Eating out in the city has got even better with den Udon taking over with its comforting and delicious den of all things tasty.
In three words: Genuine, Comforting, Delicious
The Lowdown: What does one eat for a meal that’s hearty, tasty, is sure to fill you up but still rates fairly highly on the healthy-scale? That’s the question we’ve certainly been asking in these bleak January months, where good intentions are kiboshed by a desire for comfort food.
Enter the Udon. With fewer calories than ramen, soba or pasta, they still provide a great filling fix, and are often served in a broth that’s piping hot and packed with flavour, without the need for creams and butters. And now a new establishment has appeared to satisfy your noodle craving – the delightful den Japanese Restaurant in Clerkenwell is pulling out all the stops to deliver an authentic taste sensation.
Location: On Acton Street, in King’s Cross. The pure white facade of den stands out as a beacon of promising tastiness within.
The Occasion: Perfect for when you fancy being healthy but also need something to ward away those winter chills. Or simply when you want to the great taste and flavour of authentic Japanese cuisine – den provides unfussy but expertly made dishes.
Decor: The main scheme is as white and snowy as the peak of Mount Fuji, with gunmetal grey accents giving it a contemporary feel. The airy high ceilings and angular space had me suddenly imagining I was tucked inside a carefully folded piece of origami. Appreciation too for the lighting – large unadorned bulbs hang down from the ceiling like the bright sparks of ideas buzzing in the air.
Atmosphere: The space is such that a lovely calmness pervades, which is a great respite from the hectic world outside. You almost feel like you’re leaving the troubles of the day behind as you pull up a bench, and the long communal tables add to this, making it feel like you’re being invited to partake in meditation with food.
Culinary Concept: Udon, baby! This is the place to come if you want some seriously good noodles, served hot with or without soup, or simply cold with a dipping sauce. There are three types of broth to choose from – the more delicate Osaka white broth; the rich, salty Tokyo black broth; and the vegetarian broth. There are also some delicious Tsunami (small plates) and Donburi rice dishes too.
What we tried:
A beautiful platter of fresh daikon and pickled edamame cleansed the palate, while innovative udon pretzels dipped in sour cream made for a snack that gets the tummy rumbling. Then it’s time to peruse the menu – we couldn’t not try the famous Kara-Age, and it lived up the hype. Large, lightly battered nuggets were devoid of grease and seasoned to perfection, with succulent chicken within and not a hint of chewiness. The Pork Belly in Red Wine Sauce was a huge slab of glistening meat, swimming in a rich, ruby coloured sauce and literally falling to pieces our chopsticks dug in. A Seaweed salad was as beautiful as it was tasty and provided the nutrient kick we were after.
On to the main event, and as soon as my Chicken, Mushroom and Mixed Leaves udon arrived then I could tell it would be a success. I’ve had grainy or cloudy broths before, but this black Tokyo variety was completely clear, as if reflecting the night sky. It was almost like a Japanese consommé, with a delicious snap of saltiness from the dark soy. As for the noodles – purists will immediately be able to tell the hand-worked craftsmanship that goes into preparing them. They had the fabulous chewiness that is essential – not floury or stodgy at all. The best I have had outside Tokyo, for sure.
For next time: Another dish that caught my eye was the Spicy Cod Roe, Fresh Eggs and Spring Onion in Thick Gravy – definitely one for the next visit.
Veggie delights: There’s plenty to tempt vegetarians – three different udon varieties, as well several Tsunami and some rice dishes. What’s more, with the broth made fresh from Knobu (dried seaweed) and mushrooms, then it in no way scrimps on flavour.
Best of the booze: There’s a lovely sake selection that fans will appreciate – the Muroka Genshu I tried was crisp, clean and had an almost almond finish. There are also several wines and a small but capable cocktail list – next time I’ll go for the Shochu Iced – Oolong Tea and Jun Shochu.
Overall: den Call themselves Udon Evangelist and I can certainly see why – the skills of the kitchen staff are superb. The lovely host, Masumi, flits between customers like a delicate and enthusiastic hummingbird, making sure all needs are met. den is ideal for escaping the hectic city outside – enter this wonderful sanctuary and feel the stresses of the day lift away, as this is a place to feed not only the stomach but also the soul.
2 Acton Street London WC1X 9NA
+44 (0) 20 3632 1069