Dec 22, 2015

Unagi Hirokawa 廣川 - Grilled Eel Rice in Arashiyama, Wait till You Try the Grilled Eel Liver

Arashiyama is one of the favorite tourist spots in Kyoto, Japan. The bamboo forest, Tenryū-ji, moon crossing bridge, and the list goes on, they gave this place a different vibe compared to other big cities in Japan. Among these sites, there is one popular Japanese traditional grilled eel restaurant stands just across the street from Tenryū-ji called Unagi Hirokawa.

Just few steps away from the temple across the street, the sign written in Kanji characters "廣川" signals the location in front of a parking lot -

Opening hours (usually closed on Mondays and holidays) - 

The restaurant will be temporarily closed from 2016/01/18 to 2016/01/25. Please refer to Hirokawa's Japanese website for more up-t0-date information.  

Unagi Hirokawa situates right behind the parking area -

Lunch starts at 11:30 a.m., but already a few customers waiting by 11 a.m., about half Japanese and half foreign tourists.

Partial view of the first floor dining area -

Hallway and some seats for the customers in line -

Second floor seats and rooms are for reservation only. 

Menu, click on the image for an enlarged view -

Hirokawa uses Japanese farmed eels. However, wild eels are available during certain months of the year and need to be reserved in advance -

The eels were grilled using binchotan, one of the top quality traditional charcoals from Japan. 

Japanese menu -

Decided to skip the simple donburi (eel over rice) and go for a course set for 7,300 yen -

Kimoyaki (grilled eel liver) -

If only eating the simple unagi-don, make sure to order one skewer of grilled eel liver on the side. It was brushed with sweet and dense soy sauce during the cooking process. The slightly burnt edges had a slight hint of bitterness but soon replaced by the soy sauce aroma. 

Texture-wise, I thought it would be floury like pig liver, but it was actually more leaning towards a chewier version of chicken thigh. The more you chew into it, the more layers of soybean and charcoal aroma coming out. Delicate yet powerful at the same time, definitely a must try item.

Koi no arai (sashimi) served with miso flavored dipping sauce -

The plate was very cold and the sashimi texture was on the bouncy side. 

I like how they filleted the fish making it a fancy presentation. However, some parts in the center were too hard to chew and to swallow. Asked the waitress but she kept saying "daijoubu" (it's ok). Is it really ok?

I've decided to leave the un-chewable part on the plate.

Yanagawa -

Soy sauce, mirin, and some semi-cooked beaten egg as the base for this dish. Burdock root slices were also used, giving this soupy dish a distinct woody herbal scent.

Kabayaki, rice, pickles, soup -

The grilled eel should be the star here but Japanese people really knows about rice and the best way to cook it. Every single grain was slightly bouncy with the right amount of moisture remained. Even just some fat drizzling down from the grilled eel along with rice can be very fulfilling.

The fatty part was hidden underneath that thin layer of grilled surface. The oil intertwined with the meat instead of being a single non-combining layer of its own. 

However, some tiny bones still present. Even though these are edible fish bones, I never felt comfortable swallowing them. Perhaps that's why I was never a big fan of freshwater eel dishes.

Katsuobushi was used for the clear soup, also has a light hint of fresh yuzu. 

Tofu pudding for dessert -

Never a big fan of unagi rice but always wanted to try a really good place to see if the stubborn mind can ever be changed. Unfortunately this one Michelin starred establishment still can't transform me into a full on eel lover. But the fun textured grilled eel liver won over my heart instantly. Guess I'm still seeing some improvements here.

Unagi Hirokawa currently holds one Michelin star status.

Unagi Hirokawa
44-1 Sagatenryūji Kitatsukurimichichō, Ukyō-ku, Kyōto-shi
Kyōto-fu 616-8374, Japan

Opening hours:
Lunch 11:30 a.m. ~ 2:30 p.m.
Dinner 5:00 p.m. ~ 9:00 p.m. (last order 8:00 p.m.)

Extended reading:

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