A delightful appetizer even though we weren’t told what they were.
Like Will Smith who missed out playing Neo in The Matrix and went for the role of Wild Wild West, I passed by Teppei when it was only a few days old, devoid of customers. I said to myself, “I would come back another day. Nobody would come to a Japanese omakase restaurant, right?”
WRONG. Teppei exploded with popularity. Their phoneline is open for reservations only one day every 3-4 months, and on that day, it is impossible to dial through. I tried, and tried.
Fast forward to a few years later… Feb 2015. Chiobu and I wanted to eat at a Korean BBQ restaurant and we walked by Hana Hana, sister restaurant of Teppei. Hana Hana was empty! (I realized few people dined out in Feb.)
We walked into Hana Hana, asking for two seats, and the friendly waitress asked, “Are you hungry or starving? If you are starving, someone didn’t show up for their reservation at Teppei. Do you want to take their seats?”
We dashed into Teppei faster than an actress can be impregnated by her gay husband.
It was a claustrophobic’s nightmare at the sushi counter, and I had a fat body. The friendly waitress asked over our shoulders—the space was too narrow for us to turn around—“Do you want the $60 or $80 set?”
“$80,” I replied decisively. No way was I entering Teppei and not having the full experience.
She continued as if she didn’t hear me, “The $60 is smaller, so if you’re not to so hungry, you can take it. But the $80 is more worth it, using premium ingredients. Most people take the $80 set… so you ordered the $80 set, right?”
But I wasn’t impatient at her at all, because she came across as motherly and instructive, not inattentive. Besides, she gave us our seats, didn’t she? I couldn’t escape my stupid Confucian upbringing—always have gratitude.
Clockwise: fish, delicious fish soup, delicious tuna roll with crispy rice, fried rice with beef (why was my egg so destroyed?)
And then, the meal started even before we knew it. Our sweating beer mugs were already filled with brown rice tea before we entered the restaurant. First, second, third courses fusilladed upon us. It was then that we fathomed: the tea wasn’t for us. The courses, already cooked, weren’t for us. They were for the no-show who reserved and didn’t come.
Clockwise: some animal’s liver; sea urchin; another animal’s liver; they mistakenly introduced to us as a wrong fish but we recognized it was glass fish. Couldn’t tell you what liver because they weren’t very good at describing to us what we were eating.
I turned to Chiobu, “The mugs make me feel like drinking beer. Do they serve alcohol here?”
She groused, “Why are they hurrying us to eat so quickly?”
It dawned on me. “Oh my god. They have two seatings. They are force-feeding us so we can catch up with the rest of the diners, and leave before the second seating.”
Left: Pop rice (like popcorn); Right: Dunno, they never said.
And finally, we were at the same course as the other customers. We had time now to relax and look around. A pair of waiter and waitress gossiped at a corner. The average age of the patrons—all Singaporeans—was 50 something. How did these uncles and aunties know of Teppei? And how did they manage to call in to make reservations?
We peeked at our neighbors’ food, and we were always served the smallest portions for all courses!
“Do you think,” Chiobu asked, “the chefs think that we’re the ones who are late and they are punishing us by giving us tiny portions?”
“Maybe the elderly man,” I signaled with my eyes, “is a blogger, so the chef is giving him more food. Look! He’s taking photos of the food.” Strangely, many elderly customers were taking photographs of the food using point-and-shoot cameras, not smartphones.
The two Japanese chefs burst out laughing. They were handing out wasabi mousse and a customer swallowed it whole and made a face. Later, they gave the elderly man a bowl of wasabi, lying to him it was green tea ice cream, and they guffawed. Then they repeated the trick on another customer.
“Do you think they play the prank everyday?” Chiobu asked.
“Why are they so high?” I asked. “They are not even drunk. There is no drop of alcohol here.”
“Well, if you’re earning $100K a month like the chefs [we estimated], you’ll be high everyday too.”
Oh, but the chefs were boisterious and unabashed. They posed funny shots for the cameras by old folks who were lapping up their antics like a kitten to milk. The Japanese chefs spoke not a word of English or Mandarin, and the old folks, not a word of Japanese, and yet they were tickled pink by the chefs. I wondered what the folks would do with the photos.
Lights off! The chefs bellowed a birthday song for someone, sticking a candle in a plate of sashimi. Damn, I ought to have said it was my birthday.
To be fair, it… Lights off again! Another birthday! Oh, come on, can’t they do all birthdays at once?
To be fair, it was more than the chefs’ exuberant tomfoolery that made Teppei what it is today. The food was delicious, almost orgasmic at times, and there were some surprises, rather different from a prim-and-proper Japanese restaurant. But cheap, affordable, value-for-money, it was not. (How come so many people said it was value-for-money?? You all so rich.) We paid $190 for two, or about $95 for one. Will I return? Yes if there isn’t a queue. But if I have to wait by the phone until noon to quickly dial in to make reservations, I’d rather not.
We were the first to leave at 8.30pm, making way for the second seating. There was no graceful exit from the stools, each patron’s elbows touching another. I had to clumsily inch my ass, my stool, my ungainly body until the stool was screeched from the table. I stood up, shuffled to the tight aisle, pushed my stool back in, before Chiobu could climb out of her stool. I was a bull in a Japanese shop.
1 Tras Link, Orchid Hotel #01-18, Singapore 078867
Tel: +65 6222 7363 (reservations required)
11.45am-230pm, 630pm – 1030pm, closed Sunday
Rating: 3.125/5 stars
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.