For the very first time, an original unagi (freshwater eel) specialty restaurant from Japan has unveiled an outlet in Singapore. Miyagawa Honten, a well-known unagi establishment from Tokyo with a 125-year history, has opened an outlet right here at the Japanese cuisine enclave of Robertson Quay. The Singapore restaurant franchise, though, is called Unagiya Ichinoji, an eponymous name chosen to clearly reflect the main dish. This marks Miyagawa’s debut overseas foray.
Miyagawa operates 20 outlets in Japan, with its outlet in Meguro-ku, Tokyo having recently been awarded the Bib Gourmand–for exceptionally good food at moderate prices–in the Michelin Guide Tokyo 2018. At the 34-seater Unagiya Ichinoji, you can enjoy the staple unagi dish of the Japan outlets, together with two styles of preparation that are only available in Singapore. For its opening, the fourth generation of its founder, Yoshida Yoshirada, flew down to Singapore to oversee its launch.
Before we could feast, there was a tank-to-table demonstration. The slimy eels were extracted from the tank in front of us, expertly stunned and filleted, a single backbone pulled cleanly off the flesh that is served as a great snack with beer. The eel was then basted with a special in-house tare sauce (sweetened soy sauce), of which the recipe has been passed down four generations. The eel was then grilled over the charcoal.
That evening in particular, we were honoured to have the presence of Miyagawa Masterchef Yokoyama Masatoshi , who was in Singapore for the launch. Be reassured, though, that the Japanese head chef who helms Unagiya Ichinoji has undergone three months of training at Miyagawa Japan to master the skills.
Finally, it was time for us to dig in. First out was the signature Hitsumabushi style, which is also the signature at Miyagawa’s Japan outlets. To eat it, the bowl gets divided into portions, enjoying first the taste of eel and Hokkaido rice on its own, then add the side condiments of seaweed, wasabi and green onion. There is also an accompanying clear dashi broth to the mix, and the final portion can be enjoyed however you like. This is the purist option you should try on the first occasion, and is available in four portion sizes.
The second and third styles of unagi are available exclusively in Singapore. Seiro Mushi (from Yanagawa, Fukuoka), involves steaming the grilled unagi in a bamboo steamer together with kinshi, or shredded egg topping, and Hokkaido rice mixed with homemade tare. The act of unveiling the eel in this style yields a rush of steam with unagi fragrance.
This set was served with a chawanmushi steamed egg which also contained unagi. I personally like this less as I prefer the stronger, smoky flavours of the unagi that retains the charred edges hot from the grill. However, what helps to vary the flavours to your preference is the tare sauce at each table, which you can add more of if you wish. There are also two delicious salts, sansho and kuro shichimi, which add a fruity and Sichuan peppercorn tang respectively to enhance the taste further.
The third and last variation is also the one I liked best. Mamushi donburi has the eel served with kinshi eggs, a dollop of mentaiko (cod roe), onsen egg and grated yam that is served separately – a wise move, as the slimy white yam, commonly seen as a topping on tuna donburis, has traditionally been an acquired taste. It’s one of my favourites though, given my penchant for creamy foods. I enjoyed stirring the entire mixture, with the roe, egg yolk and yam, adding a richness and stickiness that held the entire donburi altogether for me to polish off by the chopstickful.
Unagi specialty restaurants have sprung up in Singapore only in the past year. Given the long queues that have formed at the likes of Man Man and Uya, it is heartening that there is now Unagiya Ichinoji to meet the demand. Let’s hope we see more of these restaurants, and with the competition, there may be more variations of unagi dishes and a decline in the currently rather steep prices across all the restaurants.
30 Robertson Quay
01-05 Riverside View
Tel: +65 6732 1970
Opening hours: Daily 11.30am to 3pm; 5.30pm to 10pm