Since its inception in 2015, Den has been a Japanese restaurant with a difference. Built around chef-owner Zaiyu Hasegawa’s playful and warm personality, Den took Japanese kaiseki – a traditional style of cuisine involving a series of intricate dishes, known for its wealth of rules and formal approach – and reinvented it into ‘fun dining’. Widely celebrated as The Best Restaurant in Japan, a title it won most recently at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019, Den is the result of the inextricable combination of two elements: impeccable food and selfless hospitality.
As the chef explained at #50BestTalks: Vital Ingredients, presented by Miele, in Macao earlier this year, hospitality at Den starts from when the customer first calls the restaurant to seek a reservation. Hasegawa himself recognises how difficult it is to secure a seat at the Tokyo spot, and considers it essential that the first contact with the diner is handled by his team with the utmost kindness and friendliness. His aim is to make his customers smile – even before they’re seated at the table.
Den’s front of house team is led by Hasegawa’s wife Emi, a master of omotenashi, the Japanese spirit of selfless service. Thanks to the couple’s labour of love, everything at the restaurant is conceived with the customer in mind. From the warmest of welcomes, to the personalised touches on the dishes and Hasegawa’s own trips into the dining room to bring his positivity and sense of humour to the room, every aspect of a meal at Den is designed to make the guest feel special.
Hasegawa grew up immersed in the culture of entertaining. His mother was a geisha (a traditional Japanese hostess) at a restaurant in Tokyo, and the Japanese cook fell in love with the hospitality world through this connection. One of the signature dishes at Den – a salad of fresh vegetables plucked from the restaurant’s garden – features a carrot with cut-out eyes and a smile, a detail inspired by his mother’s own habit of putting a smiley face in his lunch boxes. In the same spirit, the Den team strives to make the diner feel similarly cossetted.
For a cook that only speaks Japanese, Hasegawa manages to make international guests feel as at home as locals through the thoughtful touches in his food and his tireless smile. The Den-tucky Fried Kitchen, another of the restaurant’s signatures, is a piece of crispy chicken stuffed with seasonal ingredients and served in a personalised box that may feature the diner’s photo – a unique keepsake that helps raise Den’s hospitality to another level.
Hasegawa’s unique Tokyo restaurant is no stranger to awards, having already achieved the inaugural Art of Hospitality Award at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017 and the One To Watch Award at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016, but it is now triumphing on the global stage by receiving the Art of Hospitality Award, sponsored by Legle, at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019.
Discover five surprising ways in which service is taken to the next level at Den
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