It’s hard to imagine how Japanese chef Yamashita Teppei has the time or energy to set up yet another restaurant, given the queues stretching past lunchtime (and dinner seats booked out until September) at his first restaurant, the eponymously-named Teppei at Orchid Hotel. Yet the local ruler of value-for-money omakase sets isn’t even content to stop at two restaurants. His second venue, Hanare along Tanjong Pagar Road, recently opened (and also sees queues building before lunch and dinner hours), and now, Teppei- san has added a third restaurant to his schedule, serving kushiyaki (skewer cuisine) à la carte and omakase sets in a fuss-free, limited-seating format, like the one he’s perfected at Teppei next door.
Similarly, queues have been ridiculously long – at dinner, expect a line of expectant diners to start forming at least half an hour before the doors open at 6.30pm. Unlike at Teppei, Hana-Hana doesn’t take reservations c arrive late and you’ll be relegated to eating dons outside with high chairs as your make-do perch. Those who do make it in are well rewarded: the $40, $50 and $60 sets feature a choice selection of eight, ten and 12 skewers respectively, with a grilled onigiri to end the lowest- priced set, and a bowl of don –a choice of chirashi, oyako or beef – for the latter two.
Hana-Hana gives Teppei a chance to show off his mastery of grilling picked up from a childhood in yakitori capital, Fukuoka. Leaner cuts like beef and chicken soft bones ($5) and the stretched-out king prawn ($7) get a smoky flavour boost from the binchotan coals, while gamier meats like the paper-thin slices of beef tongue ($6) and Saga beef (Kyushu’s answer to Kobe, $6), are lightly grilled to showcase their yielding bite and rich flavours.
Unlike other yakitori joints, Hana- Hana takes a more democratic approach to the things they grill up, giving meat, seafood and vegetables a chance to shine equally in the set. A gooey rice cake encased in a slice of crisp pork belly oozed in the mouth, and an incredibly juicy smoked length of chicken neck ($5) was the best of its kind we’ve tasted, though other courses like the chicken wing ($5) was a little thin in flavour, and bacon-wrapped tomato ($5) a little underwhelming in contrast.
Lower-priced skewers like the dissonantly-paired beef and chicken meatball ($4) and the overly-pungent chicken liver ($3) were wisely left off the omakase set, though we recommend trying the perfectly cooked (if somewhat small) slice of foie gras ($15), which almost melts in the mouth with creamy richness, save for its lovely outer crunch.
The skewers are placed right into your hands from the chef’s helpers from behind the counters – and with the sets, you’ll likely be full by the time you hit the last course.
Throughout the two-hour seating, don’t expect much interaction with Teppei himself, who spends most of his time shuttling between the worktop and the grill, but he nevertheless sees us off with a gregarious bow and a cheerily confident ‘See you tomorrow!’. Clearly, he’s already gotten Singapore’s Japanese cuisine-loving masses smitten, and if he keeps up his formula of wonderfully-executed dishes at good value, he certainly won’t have to worry about empty seats. Natasha Hong
#01-17 Orchid Hotel, 1 Tras Link