Discomfiture at Hanabi Japanese Restaurant

I usually get impatient when dining at a particular restaurant turns out to be the primary objective of an outing. But earlier this evening, I was dragged out of my bout of exam-marking reclusiveness by a post-exam celebrant. I waived decision-making since I was in the presence of two Japanese cuisine enthusiasts. So we ended up at Hanabi Japanese Restaurant at King’s Arcade off Bukit Timah Road.

The enthusiastic pair ordered the buffet (what the place is apparently famous for) while I decided to pay for the chair I was occupying. Unlike my company, it took some effort to order something vaguely promising off the a la carte menu. A fan I am not, but the waiter smiled and withdrew.

That was an exchange with a senior waitress in the background somewhere. A short while later, a large sign was plonked on the table by said waitress. Orientated accusingly towards me, she faded away into the empty restaurant while I peered at it with my veery worn eyes in considerable surprise. It had been a tough week and now I was confronted by this sign, cast on my table, in a restaurant I had unenthusiastically entered. And it identified me as a non-buffet-eating diner, sitting amongst buffet-eating diners.

I felt like a dangerous animal.

No, I mean I actually managed to feel insulted at that point. That usually takes considerable effort and I have, in my long and undistinguished career, deflected barbs about race, religion, nationality, competence and the like with much aplomb. Much likee how the m.o.s deflects non-kryptonite bullets harmlessly off his, erm, steely chest (I know some of you are particular, hence the k word).

Anyhow the dangerous animal bit was because I actually felt like the Incredible Hulk was about to explode out of me. And yes, it does appear that I have read too many comics in my youth.

So, in one quick gesture, Hanabi Japanese Restaurant managed to make me feel insulted. Was it the lack of sleep (I’ve had worse), or that more marking beckoned (only a small pile left, really), or the sweltering heat (and it has been scorching too). Perhaps I was already impatient with myself for having ended up an an indulgent place amidst inane chatter about food. I know its sacrilegious and all but surely just once in a few years I should express some true feelings to alleviate the highly impersonal tone of this personal blog of mine.

However, I was there to cheer on the celebrant’s indulgence (objective you must never lose sight of, my young padawan). So I directed my thousand yard stare at the hapless decor and edged the conversation on to something real that I could sink my teeth into. The point of self-implosion passed and Bruce Banner returned.

However, another waitress came long and she tells me to eat my food which I had not touched. I looked up, and to the left, and saw that sign again, the bane of the evening, leering down at me.

Rationality or ambivalence usually intervenes at this point but tonight they struggled. I did wonder, but only mildly, if enough thieves masquerading as patrons were sneaking portions from their conspiring (and just as evil) buffet-eating friends. Well, something had made enough of an impact for Hanabi to treat customers so suspiciously be default. Rising food prices?

Perhaps I looked ravenous instead of well-fed, as I usually am accused of being. Or maybe my two friends and I fit the restaurant’s profile of evil, conspiring diners and perhaps the waitress thought she heard us say, “fair is foul and foul is fair”.

But the evening’s objective beckoned once again and I encouraged my unsuspecting (or perhaps, by now, mildly suspecting) friends to recount some other recent experience in their miserable lives. Suffice to say it distracted me yet again for I am, as you may realise by now, easily distracted.

So when the third waitress announced the bill after a long wait with a resounding “hello?!” it didn’t register a blip on the radar. She was just regular folk and quickly offered to have the food packed unasked. My friends nodded but I left. I simply didn’t have an appetite any longer.

I think it was discomfiture.

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10 thoughts on “Discomfiture at Hanabi Japanese Restaurant

  1. I must bring you to this restaurant called…… drumroll….”no sign seafood restaurant” ha ha ha

    Nicely written, very enjoyable, hints of Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence”.

    Unfortunately as you can see, I enjoyed the writing more than your discomfiture… sorry for the irreverence to your “discomfiture”

  2. Hi Otterman! Sorry to hear about your unhappy experience. Perchance you can contact Hanabi restaurant and suggest that they polish up their customer service training? At worst you’ll get no reply. At best, you will be offered a free meal (buffet of course), under the piercing gaze of the evil waitress 😀

  3. Hi Ruby, thanks for the webpage (that’s the US site). I did find the local webpage buried under a pile of restaurant reviews; but no email. Anyway, I felt my encounter was symptomatic of something else.

    In January 2006, the owner at the time, Vera Lim, responded to a critical post, reflecting that the Bukit Timah branch had been somewhat neglected. By October that year, the Hanabi chain had apparently been sold to an Iranian shipping line and Vera was hired to run it. She also set up Aji at Vivocity.

    Another Japanese restaurant denies bookings by parties with both buffet and a la carte diners. I was surprised by two things – that restaurants impose such limitations and that customers accept such arrangements.

    I’d not go as far to characterise the experience as unhappy, just irritating. And goodness no, wild horses (of friends in a celebratory mood) couldn’t drag me back there or again! It’s just not for me.

  4. No Eve, no photo. Pity. I was trying to disengage and just pace myself through my friend’s meal. Lekowala – ha-ha! That will be my counter suggestion the next (rare) time someone suggests Hanabi!

  5. you are not the only one who was offered that ‘service’.

    we no longer visit this branch though it is nearer. if we have to go to this chain, we choose the one at Ocean Towers.

  6. If you’re in the restaurant operator’s shoes, how would you know who within that group of people sitting at the same table is going for either ala carte or buffet menu’s?

    Even if they explicitly declare who’s having the ala carte and buffet, how would you be sure that they wouldn’t cheat by having buffet food shared with those declaring to be having ala carte alone?
    Given the nature of Singaporeans here, I’m sure the restaurant operator would expected some customers to cheat if such a leeway is permitted.

    Take note that I’m not implying that any of you guys are pinchers, but others would pinch and might if given the chance.

    Better safe than sorry,
    Think abt it=]

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