A Japanese restaurant with hour-long queues in S’pore has a new menu item – but not everyone can order it

Anyone who has been to Suntec City recently would have noticed the emergence of a new star attraction in the past year.

Gone are the days of culinary boredom at the mall. The long queues which form daily outside Tendon Kohaku on level three are impossible to miss, especially during lunchtime on weekdays (how long are office lunch breaks these days anyway?).

Those who expected the hype to die down within a few months of the restaurant’s June 2016 opening must be disappointed.

When I visited the outlet at noon on Monday (Sept 18), the 43-seater restaurant was already full and a queue of 15 people had formed. When I left 1.5 hours later, the queue had gotten longer!

Queue outside of Tendon Kohaku. Photo: Jessica Lin/Business Insider

It’s always struck me as a bit odd that people would queue for hours to buy food, especially in Singapore where good food is abundant.

But the consistent good reviews surrounding Kohaku have always made me curious, and I’ve wondered what it is that motivates people to stand in line just to get their hands on a bowl of a simple ten-don (the Japanese term for tempura on a bowl of rice).

Queue outside of Tendon Kohaku. Photo: Jessica Lin/Business Insider

If you’re in need of a quick-fix, Kohaku’s bowls are not for you. The menu may be simple, with spicy and non-spicy varieties of just three types of ten-don to choose from, but huge crowds always result in longer serving times.

My order of the Seasonal Tendon Spicy Flavour – a new, limited-time item – took slightly more than 20 minutes to be served. But as much as it shocks me to say this, it was well worth the wait.

First impressions count, and the large golden-brown tempura pieces arriving like royalty sitting on a throne definitely helped to prep my tastebuds for the feast that was to come.

Seasonal tendon at Tendon Kohaku. Photo: Jessica Lin/Business Insider

I’m not even exaggerating when I say that the autumn-inspired dish appeared to be overflowing. It was a sight no one could take their eyes off – two large prawns, a large slice of Atlantic salmon, six types of mushrooms, and a green chilli pepper all drenched in sauce.

Below this gleaming fried goodness was a moist bed of 16-grain rice, also drenched in the restaurant’s signature sauce. And unlike most restaurants where mixed-grain rice is offered for an extra fee, Kohaku allows customers to choose it over white rice at no extra charge.

The seasonal tendon comes with six types of mushrooms, two prawns, a green chilli pepper and marinated Atlantic salmon. Photo: Jessica Lin/Business Insider

In a city where a small bowl of Oyako-don could cost as much as $15, Kohaku’s seasonal offering is a great catch with its price of just $17.90 a bowl – just $2.90 more than the standard Kohaku Tendon.

The prawns were deliciously fresh, but what I really enjoyed most about this dish was the juiciness of the deep-fried battered mushrooms.

Photo: Jessica Lin/Business Insider

Each of the six types featured – shiitake, maitake, shimeji, enoki, Erinji musroom and oyster mushroom – added a different layer of flavour to the dish.

Photo: Jessica Lin/Business Insider

Compared to usual ten-dons, Kohaku’s newest item was well-designed to feature the different but complementary textures of autumn. In just one bowl, you get to experience the springiness of prawns, the juicy chewiness of mushrooms, a tangy chilli pepper, and a beautiful sake-yuzu-soy sauce marinated salmon slice.

Photo: Jessica Lin/Business Insider

The most difficult part of eating this dish was having to finish it.

By the time I got to the sixth piece of tempura, I was already starting to worry that some of the rice would be going to waste. And because I’m a slow eater, many of the pieces had gone cold by the time I got to them. Cold tempura is never fun.

If you have a small appetite, it’d be a good choice to order one portion to share with a friend. You can choose to have a bigger serving of rice for an additional $1 charge.

Not only will your stomach thank you for not overloading it, the next person in line will also be grateful because only 100 bowls of the seasonal ten-don are available every day from now until December.

So while Tendon Kohaku’s doors are open till 10pm every night, if you want to get your hands on the seasonal version of its popular ten-don, it’s probably wise to start queuing early. Very early.