Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Perhaps the best Unagi around

Nodaiwa is an institution in Japan. Known to be the oldest unagi (eel) restaurant in Japan, the accolade is well justified and many thanks to my friend Peter Chong who insisted I had a meal there.

Truth be told - we were not able to get a table on the first try as so we had to make reservations at least one week ahead. That is how good the restaurant is for dinner. The restaurant is located opposite the Tokyo Tower and is across two buildings. The building facing the main road is the main and oldest building. We arrived on time but were ushered to another building behind the main building.

The second level dining area housed no more than 8 tables.

That night, we were lucky to be seated across two tables - my family at one and my friends with me at another. We selected the set menu - actually it was selected for me. I has earlier eaten unagi in Kyoto so I wanted to see how different the two styles are.

First up was the starter featuring some seaweed and unagi jelly. The seaweed was slippery but definitely delicious. The unagi jelly was something I have not tried before but I say it was oishi! Very much like our teochew pork leg jelly, it is served cold.

Next up was soup - a clear soup with a slice of unagi.

Then came the first main. Served in traditional lacquer ware.

Just one unagi without any sauce, grilled to perfection and served with fresh wasabi. Simple pleasures.

The unagi melts in your mouth and a hint of smokiness - probably grilled over charcoal. Unlike the traditional unagi, this one is not oily at all but firm to the bite.

Then came the steamed egg dish - chawanmushi...

When you lift the lid, it looks like any other chawanmushi.

One scoop down and the unagi appears. The unagi lends a different taste to the chawanmushi which was smooth as one would expect.

Then the grand finale! Another lacquer box.

This time around, two unagi on a bed of rice.

This time, the unagi comes grilled with sauce and on top of a bed of rice also with sauce.

Unlike the one I had in Kyoto, the sauce is just right and the unagi is less oily. I understand that they steam the unagi before they grill it, allowing the oil to drip before grilling the unagi. Firm to the bite, very fragrant and without any fine bones. They take real care in de-boning the unagi.

And for dessert, fresh Japanese strawberries. Probably one of the sweetest strawberries I have eaten.

Overall, Nodaiwa was an excellent recommendation. But it is not cheap. I was told by my host that the Tokyo style of unagi is very different from those in Kyoto. Here in Tokyo, all their unagi is served without head on whereas the one we had in Kyoto was served with head on. Whatever the case is, both unagis are good in their own way. Nodaiwa is really good but pricey. But I say this - give it a try.