Mention the name Nodaiwa, and people in Tokyo will be impressed. This old-fashioned eel restaurant enjoys a remarkable reputation in the city, and is considered to be one ofthe places around to go for all things eel.
The first impression you will have of Nodaiwa is undoubtedly the beautiful 19th century farmhouse that has been rebuilt a stone’s throw from the Tokyo Tower. This is not something you see all that much in the city, and has the benefit of making it comparatively easy to spot the restaurant.
The interior and service are both warm, and elegant. There is nothing stuffy or pretentious about this restaurant, and its clientele is mostly there to eat a number of preparations of eel. This being Japan, people do come here with a clear idea of what they want, and Nodaiwa delivers just that.
First of all, Nodaiwa is a more refined, or elegant unagi restaurant. This is not comparable to the likes of Unagi Kabuto, where you have a much more izakaya-like atmosphere. The feeling of eating here is one of people concentrating on their food, and the food itself somewhat reflects that. It feels composed, understated, and very well done.
Take a little bite of eel in aspic. This remarkably simple preparation is done extremely well here. The jelly is set to the point where it doesn’t run away, without being hard. This is very good, both refreshing, and appetising at the same time.
Then come two preparations of eel. First it comes simply steamed (shirayaki), with salt and wasabi to season. This is the most basic, and bare preparation you will find, and allows you to get a feeling for the texture, and flavour of the meat. Soft, and flaky, there is a hint of smoke from the grilling, but this is a rather subtle preparation that focuses entirely on the product.
The more easily approachable course that follows is the unagidon (i.e. unagi rice). In this case, the eel is glased in the classic sauce that has savoury, sweet aspects and intensifies the umami. Served atop rice this is a another very classical preparation. Here, it is done very well, with a somewhat different texture of the eel. A little firmer, and obviously more intensely flavoured due to the sauce this is the highlight of the meal.
Nodaiwa is a very fine establishment indeed. Its eel-centred menu is a great way to discover why unagi is held in such high esteem in Japan, and the cooking here is clearly very assured. Its charming location, and setting only add to the appeal of the restaurant, and make you see why Nodaiwa is so revered in Tokyo.