Summer is coming, and for many Japanese people, that means it’s time for eel. As freshwater eel (unagi) is cultivated during hot weather it is mostly regarded as a summer food in Japan. Lucky for Tokyoites, a new unagi spot, Ufuku, has just opened in Hatchobori, less than a mile away from Tsukiji Market. This location is an addition to an established eel restaurant, which currently hosts a flagship location in Ebisu and a satellite in Yoyogi.
Because of the dwindling eel population, unagi has transformed from food of the masses to a dish which represents a certain level of affluence. Most unagi restaurants treat the fish as a luxury food and therefore serve it in a delicate lacquer box. While Ufuku, of course, offers traditional luxury servings of eel, they also aim to take unagi off its pedestal by presenting it in a much more relaxed and spontaneous way. Indeed, the restaurant specializes in eel skewers which you can enjoy at any time of the day with a drink—they recommend a refreshing glass of umeshu (plum wine).
The interior and the exterior of the restaurant is furnished in wood decor, creating a traditional dining atmosphere. If you do not speak Japanese, you will probably encounter some trouble ordering. Unfortunately, there is no English menu and the staff on hand weren’t particularly fluent. Nevertheless, you can still get away with ordering from the photographs on the recommended menu which offers a sampling of what the restaurant does best.
Our course started off with a set of grilled eel skewers, the star dish of the restaurant. This selection is a good demonstration of the restaurant’s versatility and originality. It features three kinds of classical skewers and three other original creations.
The classic skewers allowed us to taste the different cuts of eel without any added flavor. The grilled unagi fillet and belly skewers were stunning, but the unagi liver topped with unagi butter is definitely the star of the show. The waiter shredded the butter on top of the skewers in front of us, which was a mouthwatering display.
The original creations really make this restaurant stand out from most unagi places you will find. Our favorites included an eel skewer topped with ume shiso, which is a sauce made from Japanese basil pesto and crunchy pickled plum. It’s hard to imagine that eel, pesto and plum could ever be paired together, but believe or not, it works perfectly. There were also eel skewers coated with a cucumber puree and a Korean-spiced eel belly wrapped around a skewer.
The recommended menu also features a meaty cut of grilled eel which was simultaneously crispy and tender alongside a turtle soup. While the uninitiated might find it odd to eat turtle, as it is a common pet in many countries, I was pleasantly surprised and found the taste quite light.
We also had a donburi dish—chicken, eel and egg over rice—which was once again an odd combination that strangely worked. The chicken was just as good as the eel, if not better. The restaurant also serves yakitori skewers, an affordable alternative to their eel speciality, and considering the taste of this chicken breast, I would certainly give them a try on my next visit.
Ufuku is not your average unagi restaurant and it thrives to make us discover eel in a new light.
Ufuku Hatchobori 4-13-7 Hatchobori, Chuo-ku, Tokyo Nearest station: Hatchobori
Tel: 03-3553-3005 Opening hours: Monday – Friday: 5pm – 11:30pm
Holiday: Sunday and public holidays