Tokyo Table Trip

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According to my dining experience and years of searching for the best unagi, I believed Kabuto, Obana, Unazen, and Uomasa are among the best in Kanto. Each shop is very popular and distinctive in its own way.

Kabuto would be ideal for diner who loves dining in a shop that is quaint and serves as a reminder of how dining in an old small neighborhood restaurant is like. At Kabuto, they executed live eel and ripped off its beating heart in front of you. So this is not for the faint-hearted. Diners got to try different parts of eel. After dinner there, I need to fast one day after to recover from unagi euphoria. It’s a very big dinner so I also suggest light lunch before dinner there.

Obana is good for walking in as they don’t accept booking at all. However, it became a tourist destination so u see hungry tourists with luggages in the queue. There’s a long wait although it’s not a small restaurant which diners are seated in the floor. Still, lunch there is lovely and I love the sauce. No live execution though.

Unazen is a small shop near Tokyo sky tree run by a lovely old couple. Eel is kept alive before executed and grilled to order so it took time to prepare. One can walk in and my trick is to visit during off peak hour when nobody else is dining at that hour. I love both unagi and the sauce.

Uomasa gave me the feeling of dining in a box. The room is plainly decorated. However, what lacks in stylish ambience was made up by the most delicious unagi with nice aromatic sauce. Booking is not very difficult but a must as many walk in were turned down by the sign in front of the shop announcing being sold out.

In contrary to what I believed that I have already visited most of the best unagi restaurants around Kanto. Thanks to my sarge in Tokyo who led me to Shizuoka. Unagi Shun In Shizuoka is situated in an assuming neighborhood a bit far away from Shizuoka station. What a hidden gem! When I walked in, I couldn’t help admiring how beautiful the garden around the restaurant is. Shun got excellent ambience with one counter and one big table. How relaxing! Lunch offers a la carte while dinner is omakaze course. Diners at the counter can see the chef in action grilling most aromatic unagi while the execution is done in the kitchen behind the scene. This is friendlier to the faint- hearted, except one has to watch out not observing to close to the grill. The sauce got deep complex umami flavor with the right balance without feeling heavy. Grilled eel’s liver and liver soup are lovely. Big table made it ideal for diners in a group.

I’m impressed by the quality of Shun’s excellent raw material. Thanks to it’s proximity to Hamamatsu where is famous for two things: eel and piano factory. Piano from Hamamatsu is also of top quality. My Japanese friend who came from Hamamatsu once said he wouldn’t eat eel in Tokyo and now I could guess why.

Although Shun is run solely by husband and wife duo, service is top notch. His wife is friendly while being highly efficient. There were no foreigners when I was there so both plus other diners seemed a bit surprise to see a foreigner. However, I felt touched by their friendliness and hospitality.

Unagi is on my to-avoid list and my unagi meals have been cut downed drastically over the past years, not because of the fear for heavy metal which is easily accumulated to oily fish but the diminishing eel population. Besides Japan and international diners who follows suit, other cultures e.g. Spain also love their baby eels dish, called ‘angulas’ or elvers in English, which just drove the price up and the supply down drastically over the past years. At this rate, we might not see much of unagi in the next ten years. Even with the advance in marine biology and latest technology, breeding unagi in a farm isn’t really successful. All farmed eels got the baby eels from the wild before farming them. Wildly caught unagi became rare and it’s supply isn’t consistent. Only maybe 3 restaurants from the top of my head, Kabuto, Amamoto, and Teru sushi (with his gigantic wild unagi burger) seem to have the ability to source wild unagi regularly.

Walking in might be possible during lunch but booking is recommended. Due to the distant from Tokyo, I don’t recommend unless u considered yourself an unagi geek. For serious foodies who found venturing out of Tokyo in a day trip for excellent meal as easy as a walk in a park, Shun should be on to visit list. Besides, maybe you could schedule one meal at Shun and another at Tempura Naruse to make it worthwhile visiting Shizuoka.
For regular diners, I recommend enjoying unagi just once in a blue moon only in a very good unagi shop. We might as well let people in the later generation enjoy unagi too.

