Oops, Udon It again! | den, 2 Acton Street, Kings Cross, London WC1X 9NA
The trend for Japanese food just doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Existing restaurants are opening additional branches, pop-ups are getting permanent sites and new launches are, if anything, gaining momentum. One of these new kids on the block is den, serving up authentic udon in a renovated pub in King’s Cross.
Head chef is Emi Machida, a young female Japanese Chef previously of Koya and Bone Daddies. It’s not in the good part of Kings Cross nestled between the Grain Store and Dishoom, but a quieter less buzzing area opposite a hostel.
We’ve had Ramen, dabbled with Sushi, love a good Katsu and got very excited over a pile of steamed buns! But we were yet to sample Umami (umai = delicious, mi = taste) a traditional Japanese recipe that’s centuries old. Light, healthy and with few calories (if that matters to you!)
Decor in den is very simple and functional – neutral walls with no-fuss hooks to hang your bags and coats. Long modern light wooden tables and benches (that seat 8) are lined up uniformly across the room. Lighting is bright, great for taking photos but not very kind on the bags under my eyes! And downstairs they have those very cool/complicated Japanese toilets with heated seats and variable flushing settings!
The main menu is divided into three sections – Tsumami (small plates), Udon and Donburi/rice. I enjoyed the Tsumami the most, we ordered four dishes between three people and really wished we’d ordered a couple more. Chicken Kara-Age (£5) was bite-sized chunks of Japanese Fried Chicken (humorously known as ‘JFC’ in Japan). The chicken is marinated in soy sauce, ginger and garlic, then coated in potato starch and deep-fried until golden and crisp… Simply yum!
Bizarrely I was drawn to the Crispy mackerel (£6), I’m not a massive fan of fish – especially the oily variety. But I’m glad I took the risk, again these deep-fried cuts were really good, not greasy or overly fishy (you know what I mean). Next to arrive was the Sizzling beefsteak with grilled vegetables (£7.50). Not the most tender meat, maybe a little chewy but sure packed a bold meaty punch and the sauce soaked mushrooms were heaven. Last up was Miso-Marinated Grilled Salmon (£6). This didn’t last long either, strips of flaky salmon coated in a sweet and slightly sticky glaze.
den‘s cocktails are based on a Japanese spirit called Jun Shochu, similar to vodka but with a purer, more complex taste. Between the three of us we sampled all of these Jun Shochu cocktails. Saff and I tried an Orange Sour (£5) and and a Lemon Sour (£5). These weren’t the zingy fluffy sours we were used to, they are basically a measure of the spirit in ice served with half an orange/lemon which you squeeze by hand into your glass – not really a cocktail but good all the same. Our good friend Keith ordered a Ginger Vodka (£6) – vodka and ginger beer with tonic water.
The Udon and Donburi dishes are simply a variation on a theme set by the Tsumami. There are hot noodles in hot soup, hot noodles without soup (their take on a carbonara) and cold noodles with dipping sauces. The soup (or broth) comes in four varieties – black/black vegetarian and white/white vegetarian and the noodles are made fresh everyday (see diagrams below).
I ordered the Prawn tempura (£11.50) variety of the Black broth, purely out of curiosity of how they could possibly combine prawns deep-fried in a light, crisp tempura batter and a big bowl of soup filled with fat worm-like noodles. The answer was very simple, they serve the tempura on the side! I have to be honest, it’s tricky eating the slippery little udon suckers, actually sucking is the best way to eat it – a suck and a slurp!
Keith went for the Pork belly with cabbage with black broth and udon noodles (£9), he really enjoyed the meat but had to add some chilli to give it a bit of a kick. Saff ordered off the specials board, her first choice of beef stew had sold out so she went for a Pork belly Donburi (£11) instead. This rice dish was way too filling for her although she did love it, luckily I was on had to help out! The only oddity was the pork belly meat. It was very dark, almost beef-like in appearance – it must have been heavily marinated to achieve that colour or possibly they used the red wine stewed pork belly from the Tsumami section?
I enjoyed a sweet sherry-esque Takara plum wine (£3.50) whilst Saff had a light and refreshing MIO Sparkling Sake (£5). Keith obviously needed a boost and opted for a Japanese version of a Bloody Mary, the not so originally named Bloody Den (£5) – tomato juice, Jun Shochu and wasabi.
Japanese puddings tend to fall into one of two categories, either interestingly flavoured (and named) ice-creams or Mochi. Keith had the Kinanko ice-cream (£5) – roasted soy bean flavour with a few of those gorgeous curly deep-fried udon noodles. Saff and I shared the Mochi (£4), one Green Tea flavoured and the other Sesame, we can never get enough of these little balls of chewy deliciousness, this dusted variety went down very well.
den do a great value lunch time menu, this is where they pick up a lot of their trade. There was only one table of diners when we arrived for our evening meal although the restaurant did start to fill as the night went on. Service could have been a little more attentive. Both of the staff working front of house were very sweet and charming but we had to wait to get their attention to order drinks and our desserts they also failed to clear away our dirty napkins and wipe up some spilt soy sauce. Little thinks like that make all the difference. The service was the only glitch with the meal and if you’re an udon purist, then den is the place for you!
2 Acton Street, Kings Cross, London WC1X 9NA
Telephone: 020 3632 1069
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 12:00-23:00 (last orders 22:30)
Nearest station: Kings Cross Station (11 mins walk)
We ate as guests of Den, this does not affect our review in any way. We always write with complete honesty.