Who’s in the kitchen? Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa began cooking at age 18 in the kitchen of a ryotei (exclusive traditional Japanese restaurant) in Tokyo’s Kagurazaka neighbourhood. Eleven years later he opened Den, which moved to its current location in late 2016.
Family history: Hasegawa’s mother was a great inspiration to him at the outset of his culinary career. Working as a geisha in one of Japan’s ryotei, she often brought home Bento for him to taste, sparking his interest in gastronomy and a love of traditional cuisine.
Any house specials? So many – and most of them change with the seasons. Constant points of reference include a starter of snow crab tofu covered in mizore sauce; the signature salad with ant and 20-plus vegetables; and the now-classic Dentucky Fried Chicken – probably the best chicken wings you will ever taste, complete with Japanese sticky rice, chicken ginseng soup and customised fast-food take-out carton. Underpinning everything, the culmination of every meal is the donabe-gohan, claypot-cooked rice with wagyu beef or seafood.
The philosophy: Rather than sticking to the elegant, refined but often impersonal traditions of high-end kaiseki cuisine, Hasegawa offers an elevated, deeply personal take on Japanese home cooking. He draws on diverse influences, both home-grown and gleaned on overseas trips, but always based around prime ingredients from ocean, pasture and forest.
Service from the heart: Hasegawa likes to say his aim is to see his customers leaving with smiles on their faces. An essential ingredient in achieving this is the welcome and service provided by Den’s front-of-house team, which was recognised with the Art of Hospitality Award at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019.