Call this the Man Man effect.
We are seeing more Unagi-specialised Japanese restaurants opening up in Singapore, when eels used to be once-upon-a-time part of an extensive menu.
After Uya at Wheelock Place, the next is Unagiya Ichinoji which has opened in Singapore at Riverside Walk, Robertson Quay.
Finding the restaurant can be tough for first timers, as it is located behind the other Japanese restaurants, where Daikokuya used to be.
Miyagawa Honten is one of Tokyo’s famous unagi restaurants, with a history that spans 125 years, now operating 20 outlets in Japan alone.
Its outlet in Meguro-ku, Tokyo has recently been awarded Bib Gourmand in Michelin Guide Tokyo 2018.
However, it is called “Unagiya Ichinoji” in Singapore instead of its parent-name. Instead of speculating too much, this could be a perceptive business decision should the local entity need to depart in terms of concept, branding or menu.
The success of Miyagawa Honten is said to be attributed to the chefs’ grilling techniques, temperature control of the charcoal grill and special inhouse tare (sweet basting sauce) whose recipe has been passed down for four generations.
The Japanese head chef at Unagiya Ichinoji has undergone three months of training at Miyagawa’s outlet in Japan to master the skills.
The 34-seater restaurant will serve unagi in three different styles: Hitsumabushi ($19.80), Seiro Mushi (S$19.80) and Mamushi Donburi ($18.80).
The small Hitsumabushi at $19.80 should be the one of the most inexpensive in Singapore. But to say Unagiya Ichinoji offers the “cheapest” unagi may be far-fetched.
I ordered a medium Hitsumabushi ($26.80). Comparing portion to portion, I honestly thought it was sufficient, but not say overwhelmingly-fantastic. (Those you seen on Instagram could have been L or XL $77.80 version).
There are three ways to enjoy the Hitsumabushi: Enjoy the first portion of the eel on its own and relish the eel; then add nori (seaweed), wasabi and green onion to the Hokkaido rice and eel; and lastly For pour in some of the the clear dashi to the abovementioned mix.
Perhaps I have read too many positive reviews, and so my expectations were raised.
The eel pieces which were first steamed then grilled were unexpectedly tougher and more charred than expected, with that slight fishy taste.
It was thankfully saved by the accompanying spicy sauce in a bottle, which was very tasty, but I wished I didn’t need to go there that often.
Two other types of Unagi dishes are available exclusively at the Singapore outlet – the Seiro Mushi and Mamushi Donburi which is served with Japanese yam, mentaiko, kinshi eggs and onsen egg.
The Seiro Mushi ($19.80, $24.80 with Chawanmushi) is a special version hailing from Yanagawa, Fukuoka.
The slab of unagi is first charcoal grilled, then steamed in a bamboo steamer together with kinshi egg and Hokkaido rice mixed with sweet sauce for five minutes before serving.
I thought most of the rest of the ingredients were fine, from the fluffy rice, egg to the sweet sauce.
The three components which I thought were the weakest links were the Chawanmushi which tasted over-steamed, rather diluted dashi stock, and unfortunately the eel that was slightly lacklustre in terms of texture.
Opening jitters, maybe?
The overall experience was actually not bad, but I won’t make a special trip to queue – if there is one.
01-05 Riverside View, Robertson Quay Singapore 238251
Tel: +65 6732 1970
Opening Hours: 11:30am – 3pm; 5:30pm – 10pm Daily