Makoto Japanese Cuisine, Desa Sri Hartamas

September 23, 2020

Chef Hayashi Kazuhiko scoops up the whole, wriggling eel from the water, slaughters it with a clean swoop of his knife, then slices it with confident twists of the blade. Within minutes, the eel is cooking over crimson-hot charcoal, set to be served in Makoto, KL's best bet for the freshest, highest-tier unagi. Within the week, chef Hayashi will perform the same ritual with hundreds of eels, flown in from Shizuoka Prefecture, the birthplace of unagi breeding.

Welcome to this restaurant that has earned a dedicated following among the city's unagi devotees. Makoto has brilliant bona fides. Makoto is run remotely by the restaurant's executive chef, Mr. Otani Shinichiro, who also helms a family-owned authentic unagi omakase restaurant in Tokyo.

While the executive chef is based in Tokyo, he sometimes travels to KL to offer omakase meals to customers by reservation. Follow Makato on Facebook at facebook.com/makoto.hartamas or Instagram at instagram.com/makoto.hartamas to keep updated on his visits.

If you love unagi, Makoto is the place to indulge in eel, from its flesh to its liver and bones.

Makoto promises several preparations for its unagi, but the ideal introduction is the Unaju, a speciality of Tokyo. Both chefs Otani and Hayashi have mastered this Kanto-style unagi, representing the pinnacle of their expertise.

The unaju - featuring a full, fleshy butterflied eel - is different from the typical unagi-don partly because it's served in a jubako, a beautiful square lacquered box.

Its cooking style is also distinctive - the unagi is first charcoal-grilled, then steamed to remove excess fat, then grilled again for the final flourish. This results in eel that's uniformly tender, like a fine fish, with a gentle smokiness that's complemented by a basting of a house-made tare soy-based sauce.

This process takes half-an-hour to patiently complete, but the result is worth the wait - the unagi-don of our dreams, offering the true, traditional taste of unagi, leagues ahead of sickly-sweet, mass-market unagi kabayaki.

The unaju (RM178) is interestingly accompanied by an umami-rich soup of eel liver with a lovely earthiness, as well as Makoto's own pickles. It's a hearty meal - we happily finished every mouthful, including the rice that partners lip-smackingly with the tare sauce.

Other unagi options here include the Makoto Unaju Special (RM183), which showcases two kinds of flavours of eel - half served kabayaki-style and the other half shirayaki-style (seasoned only with salt, without tare sauce, perfect for unagi purists).

There's also the Nagoya-style Hitsumabushi (RM148), which serves chopped unagi kabayaki with various condiments and a soup that can be poured over the unagi and rice ochazuke-style.

If you're seeking the most affordable choice, try the Unadon (RM98; served with half an eel in a round rice bowl). You can also order the unagi on its own without rice, starting at RM88 for half a whole eel.

Since Makoto relies on live unagi, the restaurant is also able to serve other limited-quantity parts of the eel besides the flesh.

This might be KL's sole destination with a regular supply of Hone Senbei, deep-fried unagi bones with an addictively savoury crunch (RM10), and Kimo Yaki, grilled unagi liver skewers, with a bold gaminess (RM28).

Even the table seasonings for the unagi are meticulously selected; the sansho - fresh Japanese green pepper - that can be sprinkled on the eel and its liver is refreshingly citrusy, sourced from Wakayama prefecture in the Kansai region.

Other tasty recipes include eel layered with Japanese omelette for soft, creamy comfort (RM48) - note the cool unagi symbol stamped on the tamagoyaki.

Beyond unagi, Makoto is a comprehensive Japanese restaurant with a diverse repertoire, including seasonal staples. With winter edging to an end, we appreciated the final opportunities this year to savour cold-weather classics like namako, the Japanese sea cucumber, served raw and revitalising, as well as charcoal-grilled shirako, cod milt with a sultry butteriness.

If it's available, order the hamachi head - the huge yellowtail head is gorgeously grilled, complete with cheeks and collar, with plenty of succulent meat on its bones.

End your Makoto experience with the restaurant's own-made warabimochi, the Japanese jelly-like treat dipped in kinako toasted soybean flour.

All in all, Makoto might be a must for Japanese cuisine enthusiasts in KL, an exemplary envoy for eel, representing unagi at its cherished best. Many thanks to Makoto for having us here.

Makoto Japanese Cuisine

54, Jalan 27/70A, Desa Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur.

Open Tuesday-Sunday

Lunch: 12pm-230pm (Sat, Sun till 3pm)

Dinner: 530pm-1030pm (Fri, Sat til 11pm)

Last orders 30 minutes before closing. Closed on Mondays.

Tel: 03-6211-1409. WhatsApp: 010-569-1409

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