Izakaya Den Melbourne

Dining Out: Izakaya Den, Melbourne

by April@MyFoodTrail on February 9, 2012

in Dining Out, Japanese, Melbourne

Izakaya Den
Basement, 114 Russell Street, Melbourne VIC
(03) 9654 2977

Cuisine: Japanese
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 - Inside

Izakaya Den

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.

Izakaya Den - Umeshu & water glass

Umeshu & water glass

Izakaya Den - Boatrocker Alpha Queen Beer

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.

Izakaya Den - Sweet corn 'kaki-age' $7

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.

Izakaya Den - Grilled lamb sweetbreads $13

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.

Izakaya Den - Tuna tartare, avocado, sesame, ginger $16

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.

Izakaya Den - Den fried chicken $10

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.

Izakaya Den - Sher wagyu grade 7 porterhouse $29

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.

Izakaya Den - Duck liver parfait, crispy wonton skin $11

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

Izakaya Den on Urbanspoon

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Mez February 9, 2012 at 8:06 pm

I still haven’t been… shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… What time did you go?



April@MyFoodTrail February 9, 2012 at 8:24 pm

We were there around 6pm on a Friday night and grab one of the last two person spots at the bar counter. There might be less of a queue on a weeknight!


Winston February 9, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Izakayaaaa Den. Love this place! Your photos are really great too, good work. Ooooh love the sound of the sweetbread. Was wondering why I didn’t see it on the menu until you mentioned it was a special. Anyway, I think I’m due for another visit sometime soon. Take care, April! =)


April@MyFoodTrail February 24, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Thanks Winston! It was pretty dark in there so I had a hard time holding the camera still enough!


Michelle chin February 9, 2012 at 10:27 pm

I think i should give the place a go for dinner. Well, this means i have to have a lighter lunch. 🙂


April@MyFoodTrail February 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm

How come not for lunch instead of dinner? You could do either!


Hannah February 10, 2012 at 4:48 pm

As a crazy early eater normally (well, only because I always have at least 4 snacks/desserts after dinner too) I can get behind this arriving-early-to-beat-the-queues ploy. The karaage looks good, but where’s the dessert?! 😛


April@MyFoodTrail February 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Haha, we were so full we couldn’t fit in dessert! Call it blasphemy but I’m starting to enjoy savoury over sweet when dining out! At a 2 course meal, I find myself preferring to have an entree and main, rather than a main and dessert.


Cara @ Gourmet Chick February 10, 2012 at 9:56 pm

I think you probably had a better experience by waiting for the hype to die down (well as much as possible given it is still hard to get a booking). The tuna tartare sounds great.


April@MyFoodTrail February 24, 2012 at 3:41 pm

On the flipside of that, sometimes restaurants get complacent once they’ve been open for a while and gotten the reputation, then the food quality goes down hill!


Agnes February 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Oooh sweetbreads! I would definitely have ordered that dish too 😀

Also, the tuna tartare looks really good. Yum.


April@MyFoodTrail February 24, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Ah, another sweetbread lover! It was on the specials menu so it’s worth going to check out if you like your sweetbreads. Hopefully it will still be available!


Flower@Nevertoosweet February 12, 2012 at 2:01 am

I still haven’t had the chance to visit Izakaya Den but have been thinking about it because its been on the top 10 on Urbanspoon for such a long time ~
Thanks for your great review! I”m definitely going to go check it out when I come back ~ the food looks great and very reasonably priced! I thought it was much more expensive 🙂 I’m a meat lover and would love some of that grade 7 wagyu porterhouse ~


April@MyFoodTrail February 24, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I think the food is reasonably priced for the quality, not overly expensive so worth the visit! Hope you enjoy it.


Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) February 12, 2012 at 7:54 pm

I didn’t know about this place until late into my week-long trip to Melbourne a few years ago…and was so bummed that I missed out! Good to hear they’re still keeping standards up with their famed fried chicken and sweet corn kakiage.


April@MyFoodTrail February 24, 2012 at 3:36 pm

You’ll have to try it out the next time you’re in Melbourne. Hopefully it will still be good then! The restaurant scene can sometimes be so fickle! 🙂


msihua February 13, 2012 at 7:24 pm

MmMmmm sweet corn kaki age!! mMmmMmmmmm


April@MyFoodTrail February 24, 2012 at 3:35 pm

I’m craving some now too!


penny aka jeroxie February 13, 2012 at 8:39 pm

I thought the food at Den a little over price. Good but over priced.


April@MyFoodTrail February 24, 2012 at 3:34 pm

I actually thought it was reasonable for the quality of the food. Obivously not a cheap eat, but not overly expensive either.


Thanh March 6, 2012 at 3:08 pm

You can’t go wrong with fried chicken haha. Your photos are very bright and nice too.


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