On Saturday night I caught up with one of my BFFs – Dumpling Lover – for dinner. I was keen to take her to try Chin Chin, but the 2 hour waiting time was not worth it. We headed down to Izakaya Den instead. We almost didn’t find the entrance – it was underground, and the signage was rather faint in the dark of the night. All I remember was that last time I walked by, it was near a coffee and macaron shop called Guava Beans – little did I know, this has since changed to Dognation.
We finally spotted the silver panel which read Den 114. We thought it was a brilliant coincidence that we also parked the car in carspot number 114 in Collins Place – it was like a sign, calling out to us!
So we descended the steps and entered cautiously through a dark drape...and there it was! A VERY trendy looking bar took up the entire left side of the room, while the right was lined with small tables and a lounge area. The mirror at the end made the restaurant appear larger than it really was.
Luckily, it wasn’t full that night, and we were able to be seated immediately, on a bench at the bar.
The food menu is split into sections: small, char grill, cold, hot, vegetables, and sweets. I didn’t look too closely at the drinks menu – we weren’t planning on drinking – but I recall there was a lot of sake. We did however decide to share 1 drink – a Mojito from the specials board. It was very good.
Dumpling Lover and I perused the menu, but we weren’t sure how many dishes to order. Our waiter recommended at least 2 dishes per person, so we decided on 6 savoury dishes, hoping to have room for dessert.
Japanese omelette with cod roe
Den fried chicken
Ever had one of those dishes where you weren’t that impressed with the first bite, but as you eat more of it, it starts to taste better and better? The Den fried chicken was one of these. We both thought it was so-and-so at first, but by the time we had our last piece, Dumpling Lover and I agreed it was the dish of the night.
I didn’t enjoy the agedashi tofu, despite its extra crisp coating – it was too tangy/spicy for me. The omelette was quite good.
Sher Wagyu Grade 7 porterhouse
Kurobuta pork belly
I think we regretted ordering 2 items from the grill – there was too much meat for the 2 of us. Neither were fantastic – pork belly was about 80% fat, 20% meat (Dumpling Lover had to spit hers out on the first bite), while the wagyu became chewy after we left it for 5 minutes.
We were very full by this point, so decided on one dessert only – although I totally have my eye on the Apple Millefeuille next time. We were not disappointed by our choice, however – the black sesame brulee was delicious.
Black sesame brulee, orange peel
I thought the food was overpriced for what you’re getting – the portions were small, and because most of the dishes weren’t amazing – it was more of a hit-and-miss - I don’t think they were worth paying that much for (about $60 per person on this occasion - and we didn't order that much).
Having said this, I think Izakaya Den is a great place to hang out and have drinks and nibbles. The ambience is great, service is efficient, and it wasn’t so loud you have trouble hearing your companions talk. The drinks were very good, and reasonably priced – on par with other bars in Melbourne. An enjoyable night, despite the food not living up to expectations.
Ratings (based on my own experience, on this occasion):
Food – 6 / 10
Service – 8 / 10
Value for money – 5 / 10
OVERALL CONSENSUS: 3 bags (out of 5)