Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Izakaya Den - Seeker Lover Keeper

Yesterday was the best day for weather since I moved to Melbourne in April. At lunchtime I thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the city without a jacket, taking in the sight of happy people enjoying takeaway food in the various green spaces, Federation Square and dining in laneways. Ladies were queued up for free things in the tent for Fashion Week on Swanson Street whilst the coppers patrolled the fence line making sure the unions did not disrupt happy activities at the Myer Grocon site. With the great weather, it seems a bit of an anti-climax that I ended up dining underground at Izakaya Den on Russell Street.

The journey to most of the places in Melbourne I find fun. Even the journey of the damned to the Matilda Bay Brewing Company in Port Melbourne left me with an amusing story and made the experience memorable. As I wasn't ever let in on the big secret as how to get to Izakaya Den, I depended on Google Maps to advise me that it is near the corner of Little Collins Street and Russell Street, in an area that I know well. Or at least I thought I did however once I found the secret staircase that appears to go down to a trendy clothing shop and turned left, I was in the bunker that is now known as the restaurant.

Entrance to Izakaya Den, Russell Street, Melbourne
Entrance to Izakaya Den, Russell Street
I was immediately greeted and shown to a high seat at the long service bar. The first thing I noticed was just how organised and clean things were. One would expect a restaurant to be "clean" as per the meaning of the word, but I found the place sterile. Given that I was going to consume raw fish at some point, I thought it was a great first impression.

A scroll was presented to me and when I rolled it out, a drink list appeared. Impressively detailing the various sake on offer, plum wines along with Japanese beer, I was spoiled for choice and the house notes. Knowing that if I start with sake that I will turn drink a bottle of it, I opted for Ichiban Sakura Orion since they were out of the 500ml cans of Kirin.

The two set menu options were being beamed onto the wall behind me. I was intrigued by the futuristic font that they chose just as much as I was excited to try the spicy tuna or the quail as the headline dish that is served with the set lunch for $28. I rarely say no to spicy tuna, so I made it so knowing that I can get quail elsewhere but still it provides an impetus to return.

Fresh tofu is presented to you as a starter in a bowl. I am allergic to soy however my body tolerates small does. The last time I visted a vegan restaurant with a militant vegan mate during my impressionable Uni years, I was talked into trying the fake chicken, not knowing that it was made out of tofu. That was not the wisest decision of my life and I have not made the mistake since.

However the notion of "fresh" tofu and the presentation I found hard to resist. I was feeling 100%, so I didn't think that the small amount of what looked like Spongebob Squarepants would kill me. As I rarely say "no" I began to eat it. Slowly I consumed this soft and light morsel and enjoyed every taste. The servers and staff probably thought I was crazy as I was staring down the dish like Barnaby Joyce would a Green in the Senate as I ate it. I was ready to face the consequences also from the Speaker.

A delicate green salad, pickles and yellow fin tuna sashimi was then served. Eating items slowly as I was really enjoying the various tastes, even in the salad, I relaxed by tuning into the background music which was fitting and was a good supporting act to the ambiance. I powered through the Ichiban Sakura and ordered another. My justification is that I did not want any lingering bits of tofu in my mouth or throat. At least that is the story I tell.

Before I had even had a taste of the yellow fin tuna, the spicy tuna was placed in front of me along with a cup of miso and a bowl of rice. Like Barnaby seeing another target, I eyed the miso in the very attractive cup. I watched the steam escape and knew that I was just going to have to have it. Normally I do drink my miso and enjoy a good miso, but having an exacta of both tofu and miso during this experience I assumed was going to play havoc with me, so I stopped reading my twitter feed and decided to get on with lunch.

The spicy tuna, served as eight morsels of tuna on a small cloud of wasabi mayo was certainly impressive. The rice, pickles and miso complemented every bite. I even used the small pepper that was included with the pickles to transport the remaining mayo into my mouth as it was just so good.

By this time my nose started running a bit but that was the worst symptom that I experienced so I was pleased that I took the risk with the tofu. I would certainly have it again.

I really want to return and try this place for dinner and the idea has been bumped up on my list of things to do. I suspect that it would be a bit more noisy during dinner service but you would have the benefit of more options including delicacies from the grill however I truly enjoyed this lunch time experience. I was so relaxed and happy that when I was asked to part with $50 for the pleasure, I was not stunned or disappointed at all. It was worth every dollar. 

Izakaya Den, Russell Street Melbourne
Izakaya Den
Link to review
114 Russell Street  Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9654 2977
My Rating: 14.5/20
Service: 3.5/5
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Quality: 4/5
Value For Money: 3/5
Comment: No bookings taken

Twitter: @epicurean3006
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com

When I posted this review, 88% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon agreed with me and like this place.

Izakaya Den on Urbanspoon