The plethora of Japanese cuisine is wide and varied, but the una-don (grilled eel rice) is one of Japan's more luxurious culinary offerings. The emphasis on freshness and quality means the eels are always gutted on the spot and grilled to perfection. But the key factor of any una-don, apart from the eel, is the tare, the sweet-savoury marinade of soy sauce and mirin that draws out the eel’s flavour. We round up the best places in Singapore that will satisfy your unagi craving.
1. Man Man Unagi By Teppei
Photo: Priyanka C. Agarwal
Those familiar with Chef Teppei Yamashita’s mini-empire know that all of his restaurants open to snaking queues; years on, Man Man's two outlets are still running to packed houses.
With a succinct menu of eel-centric dishes, they focus on one thing and do it well. Here, freshwater eels are grilled over a charcoal fire and brushed multiple times with a sweet-smoky tare BBQ sauce. The eels are so fresh that you spot them ‘live’ in custom-built tanks around the restaurant before they’re cleaned, gutted, sliced and cooked in the glass-fronted kitchen. The resultant eel is nicely charred, the sauce is deliciously smokey and the texture itself is flaky and rich. Served as donburi sets over Japanese rice, in a variety of sizes. Prices begin at $16.
At #01, 1 Keong Saik Rd, 01, 089109, tel: 6222 0678 and one other location.
Photo: Uya’s Facebook
When Japan import Uya opened at Level 2 of Wheelock Place, immediate comparisons were drawn to Man Man. While it does boast a more varied menu, it is still the grilled eel that is the top draw here. A more upscale dining experience (no tanks of live fish, and visible gutting of fish–all that happens behind-the-scenes), they use Japan imported eels grilled with a tare sauce that has been a family secret for generations. The grilled eels get a crisp exterior and a soft, fluffy interior all accented with a delicious umami-rich sauce.
Prices begin at $35 for the Hitsumabushi set, where chopped up eel is served over koshihikari rice alongside wasabi, nori, spring onions and dashi broth. You can mix it up, have it straight up or in any combination you like. Grilled eel can also be had as an ala carte, or in sets with more variety.
Uya, 501 Orchard Road, #02-15/16 Wheelock Place, 238880, tel: 6732 1096. Visit www.uya.sg
3. SBCD Korean Tofu House
Photo: SBCD’s Facebook
While most of the options on this list are of Japanese restaurants, this Korean spot serves an unagi rice bowl and a grilled unagi dish that has a regular fan base. They use freshwater eels imported from Korea and are served sliced and grilled on a sizzling hot plate, accompanied by a sticky-sweet sauce. The same eel can also be had in a bibimbap-like stone bowl with rice and strips of omelette. Unlike Japanese unagi, the sauce here is sweeter and more viscous. It’s a delicious pairing served with typical Korean pickles such as kimchi.
At 7 Wallich Street, #B1-01/02, 078884 and one other location. tel: 6386 6441. Visit www.sbcd.com.sg
Photo: Chikuyotei’s Facebook
Here you can expect a finer Japanese meal experience, and while they have a varied menu, Chikuyotei still takes pains to grill their unagi over a charcoal flame for a smokey finish. The freshwater eels are grilled, steamed and then broiled again with a homemade tare sauce, which gives them a softer, more toothsome texture. The eel is also served in larger slices or chopped up if you opt for the Hitsumabushi set. Only top-notch quality ingredients are used and this is apparent in the taste.
Their unagi lunch course comes in a variety of options, sets are priced at $38 for half and $68 for a whole eel onwards, complete with rice, salad, pickles and more. Eel also features in their omakase lunch and dinner sets and in a more adventurous variety such as eel liver.
At 80 Middle Road, 188966 and one other location. Tel: 63387600. Visit www.facebook.com/chikuyoteisingapore
5. Unagiya Ichinoji
Photo: Unagiya Ichinoji
Japan’s Unagi Speciality Restaurant chain, Miyagawa Honten’s Singapore outpost is called Unagiya Ichinoji, and naturally, comparisons to Uya and Man Man will be drawn. Like its competitors, Unagiya specialises in charcoal-grilled eel basted in a special recipe tare sauce. They have two outlets (Suntec City and the first one at Robertson Quay) and it is their Suntec outlet that first introduced novel touches to the dishes. You could opt for either regular or multigrain rice with your set meals, and they even serve an Unagi Bara Chirashi (charcoal grilled eel, served with cubed sashimi over rice) and Unagi Sushi.
