Basement, 114 Russell Street, Melbourne VIC
(03) 9654 2977
Prices: $7 for sweet corn ‘kaki-age’ to $29 for Sher Wagyu Grade 7 porterhouse
Izakaya Den has been open since late 2009, and was considered one of the “it” restaurants in 2010. According to Urbanspoon, Izakaya Den is still one of Melbourne’s most popular restaurants. Hungry diners will still queue for a table given the multitude of other dining options in the city. And hubby and I have only tried it for the first time in 2012! 🙂
As you can tell from the places I eat out at (and also blog about), hubby and I are not the type of people to flock to the newest and hottest restaurants as soon as they open. It’s not like we purposely set out not to, but these “talk of the town” places are normally in the city or somewhere else where parking is notoriously difficult. They do make it onto my list of places I want to try, but that list is pretty long!
During the dinner service, Izakaya Den has a no bookings policy for groups smaller than five (they do take bookings at lunch). Having learnt from our experience at the no bookings Chin Chin, we decided to go early and beat the post work drinks crowd on a Friday night. I had heard that Izakaya Den was hard to find and it’s true! There is only one small sign on Russell Street, and you have to walk down some stairs leading towards a clothing store. Mid-way down the stairs, to your left is a door which will take you down more stairs to the restaurant.
Izakaya Den is aptly named, giving the feel of a secret den due to its basement location and dark interior. The place is small and narrow, but gives the illusion of a bigger space with the clever use of a floor to ceiling mirror at the back wall. Hubby and I were seated at the bar in front of the open kitchen, where we were shown the efficiency of the chefs preparing the food at their own individual stations. Each chef was in charge of a couple of menu items and would prepare 4 or 5 plates of the same dish at the same time.
Hubby and I started off the night with a drink. I got an umeshu (plum wine) and hubby got a Boatrocker Alpha Queen beer which he has never seen before. We were also served water in very cute cartoon glasses.
Umeshu & water glass
Boatrocker Alpha Queen beer
I love the concept of izakayas, where you get smaller portions so you get to try more things. I did my research beforehand and came armed with a list of things we should order! Izakaya Den made an appearance at Taste of Melbourne 2010 and we got to try the sweet corn kaki age (essentially fritters) as it was one of their three signature dishes. We loved it then and it was just as good as I remembered, even better in fact, since it was straight from the deep fryer onto our table.
Sweet corn kaki-age $7
Hubby enjoys sweetbreads ever since he first tried it at Eleven Madison Park in New York and orders it whenever he sees it on the menu. Don’t be fooled. Sweetbread is not sweet bread. It is the culinary name for the glands of an animal, in this case, lamb! It has a subtle flavour compared to other offal. This was on the specials menu.
Grilled lamb sweetbreads $13
Also on the specials menu was the tuna tartare. This dish really packs a delicious flavour punch. Hubby and I were fighting over the last bits of the tuna and we almost ordered a second serve it was that good.
Tuna tartare, avocado, sesame, ginger $16
Another dish practically everyone says to order is the Den fried chicken. Who doesn’t like fried chicken? With Kewpie mayonnaise? Kewpie mayo makes everything taste good! The chicken was fresh out of the deep fryer too and had a tasty batter.
Den fried chicken $10
Wagyu beef is known for its luxurious, rich flavour and I had read that the wagyu at Izakaya Den met that description. We must have lucked out because our piece of wagyu was chewy and grainy, the worst wagyu I have had. Hubby’s comment was “this tastes worse than supermarket meat”. It was unfortunate because it was double the price of the second most expensive dish we ordered and I would have much rather two other dishes. The dipping sauce, while tasty, did nothing to help the meat taste any better.
Sher wagyu grade 7 porterhouse $29
We were still wanting more food and while what we really wanted was another plate of the fried chicken, we thought we should try a different dish. We ended up ordering the duck liver parfait with the crispy wonton skin. We should have gone the fried chicken! It was a great idea having the duck liver parfait with the wonton skin, but I didn’t like the grainy, dense texture of the parfait. To me, it should have been lighter and smooth and creamy.
Duck liver parfait, crispy wonton skin $11
Overall: I thought the menu is very reasonably priced and there is quite a lot to choose from. Definitely worth a visit and I would return, but make sure you either get there early or late. When we left at around 7.30, there must have been about 30 people waiting for a table. You can order a drink and something to eat while waiting though, you just won’t be seated at a proper table.
Recommended dishes: My favourite dish was the tuna tartare, but the sweet corn kaki age and fried chicken are also must try dishes.
Over & Out, April xx