Mention Japanese collagen hotpot, and franchise Tsukada Nojo Bijin Nabe most often comes to mind. With variety and options highly prized in Singapore’s dining scene, fans of the hearty dish would be pleased to know it is offered at several other restaurants - one of which is Torikin. Hailing from Fukuoka in Kyushu, Japan, Torikin brings authentic dishes of Kyushu, most notably the Hakata-style Mizutaki (i.e. chicken broth collagen hotpot), to our gastronomic shores.
The cozy restaurant is located within Crown Centre at Bukit Timah, its space formerly occupied by En Japanese. Part of a chain of restaurants by the Ishida Kikaku Group, Torikin Singapore is their first overseas venture. Its promise of honest good food without skimping on quality makes the restaurant extremely popular among Japanese expatriates. While that also means dining at Torikin isn't exactly easy on the pocket, its unique regional menu has kept crowds coming.
Daikon Salad (S$9.80++) - Tasting portion pictured above
We visited over dinner mid-week, and were surprised to find the restaurant packed to the brim. The staff shared how that was not uncommon, and reservations are thus encouraged. In spite of the crowd, service was efficient and flawless. Our meal began with a variety of starters and sides, the first being a simple salad. Crisp cold juliennes of Japanese radish, sweet plump cherry tomatoes, and fresh crunchy greens were tossed with a delicious sesame dressing, then topped with umami bonito flakes. Unlike many other Japanese establishments, the dressing here is neither processed nor overly creamy; instead light and fantastically subtle.
Oden (S$14++ for 5 pieces)
Think of oden as the Japanese' yong tau foo. Many find it appalling how what locals would consider cheap hawker fare, can cost quite as much. However the skills, effort, and ingredients required to create this dish is no small feat. Torikin's broth for one is prepared from scratch. The dashi stock is flavoured with both bonito and kelp, resulting in a clean-tasting yet intensely flavourful broth. The medley of ingredients consist of springy konnyaku, surimi with egg white, and - our personal favourite - a mochi-stuffed-taupok pouch, among others. That much quality ingredients in a delectable broth made this our top-pick of the meal, and a must-try during future visits.
Hakata Tonpei-Yaki (S$22.80++)
Yet another favourite was Torikin's Tonpei-yaki, the Hakata cousin of the much-loved Okonomi-yaki. It’s a lighter version made with a higher proportion of eggs to flour, resulting in a more crepe-like than starchy pancake dish. Our first encounter at Torikin was nothing short of amazing: jam-packed with sweet cabbage and juicy sliced pork belly, it’s drizzled with just enough mayo and okonomi sauce to add flavour without overwhelming the dish. Generous fillings without being overly oily makes this a wonderful side (or even main) when dining at Torikin.
Hitokuchi Gyoza (S$8++)
These one-bite gyozas, while friendly to the waistline, were sadly not as satisfying as their larger counterparts. The wrapper was thin and wonderfully crisp, the accompanying yuzu chili paste was tangy and maddeningly addictive; however the low ratio of meat-to-skin meant we could barely taste any meat. If you're already having the tonpei-yaki and oden, we'd recommend skipping this side and saving your appetite for the mitzutaki.
Any visit to Torikin would not be complete without trying their Hakata Mizutaki. The prized Japanese high collagen chicken soup is a signature of Torikin's, meticulously prepared with premium quality ingredients. Sakura chicken from Malaysia is cooked with bonito and kelp over seven hours, resulting in a broth that is silky smooth and rich. At S$70/100/135++ per 2/3/4 pax, each collagen hotpot set comes with cooked chicken, minced chicken balls, and assorted vegetables.
Traditionally there are several steps to follow in enjoying the Hakata Mizutaki, supposedly ensuring the best collagen hotpot experience. First, we got to sample the original high collagen chicken soup straight from the pot. The collagen broth was extremely creamy and rich, yet surprisingly delicate. Unlike others we've tasted, Torikin's soup was just mildly seasoned and not nearly as salted as their peers'.
Step two was tasting the cooked chicken pieces drizzled in their homemade ponzu sauce. The chicken, reheated in the collagen hotpot, was tender albeit a little overcooked. The Japanese citrus vinegar kept it light and refreshing, and when paired with the yuzu chili condiment was especially tasty.
Next, minced chicken would be expertly rolled into uniformed balls by assisting staff and cooked in the collagen soup. Vegetables, tofu, mushrooms and some thick vermicelli were subsequently added. A dish that seems far from extraordinary, this modest bowl of vegetables and minced meat was utterly spectacular. Naturally sweetened by the vegetables, the reduced collagen broth was intense and flavoursome. What most impressed was the extra mile taken to carefully place the ingredients, making sure the tofu stayed whole and the vegetables did not overcook.
Finally, any leftover broth soup would be cooked with rice or noodles. We opted for rice, which was cooked with beaten eggs into a delectable porridge. Topped with chopped spring onions and shredded seaweed, the resulting porridge tasted comforting, homely and hearty. If you prefer more meats and vegetables with your soup instead, Torikin offers a variety of additional ingredients you could order seperately. From shiitake and enoki mushrooms to wagyu beef, the selection is sufficient to complete any hotpot experience.
Karinto Manju (S$5++) - served with a scoop of matcha/yuzu ice cream
Our dinner ended with a pleasant sweet deep-fried treat: made of flour and bown sugar, the bite-sized dough was filled with a coarse azuki paste. It sounds heavy and dense, but was really quite light and delicious. The dough was crisp on the outside, soft and fluffy underneath, and the moist azuki paste brought everything together. A lovely end to the meal.
Prices are pretty steep at Torikin, and with many alternatives out there the obvious question is "why this Japanese restaurant?" You get what you pay for, and at Torikin you know you're paying the premium for great quality, excellent service and better execution. For that, it is worth the occasional splurge.
#01-14/16 Crown Centre
557 Bukit Timah Road
Weekends: 12pm-3pm; 6pm-11pm