◆Sumiyaki unagi SHUN
Address:260-1, Arinaga, Shizuoka, Shizuoka Prefecture
Phone:054-294-7178
Hours:
[Lunch] 11:30-14:30
[Dinner] 17:30~21:00
Budget: 6,000 yen and up (lunch) / 15,000 yen and up (dinner)
Closed: Sundays

Writer:Localtaste

Local taste had taken a long journey searching for delicious meals long before the dawn of social media, roaming from one city to another from the Far East to the west, over 160 cities in four continents and more than 400,000 miles during the last 37 years.
His dining spots over thousands of restaurants range from eating in a hole in the wall in Asia to all ten Michelin 3-star restaurants in Paris. More than decades was spent on chasing for perfect xiao long bao.
Because he is not in food business nor food writer, his article won’t be found elsewhere but exclusively on tokyotabletrip.com as a tribute to Leo Saito’s altruistic deed to help international visitors discover the beauty of Japanese cuisine.

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localtaste

@memchikatsu good to hear from u. I’m not aware of any Unagi restaurants that worth’s a special trip to Hamamatsu.

My observation would be as same as the same idea I had before exploring in Hokkaido. I thought there would be tons of great dinner options as all tasty fresh seafood are from Hokkaido. I searched many times in a span of more than ten years to find nothing worth a special trip. All best raw materials are shipped to Toyosu. Local restaurants have no dedicated Shokunin like in Tokyo, Kyoto, Kanazawa, Shizuoka, Fukuoka, etc. I could find only food for tourists in the market.

There seems to be respectable Unagi restaurants in Hamamatsu but they are in the city so it’s not something like Hirasansou or Tokuyamazushi kind of restaurant / ambience.

As shipping / transportation improves, it’s not the closest restaurant to the source gets the best raw material.

My recommendation for your Shizuoka trip is lunch at Shun and try getting in Tempura Naruse, which my trustworthy Japanese friend spoke highly about. (I never visit Naruse myself)

Lunch at Shun should fit your bill.

5 months ago

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Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Thank you as usual localtaste, for your insight. That really helped clarify things for me. It's interesting that Hamamatsu's best unagi would be sent outside of the region, and shipped to other restaurants. But I guess it isn't surprising.

I probably don't need something as refined as Hirasansou. Something more humble is ideal for me. I'd preferably like to enjoy the flavor of live local unagi, grilled shortly after it was alive. I guess what I'm sorta going for, is the taste unagi would have had in the earliest years... Hamamatsu is where unagi cooking originated?

On the topic of Naruse, yes I'm going. A friend of mine is a big enthusiast about tempura, and has been trying to go for a while now, and I got the call. Very excited. That said, I don't believe the schedule meets with one of Shun's open days. But I will try.

In case I can't visit Shun, I've been reading around...
Do you know anything about Sakuraya? In Mishima/eastern Shizuoka. It has the most number of Tabelog reviews in the Shizuoka region. I'm amused by the idea they wash the eels in Mt. Fuji water. The 1856 opening date sort of appeals to me, as I like old things.

In Hamamatsu itself: Lots of small restaurants are almost right on Lake Hamana, like Sakume, and the touristy Sumibiyaki unagi Kamo. Aoiya (formerly Kantaro) has something interesting about it. Kawamasu seems like a nice place, over 80 years old. Atsumi another reputable place since 1907. Nakaya has a nice humble feel about it, and the sashimi option is curious.

Think I'll also try that unagi pie.

Well, thank you for your thoughts on the topic. I'm getting dizzy looking at all the unagi places in the area.

5 months ago
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localtaste

@menchikatsu when I first heard about Unagi pie, I tried to find it. I expected something like Olallieberry Pie with Unagi filling. This Unagi pie turned out to be something close to Palmier. While many people love it, I didn’t like it too much as it was basically pretty much carb and sugar.

