Melbourne bars really make you work hard. To earn this feast and Asahi; we persisted through a number of spins, till we landed in front of a set of stairs, a heavy glass door, through a black curtain to lead us to the gorgeous vertical dining room of the Izakaya Den. We take a seat at the bar (and it’s a must) to watch all the Japanese chefs dressed in black and coloured bandanas in action.
Unroll the architecture map sized menus and your eyes wander up, down and across the variety of sakes, shochu, wines and beers. An izakaya is a casual bar in Japan with shared bar snacks; all the dishes are categorised as small, hot, cold and chargrill.
For entrees, the spicy tuna tataki sitting on a creamy garlic soy fire up our tastebuds. Tataki is type of technique to prepare fish and meats, particularly tuna, that slightly seared. Not a usual tuna fan, but this dish worked really well with the garlic soy to give it a firey kick, and one of the favourites of Izakaya Den. Next are the simple and sweet corn clusters which were amazing. Sweet, crunchy and light.
For mains, the wagyu beef is off the char-grill menu, simple and plain, but served with a sweet soy that made all the difference – it adds a sweet touch to a plain steak, Jap style. Not crazy but the den fried chicken certainly is. It may look fried, bubbly and all things oily, but the different herbs and spices used to coat the chicken pieces are delicious. Best downed with half litre of imported premium Asahi.
While watching at the bar, my dining companion became fascinated by the Paco Jet machine on the counter. It’s a food processing machine that makes ice cream in a flash. So… dessert with ice cream was a no brainer.
To keep with the Japanese theme, dessert starts with a black sesame brulee with orange peel strings; and it tastes like good ol’ black sesame, and not the artificial kind. The brulee top cracks wonderfully and it’s absolutely addictive. We dig into the houjicha ice cream, an in-house made ice cream using the Paco Jet machine with roasted green tea. The flavours are subtle and so incredibly fresh – no icicles or wateriness.
Izakaya Den is as close as a Tokyo bar can get… including whether you can find it!
Basement, 114 Russell St