Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Teppei Opens Man Man Unagi at Keong Saik Road

Teppei Yamashita is on a roll. The chef-owner of the elusive Teppei Japanese Restaurant (which famously requires 3-6 month advance reservations for omakase dinner) has in quick succession opened different restaurants with the same success formula of delivering quality at friendly prices.

He's got the Teppei Syukudo chain (kaisendon), Hana Hana (yakitori), Hanare (chirashi and buffet), Teppei Daidokoro, and today officially launched Man Man Unagi, a grilled eel specialist.

The unagi here stands out for a few reasons. The eels come from Japan; the unagi is extremely fresh and prepared on demand; it's charcoal-grilled Kansai style; and the head chef Nakagawa has had 20 years experience in unagi grilling.

I love unagi but feel guilty eating it because the Japanese freshwater eel is already on the endangered list. I tried to ask if the eels at Man Man come from a sustainable source or farm. All I could find out is they come from Mikawa Isshiki, one of the top producers of quality eel in Japan. Alas, even if they are farmed, most eels can't be bred in captivity because they spawn in remote parts of the ocean then come back upriver.

These are some really big fat specimens. Darn, they look adorable.

The chef picks out the eels and cuts them open right in front of you. Now these are strong and slippery creatures, but it's all done so swiftly and skilfully that the eels barely have a chance to even struggle. I was tempted to take a video, but that might be too graphic and disturbing for some. Still, you can sit at the counter to witness your food being prepared, should you have the stomach for such scenes.

The eel fillets are skewered and grilled over charcoal. They do it Kansai-style (cut open at the belly, and grilled without steaming). Steaming causes the eel to lose excess fat and shortens grilling time.

The rival Kanto style has the eel split from the back instead of the belly. Edo the military capital had samurai aplenty, so the unagi shops didn't want to remind their clientele of seppuku (ritual suicide via splitting the belly open). I never tire of this story. Or feudal Japan.

The Kansai style requires a slightly longer grilling time. This way the unagi is nicely charred on the outside but still tender and fluffy on the inside, thanks to the fatty meat.

Tender and fluffy it is indeed. This is the Shirayaki - "white-grilled" eel - which is done without basting the eel with the sweet soy marinade (giving us the kabayaki we know so well). The naked flavours of artfully grilled fresh eel has merit; I liked this more than I thought I would. It's served with just some pink Himalayan salt and a dab of wasabi on the side.

I was glad to see a Hitsumabushi Set (S$26.80+, no service charge, just GST). I remember fondly my first experience at Unasho in Tokyo. It's one dish to be enjoyed three ways: the unagi with rice by itself; then with the seasoning items (seaweed, spring onions and wasabi) added; and finally by pouring the dashi onto the mixture to make an ochazuke.

I was enjoying this so much I forgot to take a photo of the second step. So this is step 3. I was a little surprised to find the dashi in the pot is not hot at all. Did I wait too long to eat?

There are unatama don sets (S$18.80+) featuring grilled egg with a slice of unagi embedded inside. I like the tamagoyaki. It was comfortingly soft on the inside, and certainly not overcooked or rubbery.

It looks like nothing is wasted here. The liver of the eel is also grilled and used in a Kimo Don (S$24.80+) or Kimoyaki (S$9.90+) side dish. The spine is deep-fried into crispy bone crackers (S$6+). You could also just have the Una Donburi rice bowls (medium S$25.80+ or large S$32.80+).

Interestingly there is a Butamabushi (S$18.80+) as well on the menu. This is stewed pork trotter slices on rice, served in the same style as the Hitsumabushi. Hmm, must come back and try!

Man Man is a small place, seating about only 60 or so. I am already dreading the queues that are bound to happen here.

The location is also a little tricky, as the shop entrance is located behind the Working Capitol. Just walk around to the back, where the park area is, and look for these stairs. Or just look for the snaking line that will inevitably form here.

1 Keong Saik Road
Singapore 089109
Tel: +65 62220678
Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 1130am - 3pm, 6pm - 1030pm
Closed Sundays and PH

Thanks to Teppei for the invite!

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