Everyone who visits Tokyo would know about the famous Asakusa Sensō-ji Temple as thousands of visitors go to the temple every year. The Asakusa is an area that retains the vibe of an older Tokyo, with traditional craft shops and street-food stalls. Little known to tourists, there are many famous restaurants hidden around Asakusa area with long history. There’s a tempura restaurant which is 182 years old, a sushi restaurant which is 116 years old, a bar that is 139 years and this unagi restaurant that I am visiting which is opened since 1861.
All of these restaurants are widely popular and do expect long queues unless you come really early to be the first few customers to queue before the shop opens. I arrived at 11. 45 am and there was already a super long queue. The Irokawa is located in an old residential area away from the main buzz of the Asakusa street.
Shortly after we arrived, the lady boss came out and counted the number of customers in the queue. When she reached me, I was so worried they had run out of food so when she passed me this and said I was the last customer, I was elated. For the next 1hr and 30 mins, I had fun showing this to many groups of people who came and wanted to queue.
When it was finally our turn to enter, it was almost 1.30 pm and when the door opened, we were showed to another room right at the back of the building which is this 2nd waiting area. The groups who went in before us were here waiting for their turn.
While waiting, I realised that the business is actually run straight from the owner’s home. The 2nd waiting area is actually the owner’s living room and the kitchen is where they actually cook. The rooms are probably upstairs although I am not sure if they still stay in this house but there are many personal belongings lying around like the calendar, telephone and fax machine, umbrellas etc. You will totally feel like you are having a meal in someone’s house.
We were passed this simple English menu written on a white piece of paper
I took a quick picture of the Japanese menu which was written on a traditional bamboo fan
When it was finally our time to sit down, it was another 30 mins later. The front of the restaurant is where the guests sit for their food and is extremely small with a capacity of only 12 people at any one time.
The unagi is grilled via the small traditional charcoal grill at the corner of the bar and is cooked by the owner’s mother. Photos are actually not allowed around this area but I managed to sneak a few pictures
Blurry pictures are the result of sneaking pictures but I guess you can vaguely make out the cupboard and counter top which is extremely nostalgia.
When the meal is ready, they will serve it to you in this cute traditional lunch box with a cup of tea, a small side dish as well as a bowl of refreshing soup. There is also a bottle of an unknown condiment at the side which we added and totally regretted at the end as it was extremely spicy and choking and I can only say it is an acquired taste
The unagi is very well grilled with care and love as the old owner took her time to slowly cook the eel. There is bits of charred area on the unagi with nice charcoal flavours. The rice serving itself is quite small but is just nice with the unagi. The only downside of the dish is that I wished there was more sauce as I ended dry bits of rice without any sauce towards the end. The soup was cooked with light flavours and some vegetables and it was the best thing to wash down the meal.
Overall, the meal is very simple and straight forward with nothing too complicated. Just like their home, they offer a meal made from the heart and this is probably what made them so popular and famous. The unagi is delicious although not my favourite one so far and waiting for 2 hours for a 2nd experience is not really my cup of tea.
Address: 2 Chome-6-11 Kaminarimon, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0034, Japan
Operating hours: 11.30 am to 2 pm