In Japan, an izakaya is a drinking establishment which also serves food, sort of like the Japanese version of a pub. Many izakaya style restaurants have been popping up in Melbourne over the last few years. One of them, Izakaya Den has been on mine and J’s wish list for a while now, and one Saturday night, before a concert, we finally got there!
To find Izakaya Den, go down a set of stairs from street level, turn left and go through the glass door and then the black curtains. Down another set of stairs, and turn right and you are there.
We were there around 6:15pm and after being warmly greeted by many staff, had a seat at the bar. Izakaya Den is one long narrow room with the kitchen running along one wall, behind the bar. There are high tables along the other wall. By the time we left, all the tables and bar seats were full and people were sitting on low stools near the entrance and there was a decent queue waiting for a spot.
This was the view from our seat:
Water is poured into cute glasses, J had pandas on his.
The menus are given as two rolled up scrolls, one for food and one for drinks. Food and drink specials are projected onto the wall.
I started with a glass of Balgownie Estate sparkling and J had a Sapporo.
For food, we started with a bowl of miso soup each. On the menu it says it is served with clams. I asked if they could do it without clams and was told not a problem, so that is what we ordered. However, when it was served, both bowls had clams in them. I said I had ordered mine without clams and the offending bowl was taken away and a fresh bowl, without clams, was made.
It was a good miso but I have had better. J really liked the extra flavour the clams gave.
We had ordered several other dishes, and these came out as they were ready. Everything at Izakaya Den is made from scratch with fresh ingredients so you can wait a while, especially if it is busy.
The next dish out was kingfish sashimi, Asian style dressing.
J thought this dish was fresh, seasoned well, and the pickled onion and sesame seeds were a nice touch.
J also ordered a 300ml bottle of Sake – Fuyu no Kaori.
I really liked their ice buckets!
I am not a massive sake fan but this sake was really smooth.
A sample of the 55 sakes on offer.
The next dish out was one of the specials; tuna tartare, avocado, sesame and ginger.
J convinced me to try this dish, and I am so glad I did, it was amazing. It wasn’t fishy at all. It was fresh, with a complex flavour. Poor J couldn’t believe I was eating raw tuna and drinking sake.
The tuna was the dish of the night for both of us.
Our next dish was quail with three sauces.
It was very good quail and a generous serve. It was easy to pick up and eat with our fingers, which is a plus as quail can sometimes be a bit fiddly. I would have liked to be told what the three sauces were but I am still in the dark. The red and white ones both had a kick of heat and the green one was some sort of parsley pesto I think.
We had another of the specials, the grilled chicken spare ribs, wasabi and dry nori.
Another good dish, at a good price. Would be nice if the wasabi was fresh but that seems to be rare in Australia.
I decided to have another glass of sparkling, and J was thinking of another glass of sake, but then we noticed they had Pol Roger by the glass. How we missed this the first time around I don’t know! Two glasses please!
We had had all the food we had ordered and were still hungry so ordered the Mayura station grade 7 wagyu porterhouse, with a serve of steamed rice and a serve of the baked asparagus.
We then sat back and waited. As I said earlier, everything is made from scratch, and once the place gets busy the food can take a while. We had arrived at 6:15pm, thinking we would have plenty of time before the concert at 8:30pm. After waiting half an hour, we flagged down one of the staff and asked how long the rest of the dishes would be and explained we had concert tickets. The wagyu and rice came out pretty quickly after that but we ended up cancelling the asparagus.
The wagyu was worth the wait, it was excellent. We sprinkled some of the salt over it, and there was also a dipping sauce but it wasn’t totally necessary, as the meat had so much flavour and literally melted in the mouth.
We enjoyed the food but it does get expensive if you want to have a full meal there. The concept of an Izakaya is a place to drink, with tapa style snacks to accompany the drinks, so if you go there just for that you won’t be disappointed.
The staff were friendly and helpful, but hard to flag down when they get busy.