114 Russell Street
Instead of starting with any of our favourite places, we thought we'd begin with the much-hyped Izakaya Den. This place has been reviewed often and is part of the so-called Izakaya invasion.
Our night started off down a difficult-to-find set of stairs, as dinners at Melbourne restaurants often do. Please keep in mind the Den does not take bookings. The fit-out is industrial basement chic. Seating is at the bar overlooking the kitchen, or benches along the LED-lit wall listing the specials.
We firstly ordered the tuna tataki ($16). These were lightly seared slices of tuna on wasabi and chilli mayonnaises. It definitely was one of the most frequently ordered dishes. The mayonnaises were exciting and complemented the tuna very well.
The highlight of our night was the kingfish sashimi ($18) with asian style dressing (gotta love the vague menu descriptions in Japanese restaurants!). These finely sliced sashimi pieces were so flavoursome that we seriously contemplated ordering another serving. The sashimi was finished off with sesame and coriander.
The potato croquettes ($6) were a disappointment, we found these to be like Birds Eye potato gems.
We did however really like one of the specials of the night, stir fried peppers with konnyaku and chilli miso ($15). The addition of enoki mushrooms was a great surprise, peppers were still firm and the konnyaku was very tasty while the miso was good with steam rice.
The char grilled pork belly skewers ($16) were colourless and a tad too salty. There was nothing to differentiate this pork from any roast pork you would find in China Town, minus the crispy skin in this case.
Who would have thought deep fried sweet corn ($4) would be a star of the night. The corn was sweet and tasty, they went down really well with our beers. We wanted to take some with us to our movie (forget the popcorn).
Finally it was dessert time, green tea chocolate fondue ($14), accompanied by glutinous balls stuffed with macadamia to dip into the green tea and white chocolate fondue mixture. The green tea was able to balance the sweetness of the white chocolate and was a nice way to finish without being too heavy.
Overall the Den should be applauded for trying new things instead of sticking to the tried and trusted. Staff were friendly and a nice touch was the chefs bringing you the food they had prepared. Sitting at the bar allowed us to see the care that goes into each dish.
We will definitely go back and try some other dishes that looked appealing like the stir fried mushrooms, and the bresaola and daikon noodle salad.