If you’d like a refined meal of unagi while exploring Ginza, then this Nagoya-style restaurant is sure to please.
The hitsumabushi set meal. - image © Florentyna Leow
Unagi (freshwater eel) over hot rice is a fabulous dish any time, but my favourite way to eat grilled eel is Nagoya-style - otherwise known as hitsumabushi. This is a souped-up (literally) version of unagi donburi, where you eat it in four styles in the same meal. You can eat it as is; then add some condiments; then add condiments and broth to eat in the ochazuke (tea rice) style; and finally, finish by eating in the style you enjoyed best. That’s the simplest way to explain it. It’s a style that supposedly originated around the end of the Meiji period, when they began serving leftover pieces of eel on bowls of cooked rice (o-hitsu). There are numerous origin stories, but a popularly accepted explanation is that “mabushi” comes from “mamusu” or “to steam completely.”
Anyway, the important thing about hitsumabushi in our case is that you don’t have to travel all the way to Nagoya to eat it. You can enjoy proper hitsumabushi right here in Tokyo.
Yurakucho Station’s Central Exit. - image © Florentyna Leow
Here are some travel directions from Yurakucho Station. First, take the Central Exit from Yurakucho Station.
The view from the Central Exit. - image © Florentyna Leow
You’ll see the 0101 (Marui) building in front of you. Walk straight towards and past it.
The red signage in the distance is Ginza Inz. - image © Florentyna Leow
You should see Ginza Inz in the distance.
Ginza Inz is under the underpass. - image © Florentyna Leow
Walk under the underpass, crossing to the left side of the road when you can. You’ll arrive at a large road. This is Sotobori-dori Road.
The entrance to Marronnier Gate Ginza. - image © Florentyna Leow
Cross the road, and you will find yourself in front of the Marronnier Gate Building, where Tokyu Hands is. Enter and take the elevator up to the 12th floor. When you exit the elevator, turn right.
As you can probably tell, sometimes there are queues.- image © Florentyna Leow
You’ll see a large horizontal framed calligraphy scroll hanging on the wall, with stools lined under it. You’ve found the restaurant.
The restaurant interior. - image © Florentyna Leow
Hitsumabushi Bincho Ginza is the Tokyo outpost of a famous Nagoya restaurant specializing in - you guessed it - hitsumabushi. In terms of pricing, it’s a little more upscale than average, but good unagi doesn’t always come cheap and the quality is entirely worth it here. I visited at 11:30am on a Saturday and was seated immediately, but it might vary according to the day. They do take reservations, so if you have a larger group this is something you may wish to consider asking your concierge for help with.
Most department store buildings dedicate their upper floors entirely to restaurants and the Marronier Ginza building is no different.
All the natural light! - image © Florentyna Leow
You have lovely natural light flooding in, and a view of Ginza outside.
One of several English-language menus. - image © Florentyna Leow
There are many things you could order on the menu. But you should order what they’re famous for - the hitsumabushi. The primary difference is the amount of eel you get. I went for the least expensive option. When it comes to eel though, if you love it, you should splurge. I certainly would if I were only traveling to Japan once.
The eel rice comes in a lidded bowl - keep the lid on between portions so that it stays hot. - image © Florentyna Leow
Round one: try the eel rice as is. The eel flesh is lightly blistered, charcoal-kissed. It's tender, but still has a little integrity. The eel itself is not over-sauced, which is a common crime at cheaper establishments.
A small portion of grilled eel and rice. - image © Florentyna Leow
There's just enough sweet-salty tare sauce on the rice. Sprinkle on a little sansho pepper (a fragrant, numbing pepper) from the porcelain container tableside.
Eel and rice with negi on top. - image © Florentyna Leow
Round two: add some condiments. You have paper-thin rings of Japanese negi, which taste like a cross between a leek and a scallion. There's also wasabi and strips of nori seaweed.
Pouring some broth onto the rice. - image © Florentyna Leow
Round three: make an una-chazuke. (O)chazuke means tea rice, and it's such a great, comforting dish. You literally pour tea or broth over rice, and add toppings of your choice. Broiled eel chazuke is probably one of the more luxurious ways to enjoy this dish.
A great way to eat eel. - image © Florentyna Leow
Pour the broth - which is in the round-bellied vessel - over a small portion of rice and eel. Scatter some condiments on top. Eat. The broth turns light brown, taking on an additional smokiness. The eel somehow becomes sweeter, the slightly crunchy surface moistened by broth - all of it becoming something greater than the sum of its parts. I like eating this in small portions so that it's always piping hot.
Round four: finish with your favourite style.
These are not real eels on your lamp. - image © Florentyna Leow
The decor here also has a definite eel theme to it. The tubular lights above the central table, for instance, are covered with ink swirls resembling a writhing mass of eels. There's also a framed piece of calligraphy: a bold, powerful, vertical streak of black ink, like... an eel.
If you already love unagi donburi (eel rice bowl), the next step is definitely trying it in the hitsumabushi style. Hitsumabushi Bincho in Ginza is central, accessible, and won't break the bank.
If you need help with getting reservations, you can book many Michelin-starred Tokyo restaurants online with GoVoyagin. Be aware you pay a fee simply for the reservation - your meal is not included.
Hitsumabushi Bincho Ginza
Name in Japanese:
12F, Marronier Gate, 2-2-14 Ginza, Chuo-ku
11:00~15:30 (L.O. 15:00)
17:00~23:00 (L.O. 22:00)
*On Mon~Thurs, Sundays and public holidays, L.O. is 21:30)
*Opening times may also vary on public holidays according to Marronier Ginza's schedule.
:: Read customer reviews of Hitsumabushi Bincho Ginza on TripAdvisor
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