Thursday, March 03, 2011

February 21, 2011: Izakaya Den

Having skimmed through the forty other blog reviews of Izakaya Den that we could dig up(see links below), I feel like I could auto-generate a decent enough post: a few sentences about the challenge of finding the place behind its mysterious entry-curtain, some sort of reference to Lost in Translation, a comment on the cute Yoshimoto Nara designs on the glasses, something about watching the food being prepared in front of you, a paragraph raving about the food and the service, and then a couple of sentences pondering the value for money given the smallish serving sizes.

Then I thought, "well, at least we're providing a vegetarian focussed review".  Until I discovered that we'd been beaten to the punch by a nine-year-old. So I'm not really sure what we're bringing to the table here. Ah well, here goes...

Neither of us were feeling very boozy, and we were pleasantly surprised to see a range of mocktails on the substantial drinks menu.

Cindy ordered the Lubiled high tea (ruby red grapefruit, fresh orange, cold oolong tea and sparkling blood orange, $12), which was probably the best mocktail I've ever tasted. The tea and the grapefruit meant that it wasn't just sweet or citrusy - it was a bit sour and still wonderfully sippable. My order (Fuji breezer: apple juice, fresh lime and shiso, pomegranate, $12) was more typical - it was like a wonderful softdrink, and at $12 you want something a bit more than a jumped up Tiro.

When it came to food we were a bit uncertain of our options - so often Japanese food that seems vegetarian will be flavoured with fish stock or tiny shrimp. Luckily the staff were highly knowledgeable and very helpful - pointing out all our options and double-checking for us that the dashi in one of the dishes was seaweed rather than seafood-based. We decided to start with four dishes and see how we felt before ordering more. First up was the sweet corn kaki-age, ($7) made famous by Johanna as the only vegetarian savoury dish on offer at the Taste of Melbourne Festival.

I guess the mocktails were going to our heads, because neither Cindy or I noticed the powdered green-tea salt that these came with until it was too late. Despite this oversight, these were pretty great - all crunchy, juicy and sweet. Given how wonderful the salt tasted when I rudely dipped my finger in it, I imagine this would be an amazing combo when eaten properly.

Our other starter was the grilled aspargus with miso-mayonaise ($9).

This was a simple but winning affair, relying on fresh and just-cooked spears of excellent asparagus and the winning combination of rich Japanese mayo and miso powder.

The first of our two bigger dishes was the stir-fried peppers, mushrooms and chilli-miso ($15).

The capsicum chunks in this dish were super crispy and surprisingly sweet, offset well by the slight bite of the chilli in the miso. Tucked away under all the pretty colours were a few chunks of tofu, which really soaked up the flavours of the sauce.

Finally, we had the greens, fried bean-curd and dashi ($10).

This was a fairly straightforward combination of greens and tofu skin bits in a light broth. Nothing too fancy, but nicely executed - it's rare to get dashi that's free from weird tuna-based powders.

Four dishes was just about enough for us in the end - we vacillated for a while about sampling the chocolate fondue but decided we should head home while we still felt like we'd had a healthy experience. The vegie food all felt pretty fresh and healthy - even the corn, which is basically battered, was cooked with a light touch. The service was helpful, friendly and efficient, and the menu provides pretty well for vegetarians (there were at least a couple of other dishes we didn't get to). Now that the hype has died down to the point where you can wander in at 6:30 on a weeknight and get a table straight away, Izakaya Den is probably worth swinging by. Just don't go when you're too poor or too hungry - we spent $65 on four dishes and 2 (non-alcoholic) drinks, and neither of us were particularly full.


Those forty blog reviews in full:

Veg experiences: The Big V.

Izakaya Den
114 Russell St, Melbourne
9654 2977
veg dishes $7-$15 (another useless restaurant website)

Accessibility: Izakaya Den is only accessible via stairs (at least as far as we saw). Inside is fairly dark and most tables are set high (though there is a large standard-height table at the far end).  All ordering and bill-paying is managed at the table. We didn't make it as far as the bathrooms to suss out their spaciousness.


  1. I love your intro - sometimes it feels everyone has been there before you but I love your vegetarian perspective - there is just not enough of it in the blogosphere

    Sorry you missed the green tea salt - it was amazing - though I agree it was very light - but if you had followed it with 4 desserts like I did you would have really appreciated the salt and felt quite full :-)

  2. I love Izakaya Den as a stop in a multi-venue evening. When in season the chargrilled broad beans are out of this world!