Hungry Hinch

Den of Delight

I know something! Photo Courtesy of: Natwick Photography

BASEMENTS AND CAVERN memories have been popping up in the Hinch archival mind in recent weeks. 

It started when we went looking for the Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in Melbourne’s myriad CBD lanes.

The club is not actually in a basement, although it feels like it. And it brought back strong memories of The Basement at Circular Quay in Sydney and wonderful nights (even with the choking slipstream smoke) featuring the Don Burrows Quartet and Galapagos Duck.

The basement connection on our Melbourne jazz night started when friends arranged to meet us at Izakaya Den. They warned me it was hard to find. 

‘It’s in a basement on Russell Street’. It certainly is, Ollie. And we walked right past it. Twice.

Don’t ever give up on it.  This is one of the best Japanese restaurants in Australia and you can see from the photo (featuring Chantelle Churchill in a pose she never dreamed would be published) it is not a pokey, dank spot at all.  The space is  also enhanced by the clever use of mirrors.
chilled  instead of warm

Izakaya Den has a huge menu which starts with the most extensive sake list you’ll find anywhere. So good and so descriptive I even had a tempting twinge although a non-drinker now for about eight years. Brought back  warm memories of Hawaii where we ate tuna sashimi (ahi)  by the tonne and I learned to  drink sake chilled  instead of warm.

They’ve even got a broad selection of Japanese beers and a dozen exotic cocktails.

I, of course, was there for the food.  We perched at comfortable high tables near the long bar and four of us ate Tapas-style (to butcher a cuisine description).

Table favourite was the spicy tuna Tataki, pictured below. There was one  ‘steak’ each  but the dish was so good  we went back for more.

The salmon sashimi with a yuzu vinaigrette was also a top-rater and a dish westerners are often timid about: eel.  The Japanese prepare eel better than anybody and use it wisely. We shared a Umaki --  an omelette featuring slices of eel. And some tofu with quinoa and tomato.

The pork belly was delicious and I loved a dish I’d never tried before:  crisp black rice with vegetables and an amazing ‘ankake’ sauce.

This place works like a well-oiled machine. The service is smooth, there are comfortable couches if you have to wait for a table (and I suspect there’s a lot of that because they don’t take dinner bookings) and you can get in and out quickly if you want to go to the theatre.

I noticed they also served duck but, in this basement, not of the Galapagos kind.




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