Who’s in the kitchen? Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa began his career at age 18 in the kitchen of a ryotei (exclusive traditional Japanese restaurant) in Tokyo’s Kagurazaka geisha area, where his mother worked. Eleven years later he opened Den, which moved to its current location in late 2016.
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.
Any house specials? So many. And most of them change with the seasons. Constant points of reference include the signature foie gras monaka (wafer sandwich) as an appetiser; the 20-plus-vegetable Den garden salad, invariably incorporating a few surprises; and the now-classic Dentucky Fried Chicken – probably the best chicken wings you will ever taste, complete with 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.
Read all about it: There’s now a cookbook, simply and appropriately titled Den: The Evolving Tokyo Japanese Cuisine. Although mostly in Japanese, it has some English text and enough sumptuous images to give a good taste of what makes Hasegawa’s cooking so special.
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 in 2017 with the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants inaugural Art of Hospitality Award. In 2019, it goes one step further in winning The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Art of Hospitality Award, sponsored by Legle.