Den 傳, Tokyo

As with any visit to Japan‘s capital city, it was always a challenge working out the meal plan for our stay. With more Michelin stars than any other city in the world, Tokyo is undoubtedly a foodie’s heaven. For this trip, our first meal in Tokyo was at Den. The restaurant reservations can be made up to 2 months in advance, but back in December 16 (when reservations open for Feb 17), they were in the midst of relocating to a new place. The reservations were suspended during the shifting period and by the time we found their new telephone number there was only 1 slot available during our 3-day stay in Tokyo.

Although their new premise has more seats than the previous location, the total cover is around 25 per seating (including the private dining room) based on my visual scan.

The casual-style restaurant offers only 1 course menu in what is termed as “modern kaiseiki” cuisine helmed by the charismatic Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa.  We commenced our meal with a Japanese sweet known as Monaka but recreated with a twist by Chef Zaiyu. The typical Japanese sweet is usually served with azuki bean jam sandwiched between two crisp wafers. However at Den, they replaced the typical filling with their own jam creation and is changed seasonally.  The Monaka was served in a sealed package that looked like pastry purchased from commercially produced confectionery, however these were in fact freshly prepared and packed only upon order~ Apparently even the sticker on the package is changed seasonally.

The staff kept the filling as a mystery and only revealed the answer to us after playing some guessing game. Upon first bite, we were happy to able to identify the key ingredient which had a unique flavour – foie gras. The full answer? Monaka stuffed with foie gras, begonia flower jam and pickled daikon. It was an interesting fusion snack filled with surprises from unraveling of the wrapper to the well-balanced mix of textures presented in the simple looking wagashi.

As we opted to pair our meal with sake, we also got to try a variety of sake from across Japan. Starting with Senkin Yamahai Kame-no O Junmai from Tochigi Prefecture.

Continuing with the fun guessing game, we were presented with the 2nd course. Having encountered a similar dish at Le Musée earlier, we were confident that this was not a simple tofu dish.  We were right once again with this dish being Shirako tofu with kudzu starch.

While waiting for the next course, 2nd sake pairing was presented. Hoken Shuzo 宝剣 Junmai Ginjo from Hiroshima Prefecture, was served in an interesting sake cup. The staff introduced that the cup was handmade by Chef’s friend.

After placing a side plate which acted as a teaser to the next dish, the iconic red box of a world-renown fried chicken chain made its grand appearance. However over at Den, instead of Colonel Sanders you will see the profile of Chef Zaiyu himself printed on the box. Occasionally you might have seen photos of other Chefs on it, as the team would personalise the box for Chefs who were dining at the restaurant.

Even for commoners like us, customisation was catered for by the inclusion of our national flag inside the box! What a lovely touch!

This dish was endearingly named Dentucky Fried Chicken Sticky rice chicken with plum. While stuffed fried chicken wing was not a novel idea, the way the dish was presented certainly made it a lot more memorable. I wonder if there would soon be a McDENald’s happy meal set introduced with hand-cut sweet potato fries and nuggets?

After the fun-filled fried dish, we moved on to Marinated Grouper with wasabi and Shiso murame/perilla sprouts, a light yet firm fish that I finished in 1 bite and was hoping for more.

Grilled/baked dish was next, Wagyu with arrowhead chips, dashi and potato where seasonal ingredient of arrowhead was made into crispy chips.

Despite visiting Den during late winter, they were still able to serve up their signature Garden salad with 10 different greens from Shizuoka. A quick google would show that others had the salad with at least 25 herbs in it. For me the most important ingredient was the nicely carved carrot emojis! kawaii desu~ 

For the final main, Chef Zaiyu came out from the kitchen to present to the guests the Bamboo shoot rice and personally filled the bowls according to our preferred portion size: small, medium or Mount Fuji. In kaiseki meal, no rice could be served without the pickles and miso soup.

After finishing our last sake pairing Yamagata Masamune (dry) Junmai Ginjo for the dinner, it was soon time for desserts.

The staff placed a sheet of newspaper article as place mat for each guest and invited us to decipher the hidden message. Although everyone had a different article, amazingly we all got the same message – “SEE YOU”.

Similar to other dining establishment, we were served a cup of “coffee” to go with our dessert. However the special brew at Den did not contain any caffeine, it was made of Cane Sugar Caramel (cooked for 8 hours), Black Truffles and Custard Pudding served in a familiar looking espresso cup. Instead of the iconic Starbucks Siren, the cheeky chef once again replaced the celebrated logo with his own icon.

Each guest received one mini shovel with our dessert on it. Upon first glance it certainly looked like a pile of soil. It was in fact Bamboo charcoal mousse with cheese coated with Japanese tea and buckwheat. Although it didn’t look appetising, it tasted amazing! I love the grassy smell of the Japanese tea and the rich creamy mousse.

Den has been termed by many as serving modern kaiseki cuisine. To me they not only showcased the Japanese art of cooking and presentation, more importantly they exemplified Japanese’s art of hospitality – omotenashi.

When we bid farewell to Chef Zaiyu who sees every guests to the door, we wished him luck at the Asia 50 Best Awards Ceremony which would be held 2 weeks later in Bangkok. Unknown to us then that Den would be honoured with a newly introduced award for the Art of Hospitality.

If you are feeling bored with the routine formal fine-dining restaurants and is looking for a casual and fun dining place with innovative cooking, Den is the place to be.

Earlier Photos Taken:

Happy to be back in Tokyo for a feast, always nice to see the striking red Tokyo Tower accompanied with clear blue sky.

While on our way to Den, we stopped by Florilege to have a look. The two Chefs are said to be great buddies. Is that why Chef Zaiyu chose to relocate to the current spot?

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