For many of us Japanese food-lovers, pufferfish is on our list of must-try dishes but we tend to put it off due to concerns over its extremely potent toxins as well as rarity. Well, not anymore.
Guenpin Fugu and Snow Crab Restaurant serves torafugu (tiger pufferfish), which is considered to be the best breed of its kind. They’re air-flown frequently from Shimonoseki, an area well-known for having high quality torafugu.
Having been established for over 30 years, Guenpin Fugu and Snow Crab Restaurant has over 96 outlets in Japan, and have decided to open their first overseas location here in Singapore at Maxwell Chambers.
After entering the restaurant, we were greeted by relaxing jazz music and warmly received by the staff there. Upon being seated, the staff waiters immediately gave us warm towels and asked our preferences for hot or cold tea — the attention to detail is just amazing.
We were lucky enough to try their 9-Course Zeitaku Set ($168 per pax) and here’s what we thought of it.
First up, we were served the Parboiled Pufferfish Skin Sashimi ($14, ala carte).
The strips of pufferfish skin were gelatinous and chewy with a very faint fishy aftertaste. Doused in a signature ponzu sauce, the dish was very well-balanced in terms of saltiness and acidity, which made for a great appetiser to start off the meal.
Next up was the Thin Sliced Pufferfish Sashimi ($28, ala carte). Sliced so thinly till it was translucent, the staff explained that pufferfish sashimi is traditionally prepared this way because of the naturally chewy texture of torafugu flesh.
Indeed, the sashimi‘s texture was surprisingly dense and chewy despite its ultra-thin appearance. Very intriguing contrast.
As for the actual taste itself, it was light and clean-tasting. Dip it in the refreshing and citrusy ponzu sauce if you prefer a more varied flavour profile.
While diners around the world sometimes report a tingling sensation after consuming pufferfish sashimi — which is the result of residual toxins in the flesh, albeit at a safe level — there was none of that here. A testament to the safety of the torafugu here.
Subsequently, we were served the Thick Sliced Puffer Fish Sashimi ($32, ala carte). But wait, if the thinly sliced pufferfish was already so chewy, how could anyone eat this?
No worries. It turns out that a patented ageing process is used to improve its texture and negate its chewiness.
Served on a bed of cabbage, the Thick Sliced Puffer Fish Sashimi is meant to be eaten in one whole bite. The nuggets of pufferfish were marinated by the chef in ponzu before being dressed with a different special ponzu sauce.
Slightly sweet, salty and citrus-y all at the same time, the Thick Sliced Puffer Fish Sashimi had a nice firm texture and was further elevated by the crunchiness of the cabbage.
Unwilling to take a backseat to the prestigious torafugu, the Snow Crab Sashimi ($32, ala carte) was no small trifle as well. Incredibly sweet, soft and tender, I didn’t even need to chew at all to break it down in my mouth.
For fans of crab legs at hotel buffets, the Snow Crab Sashimi here is next-level.
Quickly followed up by the piping hot and golden-brown Deep Fried Snow Crab ($35, ala carte). Well-salted in order to complement the breaded exterior, the flesh within managed to stay moist and tender.
A wedge of lemon was provided in order to cut through the oiliness of the dish, but honestly, it wasn’t necessary at all. The batter was light enough that the snow crab itself remained the main focus of the dish.
Snow crab continued to take centre stage with the subsequent arrival of the Snow Crab for Grill ($48, ala carte). Prepared right on the table with a portable grill, we could barely hold ourselves back as the snow crab began to bubble away with its own juices.
Finally, the crabs were deemed ready and were promptly served onto our plates. Upon digging in, the Snow Crab meat was absolutely sweet, moist and succulent with a tantalising hint of smokiness.
While they did give us crab forks to make extracting the meat easier, we recommend that you go for it with your hands in order to get more meat out of the shell.
The pufferfish made a valiant return in the next dish in the form of the Pufferfish For Hot Pot ($55 per pax, ala carte). Served in a paper steamboat, the servers will once again do the cooking as you watch in anticipation.
Here, the chin, collar and backbone areas of the pufferfish were used in order to fully utilise the entire fish and prevent unnecessary wastage. The broth was a combination of dashi, bonito, and kelp, which yielded a gentle and clean flavour.
As for the boiled pufferfish, its texture was firmer than most fishes but managed to be flaky on the inside. If I had to liken it to something, I’d say it reminded me of steamed grouper fish but slightly firmer.
Accompanied with what’s probably the best rendition of the ponzu sauce in the entire meal.
The pufferfish meat on its own was surprisingly flavourful, partly due to having absorbed the essence of the broth. While I did like the ponzu dipping sauce, I actually preferred to eat the pufferfish meat on its own in order to appreciate more of its natural flavour.
With the leftover stock from the hot pot, the server then began to ladle some rice and egg into the steamboat to make a Porridge Set ($12 ala carte) for us.
Reduced to an almost risotto-like consistency and topped with nori strips, the porridge was a comforting conclusion to our meal.
We were also served ice-cream at the end — three choices of green tea, vanilla and sesame available — but found them to be serviceable at best. If we had to pick one, the sesame would be our favourite.
Overall, our pufferfish meal at Guenpin Fugu and Snow Crab Restaurant was an eye-opening experience and definitely a tick off the bucket list. The pufferfish here was well-prepared and we felt safe in the chef’s capable hands.
While the price point may seem high, it is important to keep in mind that safe pufferfish preparation requires much skill and training — aspiring pufferfish chefs have to apprentice under a master for at least two years to execute.
However, those with a tighter budget can opt for the more affordable Snow Crab Tempura Rice Bowl Set Lunch ($19.90) which comes with tempura prawn, crab and pufferfish as well as soup and side dishes.
For those who’ve always wanted to try fugu but can’t go to Japan yet, don’t miss your chance to try it in Singapore!
Expected Damage: $19.90 – $168 per pax