18 Mar 2011

Secrets Behind The Dark Curtain


Izakaya Den
114 Russell St
Melbourne, VIC 3000

Ph: (03) 9654 2977

Open Hours
Monday ~ Fri 
12pm ~ 2:30pm
5:30pm ~ till late

5:30pm ~ till late

Walked down the stairway and pushed through the glass door, there was a party going on in a long narrow lounge style Japanese restaurant. It is a bit tricky to find the underground industrial looking contemporary warehouse type bar/restaurant with high ceiling and open kitchen. We walked forward and backward on Russell Street and tried to find a sign, but there was none. And finally when we located the correct address, it took us a few seconds to decided whether we should go behind the dark curtain. This was not expected how we discover one of the most popular restaurants in town. Nothing in our imagination. And once we made the move, we found a paradise isolated from the rest of the world. Welcome to Izayaka Den!

The interior was modern chic, the atmosphere was funky and fun, the all dressed in black Japanese wait staffs were friendly and the young looking patrons were trendy. This place certainly got style. It looked huge at first but later I found there was a mirror at the end of the restaurant and it double up the space. How smart was that! It was very busy on a Saturday night and there was a queue with well dressed patrons before us. Impressive first impression. We were curious and excited to find out the secrets of this place.

The restaurant has a policy of no booking for less than five people. There were only three of us that night so it took us about 20 minutes to wait at the queue. With hip pop music playing loud on air, oshibori (wet towel) served and cocktail in hand. It didn't seem to be a long waiting time. And finally when we got our seats at the bar, we were all rewarded with the delicious food.

While we were waiting on the queue we ordered our drinks and I had the Tokyo Cosmos. It was terrific and they have a great selection of sake and Japanese beer, interesting cocktails and some local produce wines. If you asked for water, those were served in cute little glass cups with cartoonish characters such as pandas, Bambi and the one I had was an adorable little girl. I wonder whether it's by artist Yoshitomo Nara (奈良美智)? Very sweet and it made me smile.

What we ordered:
Tokyo Cosmos $18
Sapporo Japanese Beer

Octopus Pickle Cucumber and Wakame Salad $7
Sakata Coated Prawns Citrus Mayonnaise $12
Sweet Corn Kaki Age $7
Gotzinger Berkshire Pork and Cheese Sausage $14
Spicy Tuna Tataki with Garlic Soy $18
Steamed snapper with Rice in Cherry Blossom Leaf $9
Pork Fillet "Kushi Age" $15
Lamb Ribs, Red Miso $14
Fresh Salmon Sushi Roll Pickled Konbu, Ponzu $15
XO Tongue with Spirng Onion $14/ Duck and Leek Skewers $15

Apple Millefeuille $10
HoujichaIce Cream $6

Our food journey all started with a simply dish: Japanese octopus salad. Chopped octopus, cucumbers and wakame marinated in miso and vinegar dressing. The octopus was fresh and chewy. The dish was refreshing, light and clean. A very nice start. Our next dish was the sakata coated prawns with mayonnaise. It was very well cooked and with one bite you got to taste the crunchy crispy coated rice crackers and then with the second bite there was the freshness sweet prawn meat. The cute curled up prawns were really stunning, taste even better with the citrus mayonnaise, it delivered a bit more flavour. Then, there were the popular corn fritters. I must admitted it was very interesting. Such simple ingredients make a very nice dish. The corn was sweet and juicy and the batter was crunchy and tasty. I bet the kids would love this, and so did I. Anyone know the secret of cooking this dish? I really like to try it at home. It would make a prefect party food.

Pork and cheese sausage was my all time favourite, the dish here was fantastic but the only thing we were unsatisfied was the quantity served which was too little to share. Followed that we had the two dishes of the night. First was the beautifully presented spicy tuna tataki with garlic soy. Tuna slices was seared on all sides and placed on top of garlic and wasabi spiced mayonnaise. The middle part was still raw and it was so soft and fresh, the fish melted in your mouth. A wonderful dish, the sauce was well seasoned and flavoursome; the texture was rich and delicate. The other high light of the night was the lamb ribs with red miso. The ribs were extremely moist and perfectly cooked and matched wonderfully with the red miso. It is a dish I would order again and again. It is also a dish I want to steal the chef's recipe. Nothing fancy when looking at it but I'd eat it one by one with my bare hands. Super delicious!

If there was a most inspiring dish of the night, it must be the steamed snapper with rice in cherry blossom leaf. Look how pretty they were: three little snapper parcels on a small Japanese ceramic plate with bamboo print. The snapper and rice adsorbed all the freshness of the leaf and it both smell and taste magnificent. Pork fillet was a traditional Japanese dish. It was not something I'd normally have because many restaurants served them hard and overcooked. However our friend ordered it here at Den. The deep fried pork fillet coated with breadcrumbs was so crunchy outside and the meat was surprisingly tender and moist. The pork was well marinated and the batter was well seasoned. Perfect! A dish I'd recommend if you like deep fried food. It served with cabbage and mustard sauce. And with a bowl of rice and a glass of beer, awesome! The salmon roll with roe on top was fresh and lovely presented but nothing outstanding. It was the only dish we had some leftovers. Maybe that was because of all the other dishes were too fantastic. In memory I ordered XO tongue with spring onion but I guessed we were given the duck and leek skewers instead. The dish we had didn't taste like XO tongue. The meat was thicker and the texture was rich and moist. Yum!

Izayaka (居酒屋) is a type of very popular snack bar in Japan for groups of people go in after work to drink sake and beer and share small dishes. You can find it everywhere in the country. Here in Melbourne, menus projected on the wall, dishes comes in small serves tapas style to share and presented on lovely Japanese ceramic bowls and plates. The food probably not as traditional and the price may be a little bit higher. However, it's lively, it's fun and it's modern. Most importantly we can't finish the night without their marvelous desserts!

Apple Millefeuille: a sweet and sour combination. Five layers of smooth apple sorbet with crispy deep fried thin apply slices in between, served with honey and strawberry dices. Dada...the winner of the best dish no doubt goes to Apple Millefeuille! It is the beauty queen. Don't you agree!

Izayaka Den is certainly a hidden treasure and definitely worth a visit. It is an amazing place to hang out with friends, have a bit of chat, drink beer and share snack food. The service was attentive and efficient, they topped up our glasses all night long and the food came out really quickly. We were there to enjoy the ambiance, each others company and also the decent food. It is the small things added up little by little which make this place completely sensational. We enjoyed our meal very much! Cheers!

Izakaya Den on Urbanspoon

1 Hat Restaurant

Cuisine: Japanese
Food: Good
Service: Good
Atmopshere: Good
Value: $$$
Recommend: Good

*Rating: Excellent, Good, Average, Poor, Very Poor

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