Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall. All you have to do is call.
Ramen Master Keisuke Takeda has gone for a fourth spin in Singapore, and why shouldn’t he? His 3 concepts, Keisuke Tokyo at Millenia Walk, Tonkotsu King at Orchid Hill and Tori King at 100AM have won the hearts of the Japanese expatriate population and Singaporeans alike, each with its own following. So, his fourth restaurant here, fittingly bearing the name “Four Seasons” located in Bugis Village somewhere between KFC and McDonald’s, takes inspiration from the different seasons – I’m not entirely sure whether the fourth store birthed the inspiration, or if it’s pure coincidence that it seems to fit. But the Japanese are calculated people – they’re not allowed to believe in coincidence.
If you’ve come to Four Seasons expecting to enjoy the spoils of each season’s produce all year round, you will be disappointed. Instead, the star attractions, appropriately named after the seasons (and a fifth one called “King”), is an experiment of sorts – attempting to reconcile the unstoppable waves of globalization with the traditional art of ramen, specifically, tonkotsu ramen, being the base for the creations here. The intention isn’t so much as to evolve the classics into something that deviates from its heritage. Instead, Keisuke attempts to introduce “gaijin” ingredients to show that the new can sometimes inject a fresh, yet always traditionally acceptable, take. However, I cannot take away anything from the purists who might describe Four Seasons as Keisuke’s most commercial, most gimmicky, style over substance, joint in Singapore thus far, even though attempts to plaster the walls with Japanese woodblock prints try to convince diners otherwise.
Summer here, and Autumn (top)
Unable to recall the last time I had spicy food, I went for Summer, a tonkotsu ramen served in a ball of spicy minced pork, allegedly a fiery cauldron concocted by a blend of shichimi, Sichuan and Cayenne peppers. I was looking forward to be blown away by the hotness of this volcano of a ramen, but no, it wasn’t remotely spicy. It certainly had a robust flavor, and balanced the richness of the tonkotsu, but the hotness was all but present. I have to say, though, that the “flavored (since it’s not spicy)” minced pork prompted a certain familiarity – it was like eating non-spicy bulgogi. Nevertheless, it certainly didn’t take away anything from my appreciation for it. Darren, whom I came here with, had Autumn, which is a minced pork flavored with bonito and a combination of three different kinds of mushrooms to “reflect the abundance of mushrooms in the season”, which is undoubtedly what the press release must have said since I’ve spotted four Singapore food bloggers putting that down word for word. Despite being a writer himself, he’s not adept at describing food in words and vocally, so I really couldn’t tell what he thought of it. To Keisuke’s credit, it certainly evoked the transitory phase of the season: the turning of leafs from greens to oranges to reds to browns; the rustling of the fallen leaves on the ground… the gradual bleakness of the sky.
It was just the two of us, so we didn’t try the rest, but I didn’t care too much for the other seasons. To illustrate Spring, basil and Parmesan cheese were used to animate the youth of the fresh leaves, but with Hanami such a huge thing in Japan, I was a little disappointing that nothing came up to represent it. Some sites have described it as “a little Italian” and “like eating pizza”, and in all honesty, it didn’t seem at all appetizing. Winter is said to taste like the original Tonkotsu King at 100AM. Then, there is King, which is a rich, colorful myriad of buta shogayaki (ginger stir-fried pork), fried mushrooms and fried shallots – something I’m looking forward to come back and try.
Up till June 1, Four Seasons had a promotion whereby you could receive a free Green Tea Cola if you tell them you’ve seen their Facebook page. After that, it’ll be on sale. I’m quite the traditionalist when it comes to ramen, preferring it with water or Japanese tea, but I’ll have you know that this was quite nice. If I’m in the Bugis area, I might pop down to just buy the Green Tea Cola, the perfect refreshment in Singapore’s humid weather. It costs SGD 3.80.