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Unagiya Ichinoji's Eel Cheaper Than Man Man's And Uya's, But More Forgettable

UNDERCOVER RESTAURANT REVIEW: How does the latest live eel joint in town stack up against the competition?

-min read
Unagiya Ichinoji's Eel Cheaper Than Man Man's And Uya's, But More Forgettable

Prepared Yanagawa-style, where the “Venice of Fukuoka” is famed for its river eels that are par-grilled then steamed with rice in a bamboo receptacle. We’ve had it before in the charming Japanese town. Unfortunately, this is a pale imitation of the original. Instead of grilling the eel lightly before steaming it with rice so it’s extra juicy, the fish here seems to have been roasted till thoroughly charred, then steamed, resulting in slices that are slightly parched and rubbery. Meanwhile, the bed of crêpey shredded omelette beneath is dry, and the brownish rice mixed with the eel’s basting sauce blander than it looks, though we do like the gentle bamboo fragrance it’s infused with.

PHOTOS: Florence Fong

There’s something about the latest unagi joint in town that’s reminiscent of a Japanese theme park.

A grinning, slightly too enthusiastic Japanese manager takes our order while a few depressed eels float listlessly in a fish tank, probably cognizant of their impending fate. And then there’s the décor: slightly kitschy oriental tiled roof fixtures frame the glass-walled kitchen, where lugubrious chefs roast eels over glowing binchotan coals. We almost expect a bored stunt ninja to tumble out of a false wall any second now.

One week-old Unagiya Ichinoji, a Tokyo import, is bustling this Monday evening, but we easily snag a seat just before 7pm. Although no reservations are allowed, the barriers placed outside the 34-seater in Robertson Quay for potential queues remain empty this weekday. Amid the mostly after-work crowd of diners, we spy a familiar face and call out loudly, much to his embarrassment: “Hello, Teppei-san!” The towkay of rival joint Man Man Japanese Unagi has come to check out the competition. He’s here with Man Man’s head chef. Teppei walks over and sheepishly says: “Oh ya, we’ve come to try [the food] only”. All we said was hello, buddy. Hur hur.

Backstory: Consider this Singapore branch a spin-off of the Miyagawa Honten unagi chain from Tokyo, which apparently has a 125-year history and operates 20 outlets in Japan. One of its restaurants — Meguro-ku in Tokyo — was awarded the Bib Gourmand in the Michelin Guide Tokyo 2018. This local franchise, under a different mouthful of a name, is brought to Singapore by the Komars Group, behind the Ramen Champion eatery here.

The Eels: Thankfully, the gruesome task of slaughtering the live eels ­— this particular breed is called Ichinoji, hence the eatery’s name — imported from a farm in, um, Indonesia (but owned by Japanese farmers), isn’t done in full view of diners, but off-site in a central kitchen each morning

The Menu: To differentiate itself from its competitors Man Man and Uya, Unagiya Ichinoji offers eel prepared Osaka and Fukuoka-style, on top of the popular Nagoya way that its rivals specialise in.

Dishes reviewed in the photo gallery above.

#01-05 Riverside View, Robertson Quay, S238251. Tel: 6732-1970. Open daily. 11.30am-3pm; 5.30pm to 10pm. Last orders 30 mins before closing. No reservations allowed.

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