Review: Den

15 January 2015

I had arrived in Tokyo for a 2-week Japan trek, focusing on food…oh yeah… I will be breaking down my experiences differently this time, doing some dedicated reviews (like this one) and some multiple-location posts. Join me for this adventure!

My first full day in Tokyo, having arrived the night before, was starting off fine despite the foul weather outside. Lunch was at the hands of the master at Mizutani (which I will chronicle later), and dinner was the most anticipated meal of the trip (!!!), at the beloved Den [傳] — one of the most loved restaurants by locals and foreigners alike.

Why? The cooking is one of the best in the world. The service is fantastic. And the general atmosphere is one of family, and it is about the most friendly place you could ever dine. Everyone become friends by the end of the night it seems, and as they said in their mission statement, it’s a dining experience you’ll not soon forget…

They made me felt so comfortable the second I sat down and chef was also very happy to chat between his duties. I have rarely seen a better functional kitchen, very little conflict or movement issues. This is why so many of the world’s top chefs love this place, a place that one would learn flow management from someone who has mastered it, Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa.

As they poured a nice glass of Italian bubbly for me, the first course arrived, a cute take on the traditional Japanese snack monaka.

01-monaka

Unlike the traditional one, this one is filled with foie gras and purple yam and pickled vegetables. Wow, this was good. The yam smoothed out the intense foie gras, and the pickled veg added texture in this soft mixture between the ricecake. Excellent and creative, this is one of Chef Hasegawa’s trademarks — but he balances the foie inside differently during different seasons. Balance is the word.

The second course was a very seasonal thing, and perfect on a foul, rainy, windy evening such as this one — turtle soup.

02-turtle_soup

Known as something to build vitality and energy, this was a very tasty soup. He’s done a great job to neutralise some of the flavours that often push away people from this delicacy. The presentation is also rather cute, if you can say that about a skull that seems to be smiling at you… Excellent, warming and perfect for this wet evening!

Now we have another of Chef Hasegawa’s trademarks, his humorous take on “Dentucky Fried Chicken” — his awesome take on fried chicken.

03-Dentucky_fried_chicken

Inside, digging in the straw, was a nice fried chicken wing filled with glutinous rice and herbs. Wow, this was good. “So good” indeed! Oh, may I add that inside the box, which I took home, was also a new friend for me, with a message and a flag.

chicken

This is perfect as a representation of this restaurant. Welcoming, friendly and fun. Totally awesome. Next up was the sashimi dish, today’s fish being buri — the adult yellowtail.

04-buri

Wow. This was fantastic. The nori-based sauce is laced with tobiko (flying fish roe) and extremely rich and deep. But the buri? Goodness, amazing quality and thick enough to really enjoy the richness of this fish. Frankly better than the o-toto I had at lunch. Wow. And they saw how much I loved the sauce they brought a spoon for me! Amazingly attentive service, may I add!

I was loving this meal, the food and service, as well as the interaction with staff and other diners. It’s really a fun evening! A snack arrived as well as some excellent sake recommended by the skillful hand leading the amazing service.

05-karasumi

One of my favourite things, karasumi — or known to most people as bottarga.

I am so in love with this restaurant at this stage, really having a wonderfully enjoyable night. I’ve not had such a fun dining experience in ages, and this is one reason this meal at Den is so memorable.

Next up is the beef, cooked for hours under a very low temperature. I wish I took this photo differently and showed you how amazing this beef looked…

06-beef

This A5 gem just melted in your mouth…just heavenly… The bamboo under its charred outer layers added to the overall appeal of this dish, but that beef…wow…wow… Made me nearly teary…

Wow, what can I say at this point? What came next was another of Chef’s trademark dish and one I was really looking forward to — his salad.

07-salad_01

You say “what” to that? Look at this thing. Wow. 20 different items, and he actually treats each individual item differently. Some are boiled in dashi, some are roasted, some are gloriously untouched from his sister’s garden. Some are marinated, some are accented, some are boastful of Mother Nature. Wow. This is a gem of a salad. I’d go vegetarian for days if this is what I can eat all the time… Best. Salad. Ever.

I was beyond blown away by this point. The rest of the diners were having a great time and Chef was in great form. Then he presented my closing savoury dish from the alluring rice pot…

08-crab_rice

The in-season crab was just beautiful, the aroma rich and alluring. I was just drawn to the aroma… Chef scooped me a large portion as I enjoyed the delicious and intricate taste of the crab with its roe. Fantastic, best rice dish in ages. The pickles complemented the rich rice, and the miso closed the proceedings… Wow.

Chef was playful at this point with all of the customers, who everyone is treating as friends and family by now. It’s really a wonderful environment, like a dinner party. Fantastic. The dessert was also quite interesting, conceived by their lone foreigner in the cooking team.

09-dessert_balls

Interesting, rich spheres that oozes flavours. Sadly I was having too much fun to remember exactly what were in these things (you know me and desserts…), but they were whimsical and flavourful.

And as we closed, the meal ended with another of Chef’s trademarks — the fun take on Starbucks with this little star.

10-cane_sugar_custard

This is actually cane sugar cooked for hours and hours until it becomes a beautiful molasses, then with custard. Wow, this was just rich and had the deep taste of a heavily-roasted espresso. A fun but very intricate item to show again the character of this restaurant’s cooking — damn good, but really fun.

Everyone enjoyed the rest of the evening chatting and finishing up their drinks, and the staff happily posed for photos with the guests — now friends. Though they felt a little disappointed on losing a star, this now-1-Michelin restaurant easily demands more. I would be very surprised if this place doesn’t show up on the 50-Best-Restaurants list next year.

Chef happily posed with some of his cherished plushes after some of the diners brought him a gift to add to his collection.

Chef_Zaiyu Hasegawa_02

He was in fine form as were everyone there. There’s also 2 female members of the cooking team including his sous chef, a rare but positive thing to see in Japan. This is a wonderful team, and he is careful to give everyone credit. And they do deserve a lot of credit!

This was one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in many years, and it is a place I will be returning to in the future — good enough to make me want to fly half way across the world just to eat here! As I sat in my cab heading back to my hotel (we had so much fun I missed the last train!), I thought, how amazing was this dinner. The service, from taking my umbrella when I walked in to hailing down my cab on the main road at the end, showed the amazing service from start to finish. The food in the middle? Dreamy.

A new top 5 for me, easily. This place needs to be experienced!

Den [傳]
2-2-32 Kandajinbocho, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo, Japan

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11 thoughts on “Review: Den

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    • For anything in Tokyo the best thing is always a hotel concierge, as many restos are most comfortable with them when dealing with foreigners. But Den is a bit different and you can get it direct. If you’ve not been there before best way is to call them during their reservation time in the afternoon (when an English speaker is most likely there). It’s ultra-popular so do try to do it at the very far end of the 2-months-ahead thing. Good luck.

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