5 months ago
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localtaste

@menchikatsu Shun is close mon - tue. If your dinner at Naruse falls on the other day, u should have lunch at Shun.

I haven’t visited Sakuraya. It’s a very big restaurant so it might be similar to Horaiken in Nagoya. Horaiken also opened its door in 19th century.

I look forward to hearing more after u visit Hamamatsu.

5 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Ok I will try my best to be there on a day Shun is open.

If I am unable to add the day, maybe I'll try some mom n pop countryside restaurant on Lake Hamana, and let you know my experience. I've always liked meeting locals in these small towns.

Thank you again @localtaste. I'll report my findings after.

5 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Hello @localtaste. I would like to let you know, I have figured out a schedule, and per your trusted recommendation, I will indeed be visiting Sumibiyaki Unagi Shun for lunch.

I will also still be traveling to Hamamatsu, and will hopefully get to try some sort of local mom n pop style unagi restaurant on the lake. It would be really awesome if I could witness the eels being caught from the river/lake.

Thank you as always, for all your unagi expertise.

5 months ago
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localtaste

@menchikatsu how lovely to hear u can fit Shun into your schedule. We would be waiting to hear your evaluation of Shun and Naruse. Also, I’d love to hear more about your Hamamatsu adventure.

My best regional restaurant experience is at Takuyamazushi. Saito san once wrote an article in Chinese about his visit. If u have a chance, I highly recommend visiting them. I love how I could see the beautiful lake Yogo and mountains from the dining room.

4 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Thank you again. I will report back to you my perspectives on my experience. Although I think it's almost certain I can be looking forward to the best unagi and tempura meals of my life.

Of note, is there an option to upgrade the unagi at Shun (like can be done at Uomasa), or does everyone get the same quality eel from Hamamatsu? I am curious if dinner guests get a more premium type of unagi.

Your visits to Hirasansou and Tokuyamazushi, both look like wonderful places, and I have listed it on my to do list, the next time I head in the Kyoto direction. The view really adds something. In the same area of these two restaurants, something that's really interested me in recent years, is the Birdman Rally over Lake Biwa.

4 months ago
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localtaste

@Menchikatsu there are two options. This is the menu which I took the photo for your info.

4 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Thank you @localtaste. This helps a lot. Getting more excited, the more I think about it.

4 months ago

Menchikatsu

A question for you @localtaste. I will be traveling to Shizuoka in the near future. I was wondering, if it would be worth going further west to Hamamatsu. And if so, is there a particularly noteworthy unagi restaurant to visit there, and sample the freshly caught eels from nearby rivers? It is the source of the very best unagi in the country? It sounded to me like a pilgrimage site for unagi fans. I don't need to be doing a fancy meal at Shun on this trip, but I would like to have some sort of special rustic local unagi fisherman's experience. Thank you. And also to Saito-san, and any others, who have been to Hamamatsu, and have some tips.

5 months ago

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Menchikatsu

@localtaste
I brought up the topic of different regional styles of unagi, to a chef friend of mine who is from Kansai. He told an interesting way to explain the difference between Kanto and Kansai unagi cutting.

That the samurai in Kanto doesn't like seppuku, so unagi is cut from the back side (sebiraki 背開き); while the shogun in Kansai loves seppuku, and so they cut it from the front/stomach (harabiraki 腹開き).

I thought this might have been a joke, but maybe there is some truth to it? That cutting from the front of the unagi resembles stabbing the stomache in seppuku/harakiri, and is like an ominous taboo or superstition. It's a very good way to memorize this, I can't forget it now.

7 months ago

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Shi

Haha that's quite an interesting anecdote thanks for sharing @Menchikatsu

7 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

@Shi
Actually... I was wondering if this was actually the true reason! I decided to look it up online, and a few sites actually cite this as the historic reason unagi is not cut from the front in Kanto. As we all know, sticking chopsticks vertically in a bowl of rice is also a taboo, that changes the way you're allowed to eat. So this certainly makes some sense.

