Chen’s Mapo Tofu at Downtown Gallery is the sister outlet of the 2 Michelin-starred Shisen Hanten, which is one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in Singapore. Like Shisen Hanten, Chen’s focuses on Sichuan cuisine, but unlike Shisen, Chen’s food comes as pocket-friendly set meals.
Their set meals (a main and a drink) range from $9.80 to $13.80. You can also order a la carte. Besides the mains, there are soups, sides, and desserts. They have three signatures here, mapo tofu, dan dan mien, and kaisen katayaki, and we ordered all three.
The kaisen katayaki comes as a la carte ($12.80) or with a drink ($13.80). Kaisen katayaki is what we know as seafood sheng mian 生面 (raw noodles). The reason why the name is in Japanese is because Shisen Hanten, a Szechuan restaurant, comes via Japan.
I don’t usually like deep-fried noodles that are softened in thick gravy, but here, the gravy is not starchy. It’s light and pleasant with a seafood sweetness, rare to find elsewhere. It’s delicious, but it only has 2 miserable prawns and 2 bite-sized pieces of fish (dory?). Furthermore, when compared to the other specialities, the kaisen katayaki pales.
The other set meal ($10.80) gives the best of both worlds; it consists of half a bowl of mapo tofu rice and half a bowl of dan dan mian (dry or soup).
The mapo tofu here is magical, as good as I remember when I had it at Shisen Hanten. There is depth and complexity. Numb spiciness (mala) is just a part of its rainbow of flavors that are sweet, salty, pungent.
I had the soup version of dan dan mian at Shisen Hanten, so I opted for the dry one. The soup one is better, but the dry one is good too. It’s lightly tossed in a slightly spicy peanut sauce.
The only thing we did not like: Szechuan dumplings (3pcs, $4) because they stick together. When we pulled the dumplings apart, the skin peeled off. The sauce here lacks the complexity of mapo tofu.
The Szechuan popcorn chicken ($4) is addictive; a must-order. The surface is crispy with a light mala spiciness. We couldn’t get enough of it.
The food is fantastic, and for the price (we paid $32.60 for two), it is a sweet deal. After we finished the meal, we kept making plans to return to Chen’s.
On top of the great food, the decor is classy for a casual joint. And the service is splendid. On weekdays, you pay at the counter and collect your food when your number is called. But we were there on Saturday when there were few people, and the servers carried the food to us.
Definitely worth travelling to Downtown Gallery on Saturday just to eat it.
Chen’s Mapo Tofu
6A Shenton Way, Downtown Gallery #02-29 Singapore 068815
tel: +65 6221 3206
M-F 11am-9.15pm, Sat 11am-3pm, closed Sun
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Written by A. Nathanael Ho.