Creative, playful and deeply personal. Den Tokyo is my favourite restaurant in the world. Read more…
9 | 4 | 3 | 2.5
- Creative fine dining, yet unpretentious food
- Personal service that makes you feel like you’re eating at home
- No “miss” dishes
- Not the most technically brilliant Kaiseki when compared to other Japanese Kaiseki restaurants
- Clay Pot Rice
- Sashimi with Nori Sauce
- “Shovel” Dessert (Cheese Bavarois with Moss and Bamboo Charcoal)
- Denutella (Ankimo Mousse)
TL;DR – Den is the perfect embodiment of what fine dining should be. It is my favourite restaurant in the world. Anyone who is going to Japan must pay this restaurant a visit.
“A good cook is like a sorceress who dispenses happiness.” – Elsa Schiaparelli
Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa at work, dispensing happiness
So how do I write a review worthy of a restaurant as great as Den, one that conveys how awesome the dining experience at Den was, one that does justice to what is now my favourite restaurant in the world? I’m honestly not sure I can; I couldn’t find the words to describe it then, and 4 months on, I can’t find the words now.
But who better to find those words than Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa himself.
While other internationally acclaimed chefs aim to create beautifully crafted and delicious food or believe in pushing the boundaries of food, Chef Hasegawa’s philosophy is simple – “To make people happy”.
He describes what he does as “home cooking”, but there is nothing amateur about the ingredients and techniques he uses. Playfulness features throughout the meal. He explains that is because he only speaks Japanese and he wants his food to communicate through his dishes, to the customers.
Before eating at Den, I was somewhat jaded by fine dining and everything it stood for. To me, fine dining felt like an exercise for the chef, one that strokes their ego and proves their legitimacy to the culinary world, rather than being for the customer themselves. Chef Hasegawa says the purpose of cooking is as important as the cooking itself. He’d like his food to focus on those consuming it, rather than on the ambition of the chef who innovates cuisines.
At ~¥15,000 (~$150 AUD), the meal was figuratively a steal. Do yourselves a favour. If you’re ever in the vicinity of Japan, visit Den. And if you’re lucky enough to get a reservation and eat here, I hope the meal will change the way you think about food as much as it did for me.
As Den is my favourite restaurant in the world, I’ll update this post with images of the meal highlights. Not only will this serve as a journal of sorts for the evolution and growth of Den, but also the evolution and growth of myself as a person.
I’ve included a detailed write up of my first visit only.
Third visit (13/9/2016)
My God, I’ve missed Den’s beef rice.
Second visit (2/12/2015)
First visit (2/12/2014)
Savoury Monaka with Foie Gras, White Miso, Chestnuts & Pickled Cucumber (8.5/10)
A fun and clever start that set the tone for the rest of the meal. Monaka is traditionally a Japanese confectionery sandwich with red bean stuffing, but Chef Hasegawa’s savoury twist works with great effect. The white miso nicely complemented the richness of the foie gras. Even the most adamant detractors of foie gras would like this dish.
Suppon Turtle Soup – Japanese Vegetable Dashi, served with Kabu Radishes & Chopped Chives (7.5/10)
This was the first time I’ve had turtle before, and personally, if you didn’t tell me it was turtle, I would not have known. My friend who has had turtle before says it’s the best he’s had and was one of his stand out dishes of the night.
Turtle shell was boiled in white sake to achieve it’s colour. I wanted to take it home as a souvenir so I asked semi-jokingly if I could. Chef Hasegawa laughed and went back to preparing our next meal. I decided it would be too sus walking out with a turtle shell stuffed in my pants.
One of Den’s signature dishes. I mean what kind of fine dining restaurant serves fried chicken! In a mock KFC takeaway box!
To our surprise, inside the DFC takeaway box, there was a cute chicken toy (still on my table to this day), a thank you note flag, and an Australian flag. Chef Hasegawa beams with pleasure as he sherlocks the crap out of us and explains that he got our nationality from our reservation.
Ultimately, despite it being a good dish, I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t fried chicken through and through. Because not much can beat good fried chicken.
Lightly Grilled 7 day aged Buri (Yellowtail) with Nori Sauce, Dashi, Vinegar and Fish Roe (9.5/10)
Chef Hasegawa could be a Sushi Itamae if he wanted to. I’ve been to some of the best sushiyas in Tokyo and this was easily the best Buri I’ve ever had. The nori sauce was beautifully balanced and complemented the Buri perfectly.
Grilled Mackerel with Cabbage and Deep Fried Prawns (6.5/10)
This was probably the dish that was closest to a miss tonight. Individually, all the components of the dish were executed well but together, it just didn’t make a cohesive dish.
This dish needs more ants! (Never thought I would ever say that)
The “Garden” showcases Chef Hasegawa’s technical abilities, beyond his fun and playfulness. His sister is a farmer and the 25 ingredients in the salad all came from her farm. Everything was excellent, but the tomato (cooked in vanilla and vinegar) was a standout.
Check out the surprise at the bottom of the salad 🙂
Ikura (Salmon Roe) with Rice cooked in Dashi (8/10)
Chef Hasegawa tells us that he’s so thankful we flew all the way from Australia that he’s going to be serving us a bonus course. The oldest trick in the book, and he probably does it for a lot of his diners, but we ain’t complaining.
Hokkaido Kuroge Wagyu Beef (Zabuton Cut) Takikomi Gohan (9.5/10)
Before this dish was served, Chef Hasegawa personally brought this to the table, huddled us together so we could take a look. “Special moment”, he says. Special it was indeed.
The wagyu beef had been aged, rubbed, grilled (for 7 days!) and braised.You could tell his heart went into making this. It may not have been the best cut of beef I’ve ever had, but it damn sure almost tasted like it.
The best part though? Chef Hasegawa gave me seconds! What other fine dining restaurant would serve you seconds?
“Shovel” Dessert – Cheese Bavarois with Moss and Bamboo Charcoal (9/10)
Anytime cheese appears
in a dessert, I’m a super happy man.
The dessert was a clever way to tie in the shovel in the mossy garden at the entrance of the restaurant. The “shovel” dessert was served with gardening gloves (which I also tried to take home) and on a seemingly innocuous sheet of newspaper. Upon closer inspection, certain letters were circled that spelled out “THANK YOU”. Cute!
Inside the mock Starbucks cup was an intense yet smooth caramel that was finished with the aftertaste of truffle. I’m surprised caramel and truffle isn’t combined more often because they work so well together.
The story behind the cup is that Chef Hasegawa previously had 2 Michelin Stars but lost one (he presently has 1 Michelin Star). Instead of taking it hard like every other Michelin chef, he jokes about hoping he will get back his other star one day by putting it on the side of a cup.
It was past midnight by the time we ended the meal, and we took some photos with Chef Hasegawa. We bid our farewells but the experience had left me so inadequately fumbling for words that all I could muster was “domo arigato” and a respectful bow. As I left that night and walked back to our Airbnb, I couldn’t help but have one thought and one thought only – I may never have a more enjoyable meal for the rest of my life.
So fellow foodies, what’s the best fine dining experience you’ve ever had?