Melbourne, VIC 3000
You’re everything I’ve ever wanted.
Izakaya Den/Chris, you are so very special to me. The 2 hours/3 years that we have spent together were magical. There were ups, there were downs, but I didn’t regret a single dish I ordered/minute with you. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I know that there will be many more delicious deep-fried dishes/happy moments to come.
Welcome to my Hall of Fame, Izakaya Den/Happy 3 year anniversary, Chris.
As you may have gathered by now, Chris and I are at the famous Izakaya Den on a Saturday afternoon to celebrate our 3 year anniversary (And sort of his birthday. And sort of kind of Christmas). I’ve long since wanted to try the food here, having seen the rave reviews pile up like corpses on Urbanspoon, but $15 for a plate of nibbles? After having eaten there however, I will forever be kicking myself for not visiting sooner.
|This is actually our neighbour's sake, but I liked how this picture turned out more|
We were seated at the bar, which was refreshingly roomy for a change. I love how their bar running along the open kitchen spans the entire length of the narrow space – it makes it much easier to get one of the much-coveted seats overlooking the kitchen. Wiping our hands on the moist-towels and perusing rolled-up drinks menu, we ordered a bottle of Ranman Sake ($36, 300mL) to share, having been told that it’s a good entry-point sake. I instantly fell in love with the softness and mild melony sweetness of the drink, but Chris vehemently spurned it after deeming that the alcohol tasted too alcoholic (it was only 16.5%).
|Sweet Corn Kaki-Age ($9)|
|Sweet Corn Kaki-Age ($9)|
You can’t mention Izakaya Den without mentioning their signature dish, the Sweet Corn Kaki-Age ($9). The sugary kernels of corn were barely held together into nubbly golden balls by a light batter, and were really rather good, with or without the green tea salt.
|Den-Fried Chicken ($11)|
Den-Fried Chicken ($11) is another favourite, and it’s not hard to see why. The lightly spiced batter encased chunks of chicken were impossibly tender and juicy, and thankfully there was enough there for us not to have to fight too viciously over the last piece. It was well worth burning our tongues for. Unanimous favourite dish of the night.
|Spicy Tuna Tataki, Garlic Soy ($19)|
After all that deep-fried goodness, we ordered a couple of the lighter, seafood items. Our first was the Spicy Tuna Tataki, Garlic Soy ($19) – lightly seared tuna served with Thousand Island dressing and wasabi mayo. The slices of tuna were soft with just a little bit of bite, and tasted very different when eaten with each individual dressing. It was good but I’m wouldn’t pay this much for it again
|Mussels Saka-Mushi ($15)|
I knew the Mussels Saka-Mushi ($15) were going to be good when I saw a burst of flame go up in the kitchen as the chef added the sake. By the time it arrived at our table, the mussels had cracked open to reveal plump little morsels of flesh, faintly briny and steeped in the peppery, gingery broth. The remaining soup was much too good to waste, and we eagerly scooped it up with our discarded shells.
|Kurobuta Pork Belly ($19)|
We were nearing the end of our meal but we couldn’t leave without sampling the Kurobuta Pork Belly ($19).The unassuming pieces of pork, etched with grill marks, were unbelievably buttery and better than the most unctuous of roast lambs. My arteries complained with each bite even as my tastebuds rejoiced, and I had to suck on a wedge of lemon to cut through the richness, no joke. The accompanying scallions were sweet with caramelisation and a perfect pairing to the pork.
|Roasted Kipfler Potatoes, Garlic Miso ($11)|
If only all fillers were like the Roasted Kipfler Potatoes, Garlic Miso ($11). Heated on top of the stove until a crust forms on the outside, the fluffy bites of potato were garlicky with the earthiness of hot soy.
|Salted Caramel Fondue For Two ($16)|
We finished off our fabulous meal with the Salted Caramel Fondue For Two ($16). The cubes of cake were a little dry but the frozen grape halves were perfect for dipping into the sticky sauce. The caramel was a gorgeous mix of sweet and salty, and I refused to leave until I had all but finished it all. Maybe I should’ve just asked for more grapes instead of using a spoon.
In the space of 2 hours, Izakaya Den became the restaurant that I will be scuttling to whenever I have money to spare. It is everything I love in a restaurant – exciting food in a casual-cool location, with a broad and accessible drinks list and lovely service. The food comes out at a good pace for nibbling and chatting; I could easily spend an entire night sitting at the bar, nursing a bottle of sake and a bowl (or three) of mussels. It was one of the nicest dates we’ve ever had.
Rating: 16.5/20 – is-akaya den, is good.