February 08, 2018
Uya 四代目菊川, A New Unagi Restaurant Opens At Orchard's Wheelock Place!
I always thought I'm a one-"Man" woman, then..... "Uya" comes along!!!
Man Man has horded our local dining scene for quite a while as a showy, live eel establishment in Singapore, with the spotlight shining even brighter when it bagged a Michelin Bib Gourmand award recognition. I went, I ate, and I love it. No doubt many others feel the same too.
With the opening of Uya 四代目菊川, a new unagi restaurant at Wheelock Place, hereby comes the inevitable comparison between the two. "How? How? Which is better?
The ideal world is one where we run our own races and all become winners in our own right, but this is reality and competition is real.
If first impressions are important, Uya's interior that greeted us is certainly winning and set a positive tone for the meal ahead. The dining space is contemporary with a touch of Japanese traditional feel, with an eye-catching autumn tree as the centerpiece.
It felt almost zen-like..... Until I became aware of the killing and grilling behind the scene!
If you happen to notice, there is a small window just outside the restaurant where you can peep into the room where live eels are kept in custom-built tabeta which continously circulates clean and temperature-controlled water to ensure that the eels are kept clean and fresh in optimal conditions.
Then comes the killing! Including nailing the eel's head down on the execution board, it takes only 5 steps and 20 seconds for the chef to complete each deadly routine!
Oops, this is not for easily squeamish diners to watch.
But everyone is welcome to look into the open-concept kitchen where the eel are being flamed over binchotan (white charcoal). My appetite was building up in anticipation of the char-grilled goodness as I stood in front of the glass panel.
Uya works with its Japanese partner - Nakasho Shoten Ltd (wholesaler of unagi for over 90 years) - to carefully select and bring in the Anguilla Japonica species of eels from farms in Taiwan and Japan twice a week. What we get on our table will depend on season and quality.
Besides the Unagi Set ($25 onwards), and signature Hitsumabshi (L $48 / M $35) as main highlights, we can also try other eel items such as Grilled Liver ($9), Crispy Bone ($6), and Unagi Egg Roll ($9).
Diners who like variety would be pleased to find other menu offerings such as Sashimi Moriawase (Standard $35 / Premium $50), Assorted Tempura ($16), and Rare Wagyu Rice Bowl ($27).
To ascertain if the eels are fresh, best way would be to try the Grilled Eel with Salt (L $46 / M $33 / S $23). The flavor of grilled fish is accentuated by only a light handling of salt which allows for a clean, lighter taste.
It was good but I thought the Hitsumabshi (L $48 / M $35) was better. Perhaps I'm more used to having my eel with tare (sauce).
The tare used in Uya is made using a sauce base that has been a family secret of the Japanese partner for over 4 generations, and was specially brought over from Japan to Singapore. Its taste was less sweet, and felt somewhat more refined compared with the bold robustness of Man Man.
As Uya's head chef is from Nagoya, and has worked in the local top unagi restaurants, he aims to deliver a Nagoya-authentic experience to diners here. This is why the grilled unagi served is not as charred, which is the way it's done in Nagoya. It is also to ensure that the vitamin and mineral-filled eel oil is preserved and not burnt into carbon.
Some may prefer it otherwise, but personal inclination on the level of char aside, the unagi which I had still had a crisp layer of skin, and meat was soft, moist, and wondrous with a gentle smokey aroma in every bite.
Together with Niigata's Koshihikari rice, my bowl was overall delicious.
The traditional style of eating hitsumabushi is first enjoy it as it is, followed by adding some condiments (spring onion, wasabi and nori), and lastly by adding in the dashi broth (much like ochazuke).
In conclusion, I can only say...
Go to Uya... (1) if you prefer a more delicate taste, and have varied food options, (2) if you want assurance of a table or private room at your preferred timing - reservations are accepted, (3) to dine in greater comfort.
Go to Man Man... (1) if strongly-flavored food suits you better, (2) if queuing and time is not an issue, (3) if you want to strike off a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant from your "to-visit-list".
In any case, both restaurants serve quality grilled unagi which lives up to expectations.
There's a dress for every occasion, there's a restaurant to suit every palate too. Just follow your own tongue! And wherever your dining needs bring you.
旧爱好? 还是新欢妙? 我两个都要!
Address: 51 Orchard Road, #02-15/16 Wheelock Place, Singapore 238880
Contact: +65 6732 1096
Opening Hours: Lunch Daily 12pm-2.30pm / Dinner Sun-Thu 6pm-9.30pm / Dinner Fri & Sat 6pm-10pm / Last order 30 mins before closing.
Prices are stated in Singapore dollars and subject to 10% service charge and 7% GST unless otherwise stated. Information is correct at point of published date.
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