Photos: Unagiya Ichinoji
Soft, creamy and meaty flesh smothered in sweet-savory secret sauce - a handed down family recipe - we now have another unagi dining destination on top of locally-owned Man Man and Uya. Housed at Robertson Quay, Unagiya Ichinoji is the new kid on the block and marks the first overseas offshoot for fourth generation family business Miyagawa Honten. It's also the first time an unagi specialty restaurant hailing from Tokyo sets up shop on our shores.
Beginning in Tsukiji (also home to the famous fish market), it’s one of Tokyo’s most well known unagi restaurant thanks to its rich history. It has been around since 1894. To date, it is a Bib Gourmand recipient in the Michelin Guide Tokyo 2018 and has 20 outlets in Japan, including the popularAsakusa branch. Miyagawa’s success has been credited to the chefs’ excellent grilling techniques, temperature control of the charcoal grill and housemade tare (sweet basting sauce).
All the eels are marinated with sansho and kuro shichimi (seven black spices) imported from Kyoto. The 34-seater restaurant - designed to resemble a traditional Japanese shop building with tiled roofs- has a counter where you can watch the master chefs at work from behind a glass window. Cutting, skewering and grilling fresh eel, their precision is an art in itself (caveat: It's not for the squeamish). Eels are flown in two to three times a week from a fresh water farm in Indonesia and kept in a tank by the entrance.
Staying true to the original, the Singapore eatery serves the classic Hitsumabushi ($19.80). An unadon, which best brings out the clean flavours of the fish, it follows Nagoya’s style of steaming then grilling the unagi to make it more tender. The freshwater eel is filleted Kanto style with chefs slicing open the eel's back instead of the belly. Next it is lightly grilled then steamed in a basket. Before reaching your table, it is drizzled with tare sauce and grilled again.
In fact, the head chef - himself from Japan - recently underwent three months of training in Miyagawa to hone his craft.
For the uninitiated, there are three ways to tuck into the delicacy. Begin by dividing the bowl into four portions. Enjoy the first portion as it is, relishing the eel’s depth of flavour - juicy with smoky undertones. Then, for the second portion, sprinkle on the nori (seaweed), wasabi and green onion to the firm bed of moist Hokkaido rice and eel. This adds a hint of heat. For the third portion, add the clear dashi (a stock flavoured with anchovies, mackerel and seaweed) to the mix. This gives it a comforting porridge texture. The final portion can be enjoyed however you like. Stir in chilli powder and sansho pepper.
Hitsumabushi comes in four sizes - ranging from S to XL ($77.80). Its biggest is enough for two to three diners to share. But the signature aside, the restaurant wants to introduce Singaporeans to other styles - namely Seiro Mushi ($19.80) and Mamushi Donburi ($18.80).
Not found in the Japan stores, Seiro Mushi is a style from Yanagawa, Fukuoka. The slab of unagi is first charcoal grilled, then steamed in a bamboo steamer together with kinshi egg (shredded egg crepe garnish) and rice mixed with moreish sweet sauce for five minutes before serving.
The indulgent Mamushi Donburi on the other hand is served with Japanese yam, mentaiko, kinshi eggs and onsen egg. Stir everything in and it’s a treat for the palate. Just a heads up that the yam is an acquired taste and adds a sticky starchy consistency to this flavourful option.
Take a seat at wallet-friendly prices. Wind down with a glass of Sapporo beer, highball or sake while munching on unagi bone crackers (deep-fried eel bones). Other dishes available at Unagiya Ichinoji include the light, delicate unagi chawanmushi, as well as unagi sushi roll, unagi omelette, unagi salad and unagi simmered boiled liver. So far, the restaurant has no plans to take reservations.
Unagiya Ichinoji, #01-05 Riverside View, Robertson Quay, Singapore 238251 Open daily for lunch from 11.30am to 3pm; dinner from 5.30pm to 10pm