Part of cousin trouble’s recent trip to Melbourne had to include a meal at Izakaya Den. I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about this place, but had always been a little put off by the prospect of a packed establishment and long wait times. After some research, I discovered that you can actually make dinner bookings if you have a group of 5 or more. I really wanted cousin trouble’s eating itinerary to be seamless. So with Fakegf in tow, we had a party of 5… perfect! We dined here on a Wednesday night in February.
It was a good meal. And I can see why it’s so popular, that is if you can actually locate its entrance (or lack thereof) to begin with! Haha… Melbourne much?
We found ourselves in an elongated eating den carved underground beneath the surface of the city. On approach, you’ll find that the staircase that leads down to it is next to a nondescript apartment entrance. I couldn’t even find any signages, aside for a bit of ‘braille’ printed on metal somewhere. Ambience and vibe was great. It’s the customers that make it so. But the staff also carried that delightful air of Japanese cordiality.
Rolled-up menus were gently scattered towards us once we were seated. We started off with drinks. Fakegf got an Umi Sochu (Potato, Kagoshima region) 12 (not pictured here), which had a really refreshing ocean freshness, and was also pretty strong. I also fell in love with the cute cartoon prints on our water glasses.
Kuheji Junmai Ginjo Sake (Aichi region) 400ml / 55
Creamy texture, delicious spicy finish
The rest of us shared a carafe of cold sake. I’m not a sake expert, but I liked it!
I gave cousin trouble full rein with what to order, and as usual, a humongous quantity of dishes arrived. But being an izakaya-style place, the portion sizes were nibbly, so it turned out to be a good amount that satisfied everyone. I like it when I’m not in charge of ordering. Just because I blog about food doesn’t mean I’m good at knowing what dishes will be good for a group setting!
Grilled calamari, anchovy and nori sauce 19
Kangaroo tataki, miso, pickled cucumber 14
Kurobuta pork belly 19
All the nibbles arrived at a very nice pace that allowed for photography, gasps of delight, and of course actual eating. We all enjoyed the grilled calamari, it held great freshness, good texture and the lovely charring from the grill. The kangaroo tataki is a good example of how a Japanese chef has used produce that’s local into making a dish, and it tasted good! Equally nice was the pork belly, with flesh so soft that we thought we were eating fish!
Sweet corn ‘kaki-age’ 7
Sesame stir fried mushrooms and greens 14
I was surprised to find that the deep-fried sweet corn was quite enjoyable. They came with some green-tea salt on the side. The mushroom stir fry was also very fragrant and a delight to eat. I need to try to mimic this dish at home!
Salmon sashimi, yuzu dressing 16
Mussels ‘saka-mushi’ 15
Crisp bean curd, yuzu, daikon and coriander 6
I remember being happy with almost every savoury dish ordered in this meal, although I did stay away from the mussels, which everyone else seemed to enjoy. The salmon sashimi had a really refreshing dressing. And they weren’t kidding when they said ‘crisp bean curd’, because it was very very very crispy indeed. Not to mention delicious and interesting with the uplifting coriander yuzu ‘pesto’ that accompanied it.
Irony is, I just realised that izakaya places are meant to be drinking establishments, with the actual food taking the sideline. And there we were, waddling in with the sole purpose of eating our hearts out.
Special daikon salad, bonito flakes 9
Eggplant and king brown, momiji oroshi 12
Quail, 3 sauces 17
While were were less excited about the quail, the daikon salad tasted amazing. It had a good crunch, and a beautifully refreshing dressing balanced with the smokiness of katsuobushi flakes. After adjusting to the fact that it’s a cold dish, the serve of eggplant and king brown in a bowl was also actually quite nice. The red puree on top gave it a good spicy kick.
Den fried chicken 10
Fried black rice 10
Pear, broccolini ‘shira-ee’ 8
Here’s our last wave of savouries. To me, the chicken karaage tasted standard like at any other Japanese place, but fakegf thought it was still very very good here. Cousin trouble ordered the black rice as our token carb component to this meal. I don’t know how they fried it so nicely. It tasted simple, homely, delicate and with good bite. The pear and broccolini was a dish that’s on the sweeter side, with a cream cheese and tofu sauce that tasted almost like condensed milk… this one, I wasn’t that big a fan of.
Here’s the stone table at the back of the den where you can seat bookings for groups of 5 or more.
House made marshmallows 3
Warm tofu cake, brown sugar ice cream 12
Amongst the sweets we had, I found the tofu cake the most fascinating. It was light, medium fluffy, and with the delicately delightful flavour of beancurd. To me, it straddles the fence between traditional Japanese food and Western cakes, very interesting. I wasn’t as fond of the tangy marshmallows but fakegf seemed to like them. To me, marshmallows just aren’t meant to be tangy.
Black sesame brulèe, orange peel 10
While on the sweet side, the brûlée was pretty enjoyable, with a creamy mouth feel and the slight graininess of black sesame. We also had a curiosity order of the wagashi, which I can only at best describe as a “small, sweet and grainy mooncake, with the texture of lotus paste but minus its flavour”. That’s what I wrote on my notes, but I honestly can’t remember how it was like.
What I remember from this visit was how the food was almost uniformly good. I was also surprised that I liked the buzz here too, I normally dislike being at noisy drinking places. Fakegf did say she’s unlikely to return because the servings were on the nibbly side with a higher price point as compared with other izakaya places. For me, I liked how modern and well-executed the menu and its dishes were here, so I’m probably likely to return for special occasions, or on days when I’m feeling rich.