As we made quite a late decision to go ahead with our Kyoto trip (cos we wanted to be sure that we could see the Sakura blossoms), we were not able to plan our food itinerary in advanced. Many of the popular restaurants in Kyoto were already fully taken up during this peak season. Thankfully we found out that this 1-Michelin star restaurant specialising in unagi set aside tables for walk-in customers. In order to snag a coveted seat at Unagiya Hirokawa, we arrived at the restaurant by 11am (an hour before the start of their lunch service). Despite doing so, we were told by the staff who was taking the names of guests in the queue that the waiting time would be around 1.5 hours from where we stood – you could judge from the pic below as we joined the queue after snapping that. After getting our name into the waitlist, at least 1 person in the group needed to remain in the queue while the rest of the folks were free to roam around.
After enduring an 1.5 hours wait, we finally reached the front door of the restaurant. We felt excited when we saw the sliding door opened and we were eager to enjoy our lunch but our joy was shortlived as we soon realised that there was another short queue within the restaurant… =(
In total we queued for 2 hours before finally being ushered to our seats at one of the limited tables available on the ground floor. We noticed that people who managed to make reservations (mostly Japanese) were ushered to the upper level instead. The lower level has only seats for around 30 pax. The good thing was, once we placed our food order, the items were served fairly quickly.
We ordered a set course comprising of a few side dishes: Koi no arai slices of half boiled fresh carp with a miso based dipping sauce, Uzaku pieces of grilled fresh eel and cucumber in sweetened vinegar and Kimoyaki boiled fresh liver of eel with sweetened sauce and spices. I especially enjoyed the grilled liver which had a chewy texture and aromatic smoky flavour from the slightly charred parts.
The Una jyu (medium size) was part of the course meal and I could drool just by looking at the glossy glazed unagi sitting on top of the bed of Jap rice. The flesh was moist but firm (not mushy) but retains a melt-in-your-mouth texture. Perhaps this is also due to the difference between Kansai style unagi and Kanto style unagi. In Kanto (eastern Japan including Tokyo) the unagi is grilled, then steamed to get rid of excess fat, then grilled again. In Kansai (Kyoto, Osaka and the west) the steaming step is skipped. The unagi is grilled longer, making it crispier and chewier. I personally preferred the Kansai style. Even the grains of rice that absorbed the oil from the grilled unagi were so tasty! If you are concerned that it would be too greasy, the pickled vegetables served as a side would help to cut through the grease.
We added an ala carte small unagi donburi but it did not look as tempting as the Una jyu. Somehow the lacquered container used for una jyu made that dish looked a lot more luxurious than the plain bowl for donburi.
If you asked whether this is worth a 2-hours wait? I would reply “Why not?” I treated it as a break from all the walking in the morning, I would need a rest anyway – cos I just recovered from a sprained ankle…needed to give it a good rest in between walks….
After an immensely satisfying meal, we were energized after the rest and were raring to continue our exploration of the other temples at Arashiyama region~
Brochure on Tenryuji Temple
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