MAN MAN – An Eel-ectrifying Experience

Unagi Don Set

Unagi Don Set

We were delighted to receive the invitation to do a food-taste for MAN MAN, the newest Unagi Restaurant located at 1 Keong Saik Road. It is about a 7 mins walk from Outram MRT station. (Note that the entrance is AT THE BACK of the alley and not the front)

A small flight of steps greeted us at the entrance, reminiscent of Japan’s many restaurants with such delicate designs. The overall exterior is clean and neat, with the typical big characters conspicuous enough to assure you that you are at the right restaurant. We came at a time when it was turning over the old session to the new session, so there was a bit of movement but not too many people in line.

Ambience

Stepping in, the immediate ambience strikes you. It is a small, cosy restaurant with barely 25 small tables with a pair of chairs each. Brightly lit, more so than your average restaurant, we speculated that it could be for the purpose of photo-taking and may not be the usual case. It was quite a sight to see huge tanks of live eels at the entrance to further emphasize their commitment in preparing live eels upon order.

It was quite a sight to see huge tanks of live eels at the entrance to further emphasize their commitment in preparing live eels upon order.

The huge eel tanks

The huge eel tanks

Further in, the open concept kitchen with a glass window allows diners see how your Unagi is being prepared. The squeamish might want to choose a seat away from it as there was a considerable amount of blood & guts in plain sight. Japanese Chefs clad in uniform were going about their usual business in typical Japanese vigour and boisterousness.

The open concept kitchen

The open concept kitchen

The bar counter was located at the back of the restaurant. Nothing too fanciful here except for the cute, intricate displays of the wide variety of Japanese sakes, alcohol, bottles etc. A dedicated bartender was stationed there to prepare drinks when orders come in.

We had to wait about 10 mins for our seats which was entirely understandable as things were not really organised, considering this may be the first day of operation. After a slight confusion and miscommunication over seats where we had to stand up and move seats twice, we were ushered to the middle of a row of side by side tables.

Immediately, the claustrophobic part of us gave us a warning. The chairs were spacious, but it extended so far back that your seat was literally touching the person behind you all the time. Any movement from either rows meant that the entire 2 rows had to move to make way for a person to get out. And because our tables were all connected, I could hear entire conversations to my immediate left and right (mouths 30cm from my ears), but struggled to hear my girlfriend opposite.

The interior

The interior

There were a total of 3 waitresses serving the entire dining area which was greatly insufficient. I really pitied them. After politely explaining the menu despite the obvious toil on her face, we proceeded to order the Tamago Unagi Set (Egg with Unagi), Unagi Don (Unagi and Rice), Unagi Kabayaki (Just the Unagi), Unagi Shirayaki (Grilled Unagi without sauce) + 2 alcoholic drinks.

While waiting for our food, we proceeded to browse the menu. In typical Japanese style, the menu is laden with photos, Japanese characters, exclamation marks all screaming for your attention. You don’t know where to look and lose focus, but I guess that is what makes Japanese dining unique. Prices are steep but congruent with eateries around the area. But we reserved our judgement until the food arrived.

One serving of the Tamago (egg with Unagi) arrived first. It was cold. And the proportion of Unagi could be more generous (one tiny piece). Nothing to rave about here. Not a good start to appease our hungry stomachs.

Shortly after, the drinks came. My SO’s ‘Bubbles-Bubbles’ (Grapes Drink) was nice and refreshing while my ‘Homerun’ (Citrus Drink) didn’t fare too badly either. And we both liked the mini glasses that they came in.

Bubble Bubble (background) and Homerun!

Bubble Bubble (background) and Homerun!

Then our Unagi Kabayaki came, but to the wrong table because it was served to the couple beside us who just sat down. I couldn’t alert the waitresses as the crowd was really building up now and all the waitresses were busy scurrying around. It is quite amazing that the couple, knowing full well they had not ordered yet and obviously the food on their table was not theirs, can pretend nothing happened, choose to keep quiet, despite knowing they are eating food that others were still waiting for possibly a long time. Not to mention the chance that the waitress will get reprimanded by both customer and supervisor when they finally realise the error. Considering these people are bloggers, I shudder to think what extents they will go to drive traffic to their blogs. Very distasteful to be honest.

Aesthetically, it was a treat. Neat and appetizing, everything arranged in a perfect manner, Japanese-style.

