Sunday, December 11, 2011

Izakaya Den

Location: 114 Russell Street, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 9654 2977
Cuisine: Japanese

Another blast from the past. We went to Izakaya Den over Easter this year, still mentally salivating over the sweet corn kaki-age we had tried at the Taste of Melbourne 2010.

The place itself is pretty hard to find, tucked away inside an office building of sorts. Inside, there is a long bar with seats, and table seating running parallel to that. 

Japanese izakaya is like a Japanese pub. Drinks and small plates of shared food form the basis of the menu. I see it as a cross between tapas and yum cha, with a Japanese twist. And why not? The Japanese are famous for their bite sized snacks, which are perfect for sharing. Surprisingly, no sushi on this menu, possibly not quite pub-food like enough.

Sakata coated prawns, citrus mayonnaise
The prawns were nicely cooked, and the sakata crumbs formed a nice light crispy coating. The citrus mayonnaise provided a nice counterbalance to the deep fried goodness. 

Crispy cocktail potato, anchovy butter
A pretty average potato, jazzed up with an amazing anchovy butter. Forget all that salt-reduced or unsalted butter. This is the god of all butters. Even if you don't like anchovies, this simply tastes like a intense saltiness immersed in the butter - nothing offensive, but definitely brought an otherwise boring (not even that crispy) potato to life.

sweet corn 'kaki-age'
After Taste of Melbourne 2010, there was no hesitation when it came to ordering this dish. Sounds really simple and possibly boring. But reality was nothing as expected. Crispy handfuls of sweet corn kernels coated in a light and seasoned tempura battered, then deep fried just a medley of flavours and textures. The popping juiciness of the corn against the crispy light batter, paired with green tea salt, was just a party in the mouth. I could eat an entire meal of these.

Steamed snapper with rice in bamboo leaf
 Pretty small serve, with delicate pieces of snapper and some rice. Nothing special.

Wagyu tataki, wasabi cream
At the time of this feasting episode, I wasn't the hugest fan of raw beef. The tataki tasted fresh, but lacked seasoning. And when you don't like wasabi, there wasn't much of a choice.

Grilled squid with sea urchin sauce
From memory, this was one of the specials for the night. Curious about sea urchin sauce, we thought we'd give it a go. I wasn't impressed. The squid was chewy, and coated in a strange tasting sauce (whether it was the sea urchin or not, I couldn't really tell).

Special daikon salad
A simple salad to cleanse the palate. The daikon was refreshingly crunchy. But again, nothing special.

lamb ribs, red miso
The lamb ribs were nicely grilled, but could have had a little more meat on them (or the serving could have contained more than six skinny pieces of bone). We had been curious about the 'red miso' sauce, but it ended up tasting like a saltier version of hoisin sauce.

Den fried chicken
This was the second best dish of the night. Fried chicken? This was no ordinary fried chicken. We couldn't work out what exactly made this chicken taste so good, but it was just brilliant. Light tempura batter, soft pieces well marinated (or seasoned?) chicken. Nothing fancy, but it just worked.

Service was slow, and aside from the two or three keynote dishes of the night, there was nothing to cry home about. I would gladly go again for the corn and the fried chicken, but I'd probably be looking at trying the other dishes on the menu. From discussions with other friends, it seems we may have ordered the wrong dishes.

Overall Impression: 8/10
Izakaya Den on Urbanspoon

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