Unosato is hidden in a narrow alley, just behind BEAM in Shibuya. Perhaps the very narrowness of the street saved this single story, traditional house from being ‘developed’ and it stands now, incongruous, facing the back walls of a hair salon and a sports shop. We were originally attracted by this very quality, a sense of survival against the odds.
What draws us back, however, is the food, which is much superior to the usual izagaya fare. We loved the hearty, warm chicken nabe (hotpot) and fat cuts of gindara on the winter menu, but on this visit, we got a foretaste of spring.
The otóshi plate is steamed spring vegetables - takenoko (bamboo shoot), akaninjin (dark red carrots) and nanohana (rapeseed greens) - heaped on top of a piece of saba (mackerel). The sake we choose to go with is soft, rounded, with a fresh, fruity flavour. It is a junmai ginjo* from Niigata, called called Shimeharitsuru jun.
To our surprise, there is a new English menu - even the tasting notes of the various sake and shochu are translated! As a rule, we try to read the Japanese menu or simply consult the waiter, simply because the English menus tend to list only the regular dishes and to omit the seasonal ones. This time we are pleasantly surprised;the menu is not only translated, but someone has evidently devoted some thought to it and decided to leave the Japanese kanji characters, while adding the Japanese reading and the English translation - the best solution in our opinion.
Back to dinner. We quickly order a few favourites, then spend a pleasant half hour studying the menu. Katsuo no tataki (bonito, seared on the outside) with lots of raw onion, grated ginger andmyoga (wild japanese ginger buds) and shiso (perilla leaves), sesonal young takenoko (bamboo shoot) served raw, sashimi-style and namayuba (soy milk skin) with a dark, salty dipping sauce. All very good so far.
Finally, we order a bowl of rice and a grilled dish each - momoniku (chicken thigh) grilled with natural salt and gindara no misoyaki (butter-fish grilled with soybean paste) and switch to Sato Kurokoji imoshōchū (sweet potato shōchū**), a strong drink from Kagoshima, from the island of Kyushu. The chicken is nice and crispy, but the gindara, which is naturally sweet and buttery, is a bit overwhelming under the rich miso paste. Then again, perhaps we simply ordered too much and should have stopped eating after the chicken...
Unosato is a popular place, so do not turn up without a reservation. There are two rooms, one with counter- and table seating, the other with tatami.
Food: 7/10 (very good)
Ambiance: 6/10 (nice place, perhaps a bit dark and often much too loud)
Price-performance: 8/10 (excellent value)
* junmai means that it is pure rice wine, without any added alcohol; in ginjo sake the rice has had at least the outer 40% of the grains polished away, resulting in a delicate, fragrant, complex taste.
** shōchū is a distilled beverage native to Japan. It is typically distilled from barley, sweet potatoes, or rice. See more at the Wiki.
Address: 36-1 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku
Tel: +81 (3) 3496-2087