7 months ago

guest

Hi, I went to Unagi Shun last week for lunch and got the grilled eel liver and the unaju and I just wanted to give a bit of my personal thoughts on it.

The eel liver I really enjoyed. The unaju however I found not to be exactly my type as I found the unagi less soft or less "melting" compared to some other places. For example one of my favourite unaju is at Tomoei in Odawara (which I don't see mentioned much in this website at all) and unagi is much softer. I have also been to Uomasa and I preferred it to the unagi at Shun. This is not to say it wasn't good of course, I still quite enjoyed the meal at Shun however I'm not sure it is the best for me. Does anyone that have been to Shun share same thoughts as me for their unaju? Is it generally less softer unagi than some other places (because of chef technique?) or could it be just that day.

Thank you

8 months ago

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guest

And by saying the unagi at Shun is not as soft I mean it doesn’t melt in your mouth when you eat it, it doesn’t fall apart or break as easy when using chopsticks to cut it to eat, and harder texture in general.

8 months ago
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localtaste

@guest thank u for sharing your experience. I’m sorry that u traveled a long way and it wasn’t your best Unagi experience.

I’ll also mention Tomoei as one of my recommendation if you are in the area. Tomoei got great eel maintained in controlled temperature.

It’s the cooking method. So it might not be a bad day. In Kanto, they got Kanto style. I also liked Uomasa. Have u tried eel in Kansei, Kyushu or Aichi? In my next article, I will unveil my Japan list.

But if u look for tomoei kind of experience, tomoei should be your top choice. Even at Kabuto, their eel isn’t soft like tomoei.

8 months ago
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guest

@localtaste thank you for your reply. These are the unagi restaurants that I have been to in Japan in order of my personal preference.

1) Tomoei
2) Uomasa
3) Shun
4) Ishibashi
5) Obana
6) Hirokawa Kyoto
7) Nodaiwa Ginza

I am not expert on unagi though so I don’t know anything about their difference in cooking techniques etc.

8 months ago
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guest

And from that list I have to say that Shun probably had the least “soft” unagi compared to other places. Would be great to hear your thoughts on this localtaste and others as well.

8 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

@localtaste
Thanks for this helpful piece of information. I never really knew there was a clear difference between unagi preparation in different regions, Kanto, Kansai, etc...

Unagi served in North America is so bad comparatively to how it's cooked in Japan, that I just feel lucky I get to eat it at all. I always thought a delicate, fluffy consistency showed greater care in cooking. I have sometimes noted the difference between wild caught and farm raised eel.

Thanks to Saito-san's previous advice, I've also been distinguishing between places that use sweet sauce vs. a more savory natural taste. And charcoal vs. electric/gas grill.

8 months ago
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localtaste

@Menchikatsu they not only cook busy also cut it differently. You can look at the different cut and how they place unagi in each area. Different cutting method also affects the mouth feel when you eat it.

Hakata
https://www.instagram.com/p/B5ZQ5DZpU8S/?igshid=11i6ndzj9znkv

Yanagawa
https://www.instagram.com/p/B44uicojkjp/?igshid=hiyk95fk1l97

Kitakyushu
https://www.instagram.com/p/BoyBsH9gBWr/?igshid=1od2f94g4h1bj

Nagoya
https://www.instagram.com/p/Bqg0eS7jK04/?igshid=nncjrgrn0x54

Seto
https://www.instagram.com/p/B5esonqghwR/?igshid=le55wxjxankv

Tokyo
https://www.instagram.com/p/B1oPYXxgxjJ/?igshid=2z86n59zvseu

8 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

@localtaste
Interesting how these 3 areas around Fukuoka all have a different cutting style. Seems like a battleground of unagi. I will try to sample them all, but it may take a while, haha.
I would also like to hear your opinion. How do you like sansho leaves as a topping on unagi? I've only encountered this recently at kappo/kaiseki restaurants.

