Melbourne, VIC 3000
It started with a tweet. That seems to be a recurring theme nowadays. I must say that I was anti-Twitter at the start, got Twitter addiction a month into it, weaned myself off cold turkey and now using it in a more moderate way. I still don't think it's the best tool for in depth discussion, but it does have its uses, such as finding out about interesting events/info and organising real life food blogger meetups. See our previous example of Cuttlefish and Dried Mango Tasting. This time Naomi and I were tweeting about Simon Denton's new Good Food Guide restaurant of the year Izakaya Den. We decided that we would go and check it out, and very quickly I-Hua, Penny,Suzanne and finally Agnes got on board the Izakaya train. Some brought partners and we had a merry group of 10 eagerly anticipating the much hyped food at Melbourne's latest sweetheart.
When you walk in, you definitely feel a sense of awe with the unusually long space having maximum impact. I didn't know where to look for a while and was absorbing the various decor and the smells emanating from the kitchen. Diners were seated at the extremely long bar counter and on high bench style tables that sat 4 people. The restaurant doesn't really cater for large groups, with only a couple of larger marble tables seating groups. The 10 of us were seated very closely ("stop touching me Penny") shoulder to shoulder at one half of one large table. We perused thorough the cute scroll menu and picked a huge variety of dishes to share.
We ordered sake to share, while I-Hua and I also go Sake Mojitos. I love mojitos and sake mojitos are fantastic as well. It had a smoother flavour and was totally delicious. The first sake we ordered (which of course I'm sure no one remembers the name of) was super smooth and went down a treat. The second one was harsher and most of the others didn't like it, but I really enjoyed it too.
Then it was onto the food, glorious food. In the top photo you see the Kingfish Sashimi. Kingfish is always one of my favourite fish for sashimi and this one was fresh and went beautifully with the light dressing. The Den Fried Chicken may as well have been called the "Den Crack" as it was so addictive, better than any Karaage you'll taste elsewhere. Even the Grilled Eggplant was quite nice (thanks I-Hua for the moody red pre-flash lighting of my photo). We all thought the Black Fried Rice would be interesting, and it was a bit different but wasn't mind blowing. What was mind blowing was the Lamb Ribs with red miso, which we ordered so many serves of. You should have seen everyone just deadly silent nibbling on these ribs. They were my favourite dish of the night amongst many great dishes.
The next dish up was the Tuna Tataki, which many had tasted and raved about at this year's Taste of Melbourne festival. Look at those beautiful maroon discs (can you still call a flat square-ish piece a disc?). We polished them off and indeed they were extremely fresh and sweet. The sweet corn "kaki-age" was again at the Taste of Melbourne and were balls of sweet fried goodness. I'm always a fan of any form of octopus and the Octopus with Pickled Cucumber was quite nice, with the tanginess of the dressing working with the octopus. The Ox Tongue and Grilled Chicken Ribs were still quite good with their charred flavour, but not at the standard of the other dishes I thought.
The Wagyu Tataki looked and tasted sensational. Fatty thin (yet more oxymorons although you all know I meant fat infused meat cut into thin slices) slices of slightly seared beef were served with a soy dressing and wasabi mayo. I loved it.
After so much food, what do we do? Of course we all shout for dessert. It's with a heavy heart that I have to report that although all the food was excellent, the desserts were not. Not only were they not great, they were actually bad. They sounded so good on paper and for me as a massive dessert fan, I was really disappointed when I tasted them. The Apple Millefeullie had the look of a tiny Christmas tree and wowed us all, but it was like mixing apple with sorbet, neither here nor there in terms of any defining flavours. The Ginger Creme Brulee was actually ruined by the ginger, which just didn't work with the creme brulee. The only dish that tasted at least good was the White Sesame Mousse with Tapioca, the soft mousse giving way to a sweet filling.
Lastly, the Dark Chocolate and Yuzu Fondue was just a massive fail. The yuzu were embedded inside gelatinous balls which you dip into the chocolate. The balls didn't really have much flavour and were such a wrong texture for me to go with melted chocolate.
The service throughout the night was very good, with waiters on the ball and making sure they refilled our water and came round to take orders (even when we kept changing it) and take away plates. The ambiance was really good inside the industrial type setting. The noise didn't get too intolerable and maintained a level of buzz and excitement that I really liked.
I absolutely enjoyed the food and would definitely go back for more. It's Japanese food that is a familiar yet different, and done at a much better level than most. I only hope they will fix their dessert menu so that it will be a great overall experience in terms of the food. Even boring old green tea ice cream will be a good option.
Overall Rating: 15/20, Great savoury dishes unfortunately let down by bad desserts.
Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.
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