Hashimoto Unagi – Tokyo

Hashimoto is a discovery I made during my recent trip to Japan. Located in the Bunkyo district of Tokyo, I would have never guessed this is a famous unagi restaurant with over 200 years of history without prior research. Bunkyo is a stark difference to areas like Shibuya or Shinjuku. Largely dominated by local residents, this is definitely not a touristy neighbourhood.

Just as we were welcomed in, a waft of intense smoke greeted us as the grilling room is located near the entrance. The interior was tiny, quite typical of Tokyo restaurants. Without a reservation, the best option would be to come before peak hours (hint: just before opening time).

The menu is simple and concise. Hashimoto is really well known for their Unaju, filets of grilled eel with rice served in a lacquered red box. The waiter also heaped praises on the kimoyaki (grilled eel liver), kimosui (eel liver soup), and tamagoyaki (egg omelette).

I have to admit the waiting time was difficult. I skipped breakfast, and just breathing in the scent of the grilled unagi was tortuous. But good things are always worth waiting for right?

The kimoyaki was surprising. Swiftly grilled to perfection with a tender texture. There’s a faint bitter taste, but that is balanced with the sweetness of the tare sauce. It’s also nutritious, loaded with vitamin A and minerals. The tamagoyaki was another winner. Fluffy and subtly sweet.

Kimoyaki
Tamagoyaki

The pièce de résistance finally arrived. The unagi was meltingly soft, basted with eel’s natural fat. The double grilling process really permeated the smoke from the charcoal into the unagi. Paired with the salty/sweet tare sauce and fluffy rice, this was a match made in heaven. According to the owner, first the unagi is skewered on bamboo and grilled on charcoal. Then it’s steamed, as this tenderizes the eel. Afterwards, the bones are painstainkinly picked out with a tweezer, before dipped into the secret tare sauce and returning to the grill for the second time.

Unaju
Tsukemono

The kimosui looked plain, but it had an intense umami flavour. Made from bonito base, accompanied with a piece of eel liver. The slivered mitsuba added a fresh herbal taste.

The fact that Hashimoto has a Michelin star is an afterthought. The staff were incredibly humble about it, and to them it’s more important that customers are happy than attaining more publicity, something I respect and admire. Highly recommend!

 

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