The first thing you need to know about new udon restaurant den is that it’s located in a converted pub called the Prince Albert, and there’s only a small red curtain with a big ‘d’ on it over the entrance to tell you you’ve come to the right place. The second thing is that den means tradition, and this specialist udon restaurant is committed to making your noodles just the way they’d be in Japan. That’s why they call themselves udon evangelists.
On Thursday I went to a special launch evening for bloggers at den, which turned out to be a great party with plates of food emerging from the kitchen and being wolfed down with enthusiasm by the assembled bloggers. The chef is Emi Machida, a young Japanese woman who has previously worked at London’s premier udon specialist Koya.
We started with a selection from the tsumami (small plates, like tapas) section of the menu, including seasonal vegetables, and a salad of seaweed and mixed leaves.
We had chicken karaage and red wine stewed pork belly.
We were served an excellent tempura selection. The tempura prawns were juicy, flavourful and crisp and the tempura vegetables crunchy with an interesting variety, including broccoli and sweet potato. It was my first experience of tempura brussel sprouts, but I think I could learn to love them.
Rice dishes came next, small donburi bowls of white rice topped with duck and takikomi rice with mushrooms and vegetables.
But the focus of the evening was the udon. Udon are thick white noodles made from wheat flour, served in a special dashi broth. It’s not the same as the broth you get with ramen noodles, which is thicker, more soup-like and made from boiling pork bones. An udon dashi is thinner, made with soy sauce and mirin and is primarily there to flavour the noodles. You can drink it if you want, but you don’t have to. Our noodles were served in den’s white broth with clams and mizuna (a sort of Japanese watercress). The dashi was excellent and fully justified den’s pride in it.
They also served cold udon with sesame sauce (pictured at the top of this post) – a bit less popular on one of the coldest nights of the year but something to look forward to in summer.
A novelty was the udon pretzels, cooked so that they were crisp and salty.
The restaurant is simply furnished with wooden tables and benches. The menu follows the same minimalist lines, limiting itself to tsumami, donburi and udon, which are served with your choice of toppings, all at very reasonable prices. A great addition to the rapidly-growing London Japanese restaurant scene.
den is at 2 Acton Street London WC1X 9NA, a short walk from King’s Cross.
UPDATE – as of August 2015 den is closed, though there are plans to open a new Japanese restaurant called Wazen on the site.