At the more traditional Robertson Quay outlet, unagi can be had typical Hitsumabushi style or as a Fukuoka-style Seiro Mushi where the eel is grilled and then steamed in a bamboo box along with kinshi-style eggs (shredded egg crepes) and tare sauce mixed with Hokkaido rice. Priced for unagi sets begin at $25.
At 30 Robertson Quay #01-05 Riverside Village Residences and one other location, tel: 6732 1970. Visit www.facebook.com/pg/Unagiyaichinoji
6. Donburi Maruya
Orchard Central’s Hokkaido Marche, which is a food-court style eatery with multiple shop-in-shops, opened to much fanfare and is still a top spot for unique and authentic fare hailing from Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture. Among these, Donburi Maruya serves curry-rice sets and rice bowls for reasonable prices. Their unagi specials are the Deluxe Unagi Toji Don ($17) and the Unagi Toji Don ($12.50). The Deluxe gives you a generous slab of grilled eel over an egg-rice and onion combination. The prices are extremely good value for the quality and a top of $1-$1.50 will allow you to upsize to a set that includes miso soup and a corn salad.
At 181 Orchard Road, #B2-11 to 29, 44 to 28 Orchard Central, 238896. tel: 65099383. Visit www.hokkaidomarche.com.sg/maruya
7. Kogane Yama
Photo: Kogane Yama
Originally famed for their tendon rice bowls, Kogane Yama is now known for their variety of donburi to suit various tastes. The best part is the affordable prices with most dishes priced below $15. They serve clever unagi rice bowls of grilled unagi, thick slices of avocado and an onsen egg ($14.90) that works perfectly with the sweet-ish unagi sauce. There is also the more commonplace Unagi Tuji Don ($13.90) where grilled eel is served over scrambled eggs and rice. Kogane Yama is a great spot for a sudden unagi craving, for its very accessible prices.
At 200 Victoria Street #02-50 188740, and one other location. Visit www.facebook.com/koganeyamasingapore
At this Japanese fine dining restaurant, you are spoilt for choice amidst their sushi, sashimi, teppanyaki and robatayaki options. And, holding their own amongst the myriad luxe choices are the unagi-based dishes. Mikuni’s Dragon Roll ($35) is expertly crafted and boasts an exquisite texture. Here, BBQ eel and shrimp tempura are paired with avocado, tempura flakes, tobiko and cucumber and brushed with an unagi sauce. The crunchy savoury elements and the eel’s sweet and smoky sauce pair well together.
To enjoy unagi in it’s standalone glory, order the Unagi Kabayaki ($78) where a whole, butterflied slab of grilled eel is served with sansho peppers. Excellent, air-flown quality is assured at Mikuni, and it is worth its top dollar prices.
At 80 Bras Basah Road, L3 Fairmont Singapore, 6431 6156. Visit www.fairmont.com/singapore/dining/mikuni
9. Neon Pigeon
Photo: Neon Pigeon
Almost everything in this late night modern-day izakaya’s menu is well done. Their small plates are big on flavour, and the cocktails potent. Japanese ingredients, flavours and elements can be seen throughout the menu, and their take on an unagi rice bowl is both novel as well as familiar and comforting. Served paella-style in a pan, the grilled eel is served over stock-cooked rice, crispy tempura seaweed, crunchy sweet pea and a raw egg to mix in and make the rice dish all the more unctuous.
Priced at $18 for a small size, and $34 for the larger portion, this is a good way to soak up all the cocktails after a night of drinking.
At 1A Keong Saik Road, #01-03, tel: 6222 3623. Visit www.neonpigeonsg.com
The zen-like confines of Pan Pacific’s Keyaki is one of our favourite lunch-time hideaways. For the exceptional quality on offer, the prices for their lunch sets are very reasonable. Unagi features in the hearty Unajyu Sashimi Gozen ($66). Expect a portion of Grilled Eel on Rice, where the tender, flaky unagi is brushed with the sticky-sweet tare sauce and served over Japanese rice, alongside, a selection of sashimi, simmered vegetables, simmered prawn coated with egg yolk, miso soup, pickles and dessert. All of these make it a very balanced and filling lunch. Unagi is also served whole-grilled, kabayaki style and as sushi for dinner.
At Pan Pacific Singapore, 7 Raffles Boulevard, 039595. Tel: 6336 8111. Visit www.panpacific.com/en/hotels-and-resorts/pp-marina/dining/keyaki
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