I'm pretty interested in hearing @guest here, as he/she forms new thoughts on the merits of melt in your mouth vs. firmly cooked unagi.
Perhaps you might be interested in referring to what's called Shinkeinuki 神経抜き or Ikejime 活け締め. The technique fish merchants use, to thread a thin wire down the spine of a fish, in order to halt rigor mortis. It prevents the tensing of muscle, and keeps the fish in a more ideal state. Seems it can mean the difference between tough or tender fish.
I was wondering if this is ever applied to eel... As some restaurants prep and filet their eels early, so it sits there for a long time, before cooking. I noted that restaurants like Kabuto kill the eel shortly before you eat it, though I have not been.

Here's a reference video. Forward to the 5'30" minute mark. Very educational!
www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dJ5BahPX2o

8 months ago
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localtaste

@menchikatsu ikejime isn’t used to execute Unagi. It’s for keeping other fish fresh longer. Blood makes fish deteriorate sooner.

Eel is usually kept alive and executed just before grilling. It’s too tricky to insert the metal along the spine of any eel as it’s long and so slippery.

7 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

@localtaste
Thank you for clarifying that for me. I'm very interested in Japanese cooking techniques. Shimozukuri 霜作り (to purposely tense fish up) is another one I'm fascinated with. I guess... none of these apply to unagi.

I'm curious, what factors lead to the tenderness of unagi, being too tough or mushy. If I didn't know better, I'd assume the firm unagi that @guest ate, was a result of high heat. Or the muscle fibres are too tight still, and it's not cooked long enough slowly. But that's just theory, based on cooking other things.

More interesting, is that you mention, they possibly cook it this way on purpose. I think the general consensus would be that softer, melt in your mouth is 'cooked better'. But this is definitely a good chance to become more open minded to styles.

@guest
Thank you both. I will keep these things in mind, when I eat different regional styles of unagi.

7 months ago
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Shi

Localtaste those examples of the different cutting styles from different regions is incredibly interesting - thank you for the enlightenment!

7 months ago
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localtaste

@Menchikatsu sorry for the late responding on sansho leaves as topping on Unagi. I like both eating on as is and with sansho leaves. Between the two, I inclined toward without sancho. However, there’s another combination, Hanasancho on top of Grilled Unagi. This is rare as hanasancho is very seasonable.

In the Kanto region, the eel is grilled, then steamed, then grilled again, resulting into soft and fluffy mouthfeel. In Kansai, it’s grilled longer, resulting in crispier and you can feel when it into the meat. 

And here’s an example of Unagi and hanasansho.
https://www.instagram.com/p/BytyYzLps2x/?igshid=d4puynjc6u6p

7 months ago
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localtaste

@shi thank u for your kind words. I hope my info is helpful.

7 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Thank you @localtaste for the reply. I have only seen glimpses of hanasansho, in tv shows, pictures, and such. It has a very striking green appearance. It seems very popular as a topping for beef in kaiseki restaurants. I would like to try it this year, as I'm slated to be there during the season.

I will try and keep in mind, this difference in cooking unagi (with/without steaming, the next time I get a chance to compare.
If a chef had time as a luxury to spare, I would be interested in seeing how they would control the temperature of unagi and charcoal, without overcooking it. Even if it took a much longer time. For example, I've always been interested in Quintessence's chef Kishida's method, of taking a fish in and out of an oven, to let it cook and then rest, 30 times over 3 hours. Wondering if this philosophy could be applied to other things.

7 months ago
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localtaste

@menchikatsu I think my photo shows another example of grilled Unagi sansho leaves and Hanasansho. It was so delicious and considered luxurious.

Some of the chefs use hybrid approach so they might slit the eel kansai style and grill it kanto style.

Resting is common technique. Leo mentioned it in his Young chef / Tempura Naruse, Shizuoka article. U should read it if u haven’t.

