare at Hanare. Somehow, I felt that the quality was rather pedestrian and failed to impress.
It was quite interesting to see a box of these mini live crabs in a plastic box placed in front of us and while we were busy digging in to our food, we were served a skewer of these freshly grilled crabs! The texture was simply sublime with a beautiful crunch though there were some sharp edges which might cut one's lips or tongue.
This tuna hand roll was one of the highlights among the twenty or so dishes served. A fatty cut was chosen so it was almost melt in your mouth and there were some crispy bits of fried tempura batter added to give that extra crunch. The seaweed wrapping the roll was spot-on with a beautiful crisp that gave a resounding crust with each bite, simply brilliant!
The grilled cod portion was also cooked to perfection with a nice crust that had a thin layer of caramelisation while retaining the tenderness of the fish. Once again, there was the issue of inconsistency as my dining companion was served a portion that had at least three large bones while mine was completely deboned.
One of the more interesting bites during the meal was this snack and you would probably not guess what it is. Well, it is in fact the crown of a chicken! We were only told what it was after we placed it in our mouths and swallowed and while we were somewhat disgusted by the thought of it, it was surprisingly delicious with an unique texture. It was soft, chewy and slightly elastic with a nice caramelisation that left a mildly saccharine after-taste.
We were served this clam soup for us to cleanse our palate halfway through dinner and while the clams were fresh and plush, there was sand in my portion and that somewhat put me off a little. The broth had a punch of salinity only to be balanced by an appropriate level of acidity.
The wagyu beef chunks were slightly overcooked and I would have preferred it to be prepared medium rare though this was compensated by the savoury sweet marinade that coated the red meat.
As we were about 60% through our dinner, we were asked to choose our mains and desserts and this varies according to the menu you had opted for at the start of the meal. While we were almost full by now, we were presented with this broth which had tender pork chunks that were succulent and almost melt-in-your-mouth tender. Despite having a rather high tolerance for salinity, I still found this to be a little salty for my palate.
Choosing the sashimi rice main, I thoroughly enjoyed the thick chunks of salmon slices but I found the sea urchin to be rather stale and after a nibble, I had to leave this out in order not to leave an unpleasant bearing on my palate.
My dining companion chose the fried rice with sunny side egg and that seemed like a much safer option. The other options were soba and udon, where diners have the option of enjoying it hot or cold. I liked that the fried rice were individually greased and there was just the right amount of wok hei in the stir-fry to impart greater flavours to the dish.
For desserts, it was only ice cream and we were given a choice of green tea, calpis, sesame and yuzu. It felt only right that we went for the traditional flavours of green tea and yuzu. While the flavours were inherently rich, it tasted very mass-market and probably not something that was made in-house. Nonetheless, it concluded our meal on a sweet note.
With counter seating that houses about 16 guests, Teppei takes in two rounds of seating every evening starting from 6.30pm and you would be expected to finish your meal by 8.30pm. While there were hits and misses with the food, it would be hard to find another restaurant offering a better value for your money. What turned me off largely was that before the desserts were served, we were already served the bill as it was about time to handover for the second seating. You could not help but notice another group of dutiful followers joining the queue outside ready for their omakase.
Teppei also offered one of these rice rolls with deep fried chicken for takeaway at S$8. The rice packed in lots of flavours from the chicken marinade and also locked in the essence of the sauces. By the time we had the karaage few hours later for supper, the chicken lost its crispiness which was expected.
Overall, we felt that it was quite a value-for-money meal but I would beg to differ to conclude that this is the best omakase in town, simply due to the ambience and service which were lacklustre. While there were a few hits and surprises in the chef's offerings, the sashimi was a letdown and most of the dishes were pedestrian. Would I join the queue for another six months wait? Probably not, though it is worth a try for those who want an insight to the omakase experience.
Overall Verdict: 8.0/10
Teppei Japanese Restaurant
#01-18, Orchid Hotel
1 Tras Link
Tel: (+65) 6222 7363