Restaurant Den opened in January 2008, run by Zaiyu Hasegawa, and was awarded two stars in the 2012 Michelin guide after gaining its first star in 2011. Even by the standards of restaurants in Japan, its entrance is discreet. Located in Chibuya, it can be found down a little pedestrian-only alleyway next to a 7-11 store, marked by a tiny wooden sign. Inside, there is counter seating for eight, plus a few private rooms, allowing 25 diners in total to be seated at capacity. Five chefs appeared to be working in the kitchen on the night that we visited.
Chef Ziayu Hasegawa claims that his cooking here is inspired by his mother’s cooking, who was herself a trained geisha. His style of cuisine is modern kaiseki with an element of playfulness. His "salad" is his signature dish. At the time of writing Den has the highest ranking in Tokyo on the kanji website Tabelog.
The meal began with monaka, a savoury twist on a Japanese sweet usually made with azuki bean jam filling sandwiched between two wafers of mochi (rice cake). Here it appeared as a sandwich containing foie gras, radish and persimmon. This was a fun start to the meal, and more importantly tasted good as well as being a witty idea: the persimmon nicely balanced the richness of the liver (16/20). A fried shishamo (willow leaf fish) from Hokkaido was next, a fish with just a two week season, prettily presented upright and served with salt that was made from scratch from seaweed in the kitchen here. The fish had excellent flavour and was as precisely cooked as its careful presentation (17/20).
Next was an interesting fusion dish: a soup using a dashi stock with milk, black truffle and Roquefort. This umami-rich dish was lovely, warm and comforting, the truffle scent lovely, the cheese working well with the dashi (18/20). A female crab had its meat served with black kodaimi rice, mixed with a little egg and served with a crunchy cucumber pickle; the crab was very fresh, the overall flavour mix enjoyable (16/20).
The evident sense of humour of the chef came through in the next dish. A takeaway box was labelled as "Dentucky fried chicken", containing chicken that was stuffed with three types of mushroom: shimeje, maitake and eringi, plus a few almonds, and then fried. This was nicely seasoned and very enjoyable (16/20).
Sashimi was Spanish mackerel with its skin lightly grilled, served with nori sauce, dashi, vinegar and fish roe. The flavour of the mackerel was superb, much better than the mackerel I had eaten at lunch today at Narisawa (18/20). Amadei (tilefish) was fried so that its skin was crispy, served with crisp black cabbage and crisp yuba (milk skin). The flavour of the fish was terrific, its skin perfectly crisp, the cabbage a good accompaniment (18/20).
Next was an elaborate dish called "the garden", reminiscent of the garigouille of Bras. Numerous vegetables were prepared in different ways, some fried, some grilled, some raw, and beautifully presented. Amongst the vegetables on offer were sweet pepper, potato, burdock, ginko, several types of radish, turnip, potato, carrot coated in tea powder, pumpkin and lotus root. The leaves included rocket, red chard, spinach, begonia, nasturtium and mustard. The key to the success of this dish was the sheer quality of the vegetables; the chef's sister is a farmer and the ingredients used here all came from her farm. This was a terrific dish (easily 18/20).
This was followed by a fish soup using yellowtail, with green onion and a dashi stock. The fish was excellent, the stock enjoyably rich (16/20). Finally, on a bed of rice were slices of wagyu beef shoulder from a five year old cow sourced from Hokkaido, along with some very good pickles. The meat had lovely flavour, not over-marbled so still very much tasting of beef, the rice cooked with stock and delicious (18/20). My wife had an alternative version using excellent Sakura shrimps.
Dessert was a cheese mousse with pear, persimmon, Cointreau jelly and black sugar jelly, an odd sounding combination that actually worked really well, the sharpness of the fruit nicely cutting through the richness of the cheese (17/20).
The service was lovely, genuinely welcoming and very helpful. There was a real sense of fun at Den, the diners at the counter interacting with the chefs and each other, chatting and laughing. It was a really delightful experience. The bill, with copious beer and a little sake, came to ¥30,000 for two, which works out at £93 a head. This felt like a relative bargain for a throughly enjoyable, superb evening.