Resting is used to cook steak in many countries. Also, tonkatsu shimizu in Kyoto does resting after frying his thick tonkatsu. I wrote an article about a tonkatsu store in Yao which I mentioned the effect of resting to prevent the leaking of myoglobin. Maybe that article might elaborate more if u find this topic interesting.

You can look at the recipes of both Beef Wellington and duck pethivier.

7 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Thank you @localtaste

I'm very interested in trying hanasansho. I hope I can locate it this May.
I looked and found that Goryukubo's tabelog photo page has it in a few places.
https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1306/A130602/13156859/dtlphotolst/1/
Particularly beautiful photo:
https://tblg.k-img.com/restaurant/images/Rvw/105052/640x640_rect_105052031.jpg
And Okamoto, which features it abundantly. He even does a (pork?) shabu with it.
https://tabelog.com/en/tokyo/A1307/A130704/13144115/dtlphotolst/1/

This show was something I saw a while back. It explores a variety of ways to use the ingredient. It refers to it as 'young sansho berries'.
https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/video/2029109/

Sorry about all the links. I got too excited. :D


This hybrid approach to cooking unagi, seems to be the way most young chefs think towards other cuisines too. Some would call it 'progress'. I'm a fan of both modern and traditional techniques, so I understand if restaurants prefer to retain the recipes they've held for generations.

I think when the term 'resting' comes up, I too immediately think of steak. Beef Wellington and the other duck pastry dish are interesting ones to think of. I think it most often comes up in the west, when cooking whole turkey or rib roast.

I will read the articles you've suggested. Haven't gotten through all of the older articles. Going to do that now.

7 months ago
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guest

@guest wow I have to agree with the OP guest, unagi shun one of the most overrated unagi imo, it’s not bad but nothing special to travelled all that way from Tokyo can definitely find as good or better within Tokyo.

4 months ago

Menchikatsu

Can someone give a comparison to Tsugumian and Ishibashi?

I too like Obana quite a bit.

My favorite is Hirokawa, in Arashiyama Kyoto.

9 months ago

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Leo Saito

chief editor, TokyoTableTrip

Ishibashi's “Una-juu Tokujo" Extra Special Eel Box (6800 yen)
The eel is steamed then grilled and has a very distinctive charcoal aroma. The outside of the eel is fragrant and the inside is soft and plump. The sauce is less sweet and has a sharp soy sauce taste.

Tsugumian's“Una-juu Eel Box (part of the Omakase course)”
Gas is used as the cooking source, not charcoal.
It is evenly grilled and has a beautiful finish.
It has a moist and refined texture and is characterized by its moist skin texture. While the sauce is slightly sweet it doesn't feel heavy.

9 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

Ooh! Thank you Saito-san, for being very descriptive.
Ishibashi sounds savory and smells nice, less sweet can bee good too.
Tsugumian's cooking seems rather interesting. I take it for granted that unagi is ever cooked without charcoal.
I will take note of these differences when I go looking.

9 months ago
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Shi

My wife and I are hoping to visit Hirokawa in late winter (February) - do you have any advice as far as what you would recommend we order?

8 months ago
Blackglasses1

Menchikatsu

@Shi
Reserve the private room upstairs, with a view of the roofed houses and hill. Very nice place, especially after the sun sets. Really... you cannot go wrong with the ambiance, if you do this. Entrance floor seating is not nearly as impressive. I also recommend taking a walk before/after, to the moon bridge and the surrounding neighborhood. It's really a nice place, Arashiyama, unforgettable.
I believe their unagi is sourced depending on season, wild river eel. It's not too difficult an order, but somehow, I prefer it kabayaki without the rice. Not that getting it on top of rice is wrong either. Just order a variety of stuff to compare, including the side dishes, soups, etc...

8 months ago
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Shi

@Menchikatsu Thanks really appreciate the tips - we love the Arashiyama area so happy to be returning! Sounds like we can't go wrong with any order which is reassuring

8 months ago

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