The underground space is dominated by a long bar which you can eat at for a front row view of the kitchen and bar action. The menu is theatrically presented in rolled scrolls and is probably best described as a Western take on Japanese food. It could all go horribly wrong in inexperienced hands, but here the result is vibrant and interesting thanks to the combined talents of Miyuki Nakahara, Takashi Omi and Simon Denton. Izakaya does equal drinking den in Japan so I should mention the lengthy beer list and impressive range of sakes direct from Japan. We were boring though and just drank Asahi.
To start, delicate kingfish sashimi ($18) which was sparkling fresh and a real highlight of the meal. It’s all about the quality of the fish and this was quality. Steamed eggplant with minced chicken and chilli miso ($16) offered a new interpretation of one of my all time favourite dishes Nasu Dengaku. The dish had a strong, rich flavour and was lovely and silky but it lacked a bit of texture. From the grill I loved the pork belly ($19) which had a great charred flavour and was served simply with spring onions and some lemon and salt on the side cut through the fattiness of the pork.
|Salted caramel fondue|
The best part of the meal was the end thanks to the brilliant salted caramel fondue ($16) for dessert. The sticky sauce came with frozen grapes and squares of brioche for dipping. It was pure genius and I am busily trying to work out whether I can justify buying a fondue for my kitchen so I can recreate the dish. While it may have been a little embarassing wandering up and down Russell street, I’m glad I finally found Izakaya Den, it’s an underground sensation.
Details: Izakaya Den, Basement, 114 Russell Street, Melbourne 3000 (Ph 03 9654 2977) No bookings except if you are a group of 5 or 20.