Sunday, April 2, 2023

Unagi and Izakaya

We have long anticipated the opening of Uza, the new concept by our friend Anthony with the name a combination of Unagi and Izakaya which also described what this establishment does - a casual Japanese pub (izakaya) specializing in eel cuisine (Unagi). He first tested this at a pop-up event 2 years ago (which I enjoyed) and finally managed to open its doors after some delays (partly because of Covid) and my friends and I went to visit recently. 

I felt in love with the vibe of this little place once I stepped out of the elevator inside this building on Cochrane Street just next to the Mid-levels escalators, with the dimmed decor dominated by dark wooden color in the cozy space. On one side was the bar area with high table facing the window and on the other an open kitchen with an L-shaped counter seating that can accommodate up to 10.. Not yet open was their common dining area with booth tables in the far end. All these reminded me of those hidden gems which lined along Kyoto's Pontocho bar alley. 

I was the last of the group to arrive so we began as soon as I sat down. An omakase menu was available on top of a long list of a la carte choices but we went with whatever Anthony and his kitchen team arranged for us. First to start was the potato salad with half-boiled egg on top. The smoked egg with the runny yolk plus the grated karasumi on top added to the flavor of the salad done in classic izakaya style. The tomato which came next was a pure showcase of the ingredients, with chunks of Japanese fruit tomatoes served with umeshi jelly underneath for the extra sweetness. 

More dishes were passed along in the form of chicken knee cartilage karaage and steamed edamame with salt and both were tasty. I loved the dashi broth of the oden and the daikon with the perfect texture and took up all the nice dashi flavor.  We moved on to a few seafood dishes, first the sashimi platter with ama-ebi, hotate, nodoguro and shimaji, then the salt-grilled head of kinmedai (goldeneye snapper). it came in generous portion and was tasty even with minimal extra seasoning. The clams came from local market and were done the traditional ways of simmering with sake and mirin. 

Everyone has been singing praises to the Chicken Karaage dish and it's as good as I heard. The chicken was done with a nice crispy batter with perfect bronze color and juicy meat, and on the side was the creamy pate dipping sauce with the house specialty chili sauce - similar to the one they used for the curry rice at Nikushou, Anthony's other restaurant. This, seriously, is the best in town as far as fried chicken category is concerned. The tempura courses were decent, coming straight from the frying pan to our table, with the piece of Zuwaigani being my favorite among the two pieces served. 

Then came the highlights of the menu - the Unagi. First course was done Shioyaki style, just gently grilled with sprinkle of salt as seasoning and served with wasabi on the side. The eel was imported fresh from Japan and done on a specialty grill inside the open kitchen. It's hard to find a decent shioyaki unagi dish in Hong Kong and I am glad I found one at Uza. We were then served a skewer of grilled eel liver which was not on the menu. Anthony confided that they were unable to have this as a regular item on the menu because of the "sheer" amount of livers needed for each serving and they don't have enough for everyone every night. What a shame (and lucky for us) as it was excellent with the perfect soft texture, a crispy charred crust, and a slightly bitter taste balanced by the hint of sweetness in the basting sauce.

We were then served another course of unagi, this time in classic kabayaki style and miso soup on top. If there's one complaint, I would say the portion was not quite big enough to satisfy a big-time unagi lover. The grilled fish skin was another off-menu item offered to us, with the skin pulled from a big nodoguro and grilled stovetop til dried and crispy, and I like the slightly bouncy texture with the layer of fat/collagen underneath the skin. 

I can totally see this being a popular late night dining spot in the area with people coming in just for a drink (or more) and some snacks and just chill. That's exactly what we needed after 3 long years of being deprived of such option because of the restrictions in place previously. 

When? March 15 2023
Where? UZA by Nikushou, Level 10, FOCO, 46-48 Cochrane Street, Central
Menu Highlights? Anything Unagi
1995 Domaine Faiveley Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru
2014 Winery Hill Vineyard Domaine Serene Pinot Noir, Oregon
くどき上手 新酒 しぼりたて 生原酒 純米大吟醸 - 山形県 龜之井酒造
Kudoki-Jozu Shinshu Shiboritate Junmai Daiginjo, Kamenoi Shuzo, Yamagata Prefecture
2010 Conati Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG
Web: TBC

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