Then, it finally arrived. Our Tamago Unagi Set and Unagi Don! Aesthetically, it was a treat. Neat and appetizing, everything arranged in a perfect manner, Japanese-style.

The Miso soup was clear, steaming and pipping hot, with bits of condiments and vegetable in it. I am always amazed at how much flavor can be packed into such a clear soup! It was delicious and most importantly, it felt healthy! The pickles were fresh and crunchy, a good appetizer to wet your appetite before the main dish. The less said about the Tamago the better (refer above).

The main dish – Unagi

On to the main dish, the Unagi. We were not briefed on how to use the condiments at the side when we were served, but decided against it anyway because we wanted to taste the original flavor without add-ons. The natural glistening texture with the accompanying sauce gave it a classy appearance, like an expensive dish served at top-class restaurants. We couldn’t wait to tuck in to be WOW-ed.

It was unique and unlike any Unagi we have ever tasted before.

The generous portion of the Unagi was a refreshingly welcome sight (I counted 8 big slices), a far cry from the Tamago earlier. However, the absolute delight was the Unagi’s slightly crispy skin underneath, grilled to perfection with a special smoky, almost burnt taste. It was unique and unlike any Unagi we have ever tasted before. Most Unagis would be soft and moist throughout all the way from the sauce drizzled on it.

Unagi Shirayaki

Unagi Shirayaki

But this was distinctly different.

The softness and smooth texture was still retained, apparent at the upper layer. However, the surprisingly delightful taste strikes you at the exact moment it enters your mouth. The fusion of the crispy and smoky skin underneath, combined with the soft texture at the top, made it an absolute delight for the palates.

It was so impressive that I arrived at the conclusion that it was possibly on par with my favourite Unagi of all time, from the fast-food chain Sukiya in Japan. Both of us agreed that this is reason enough to be back again.

After finally managing to get the waitress’s attention (the crowd was at a maximum at this point), our Unagi Shirayaki (Unagi grilled without sauce) was finally served.

Chef at work

Chef at work

Again, this was a pleasant surprise. We had never seen an Unagi served in this manner before.

From the onset, the appearance was crispy without any sauce drizzled at the top. The whitish skin was still sizzling when it was served, that was how fresh it was from the grill. What impressed us further was that it was crispy and smokingly flavourful on the outside, but soft and tender inside. The light soy sauce complimented the taste perfectly. Not a fan of wasabi, I had mine with the sauce and radish which was a delightful combination. Within minutes, it was all gone.

Unagi Shirayaki

Unagi Shirayaki

We thanked the waitresses for the generous invite and left with our tummies extremely satisfied tummies and exploding ear drums.

In conclusion, there were 2 hidden gems uncovered at MAN MAN:

  1. The fresh, unique smoky taste of the Unagi not found anywhere else
  2. The Unagi Shirayaki, prepared in a manner for grill lovers

The few hiccups we encountered, understandable considering it was the first day of operation:

  1. Extremely understaffed, 3 waiters managing the entire dining area
  2. Poor communication, made guests move around
  3. Orders served to wrong tables
  4. No introduction of condiments, leaving guests wondering what is for what

Head-turners that will make us consider coming back:

  1. Live Eel tanks for the freshest ingredients
  2. Open kitchen concept to assure you everything made to order
  3. Authentic Japanese Chefs
  4. Quality of food

To be improved:

  1. Overall layout of restaurant, too cramped and lights were too bright
  2. The chairs are a painful deal-breaker. I would imagine them losing tall and big sized customers like me who have to get up every 5 mins to make way for people
  3. No separation of tables, making it very noisy. We wanted to leave the place as quickly as possible for some hearing respite.

Overall, Man Man presents a few pleasant surprises unlike anything found in typical Japanese restaurants serving Unagi. If you do not mind the ambience and simply want freshness and taste, this is a place worth considering. For me personally, until they improve the overall layout of the restaurant, I won’t be heading back soon for a romantic dinner. A huge pity, because their Unagi is absolutely top-notch.

Food: 4/5

Ambience: 2/5

Value for money: 3/5

Overall 9/15

Service: To be fair to them, I will rate only when normal service resumes.

 

Man Man Japanese Unagi Restaurant
1 Keong Saik Road, #01-01, Singapore 089109

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