October 14, 2016
After all the craze about Chirashi and Tendon, it is finally time for Unagi to make its reappearance. Chef Teppei Yamashita is expanding his chain of popular restaurants to include Man Man – a Unagi specialty restaurant located right in the heart of Chinatown at Keong Saik Road.
Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eel, which is normally grilled over a charcoal fire and dipped in a tare BBQ sauce multiple times for the marinade to evenly coat the flesh.
With much anticipation and excitement, we made our way down for a media tasting to get our first taste of freshly imported char-grilled Japanese eel in Singapore.
Large orange tanks with dangling pipes and hoses at the edges was the first thing that greeted us at Man Man when we first walked into the restaurant. Taking a quick peep in, we saw that these were the holding tanks for the live eels that have been imported from the Mikawa Isshiki region; known for supplying the best freshwater eel in Japan.
The interior of the restaurant gives off a very warm and comfy vibe, with the use of warm lightings and wooden features. The restaurant has a small seating capacity which makes for a good venue for an intimate dining experience. Do be warned, big groups of six or more wanting to dine here might find themselves waiting slightly longer.
The prime seats in the house overlook the kitchen and features Chef Nakagawa’s live performance of cleaning and gutting the eel before grilling it over a charcoal fire pit.
They say seeing is believing, and seeing the live Unagi being cut and gutted in front of our eyes was indeed a eye opening experience only for the bravest of hearts. We could even see the Unagi still squirming after being pierced. Some would call this brutality but to us, this was a true display of classical Japanese craftsmanship.
The silky white slices of meat are held by the skewers and laid over a bed of white coals for a few minutes before starting to curl up and become slightly firmer.
The grilling process is carefully monitored by Chef Nakagawa who skips between cutting and grilling. Making it look effortless, his experience of 20 years working in an unagi shop clearly shows. Checking diligently every few minutes, he flips the Unagi and dips them in a vault of tare (soy sauce mixed with mirin and sugar) before whipping out a fan to turn the heat up for that nice char on the Unagi skin.
Unatama – $18.60+
The Unatama which is the most affordable bowl of Unagi here is served on a bed of rice together with two thick slabs of tamagoyaki. On the menu are also two bigger servings which are the Medium ($25.80) and Large ($32.80) that contains a larger portion of Unagi that the die-hard fans will truly be thankful for. So go ahead and upsize your order!
Unagi slices are char grilled to perfection and enhanced by the tare marinade it was doused in. Biting into my first piece I could feel the two contrasting textures of the smooth tender white flesh and the crispy grilled skin in my mouth. Each piece is like a umami bomb in your mouth, with heavy notes of saltiness and sweetness.
Not meant to be a side liner, the Tamagoyaki has a light and spongy texture, that is not overly sweet and complements the Unagi really well. Don’t leave out the Japanese pickles though as they help to cut the heaviness of the dish, perhaps inevitably helping you to sneak in a few more slices.
Hitsumabushi – $26.80+
For an alternative way of eating your unagi, order the Hitusumabushi which is meant to be eaten in three portions. For the first portion, scoop up some eel with rice and place it into a bowl. Garnish with spring onions and nori seaweed before eating.
For the second portion, scoop up some eel with rice and place it into the bowl. The only difference this time is to eat it with the grated wasabi, sauces (sweet, normal and spicy) and shichimi (Japanese spice mixture) that is placed in front of you.
Finally for the final portion, scoop up some eel with rice and place it into the bowl, followed by adding in the dashi stock and some shichimi for added taste.
Umaki – $15.80
This dish is a sign that a restaurant takes its Unagi game seriously, a perfect marriage between Unagi and Tamagoyaki, the dish is a perfect balance of sweetness and saltiness. Grab a slice and eat it together with the grated white radish.
Shirayaki – $25.80+
Man Man provides an option to enjoy the natural tasting flavours of the Unagi with the Shirayaki. Do ask for a sprinkle of pink himalayan salt for that added burst of goodness.
I had mine with some freshly grated wasabi that provides a nice tint of heat which helps to showcase the natural flavours of the Unagi.
Man Man Japanese Unagi Restaurant might just be the restaurant that makes Unagi the next popular dish in Singapore. I wouldn’t be surprised if queues start forming given Teppei-San’s formula of good, affordable quality Unagi. Opening in October 2016, it’s definitely the next go-to casual dining destination in Singapore.
Expected Damage: $20 – $30/pax