The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Monday, 16 April 2012

Japanese @ Izakaya Den, Melbourne

After 2 weeks in the land of Oz, we're back in Hong Kong! One thing is for sure: a trip back home is never a vacation, with so many family and friends to see. It was great to catch up with familiar faces from our pre-expat days, and we got to eat good food too! We took the red-eye flight to Melbourne, arriving in the wee hours of the morning, and we spent most of the first day trying to catch up on lost sleep. For dinner that first night, I deliberately chose somewhere that didn't take bookings so that we could be flexible on whether or not we go out for dinner. Izakaya Den is quite highly reviewed, and I was feeling 'homesick' for some good Japanese food so it was a no-brainer choice. I'd read online that finding the izakaya would be difficult, but I did my research so in spite of the lack of signage, I knew to look for it at the basement level when we got to the address. It is an izakaya, so I was a little concerned about having our 3-year-old tagging along to this hip and happening 'drinking' establishment on a Saturday night, but the owner was perfectly fine with it and showed no concern of our underaged dining companion.

Down a flight of stairs, past some curtains, and there we were in Izakaya Den. The queue began with those people sitting down by the jut in the wall. Lighting was dark and dim, so photography was a bit of a challenge:

When we arrived, Izakaya Den was already full and buzzing, with a not-so-short queue. We waited perhaps 20 minutes, but during that time, we were given the drinks menu, our drink orders taken and served, which probably helped increase our patience during the waiting period. We were then informed that some space in the bar had become available, should we choose to take it; there was a 45-minute to 1-hour wait for a table. We briefly wondered if having our meal at the bar was a good idea for our 3-year-old boy, but we also weren't prepared to wait so long for a table. We had nothing to worry about, as the bar space was actually quite comfortable.

At the bar, right next to the wooden box which held the sake:

We were also quite pleased to note that the Japanese owner had employed a Japanese staff, and hubby jumped at the opportunity to peruse his Japanese language skills. The service was signature of Japanese-style service - excellent and efficient. The staff are certainly well-trained to handle such crowd every night, and in spite of the busyness, our waitress took the time to help us to order dishes that are safe for our son who has multiple food allergies. The menu was fairly small but well-balanced, so there's something for every tastebuds. As typical of any izakaya, serving sizes are small (meant for snacking to accompany the drinks), so we got to try out a nice range of dishes.

Den Fried Chicken aka karaage, for the boy, who loved the accompanying mayonnaise more than the chicken! It was very tasty and very crispy, not unlike the ones we used to get in Japan:

Char-grilled Harvey Bay Scallops with Garlic Butter Soy Sauce, which was nothing short of beautiful. The scallops were tender and juicy, and the flavours were enhanced with a lightly charred surface:

Nashi & Broccolini 'Shira-ae'. This was surprisingly good! The crispy pear added a lovely contrast in texture to the crunchy broccolini, and the pear's subtle sweetness offset the creamy tofu dressing quite nicely:

Zucchini & Pickled Ginger Tempura - another great vegetable dish which our boy ate with gusto once it was cool enough to consume. The ginger flavour was present but only in a subtle and complementing manner:

Apple Millefeuille, which was beautifully presented with several layers of apple sorbet alternating with apple slices that appeared to have been roasted or grilled. Hubby and I reckon that the sorbet had been made with frozen puréed Fuji apples - those beautiful big super-sweet ones we used to get in Japan:

We quite enjoyed our first dining experience in Melbourne, in spite of the wait at the beginning. It is a little pricey to dine here (those little dishes do add up!), but we received good service and ate fine food, so we felt it was worth it. Izakaya Den is a very popular spot in Melbourne, and for good reasons!

Izakaya Den
Basement Level
114 Russell St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Tel. +61 3 9654 2977
Izakaya Den on Urbanspoon


  1. Dear Expat Gourmand,

    This looks like some delicious Japanese food with a twist. I like the look of that fried chicken.

  2. Hi Chopinand,

    It was delicious, but also quite expensive. Don't go there too hungry unless you want to see some dent in the wallet!