Hot off the heels of London’s recent craze for all things noodle, Den specialises in udon noodles. Given that, when it comes to Asian cooking, I usually opt for more refined noodle options, such as the thinner rice noodles or the buckwheat soba variety, I was dubious about how I’d feel about these thicker wheat-based noodles. However, they’re exactly what you need on a winter’s evening: comforting, cleansing and clean. Indeed, the restaurant believes that udon, a traditional staple in Japan, are a very healthy noodle choice compared to ramen, soba or pasta. And sure enough, my noodle-based prejudices did not get in the way of my penchant for all things soft-launch. My companion and I visited on opening night and were lucky enough to enjoy our meals for 50% off.
Inside, the atmosphere feels very Tokyo. The décor is canteen-like, with communal-Wagamama style benches and modern pendant lighting. With room for 45 covers, the relaxed seating conveys a laid-back and traditional dining experience. Like the food, it all feels very “clean”. In this vein, the highlight for my companion was the electric washlet toilets downstairs with self-cleaning programmes and heated seats – just what you want a cold December evening! Everything here, not just the food, warms the inside…
The kitchen, meanwhile, is headed by head chef Emi Machida, who has worked in the UK for seven years, including chef de parties positions at the legendary Koya and the home of ramen, Bone Daddies. In true Japanese style, the menu, like the décor, is succinct and minimalist. There’s a selection of small plates (Tsumamis), whilst udon come with a choice of two Dashis (broths): white Dashi, made with bonito flakes, dried seaweed and soya sauce; and black Dashi (white Dashi mixed with strong soya sauce). Like Koya, the noodles are home-made and the broths recreate the signature umami flavour so distinctive to Japanese cuisine. Whilst I opted for the Tofu, Seaweed and Spring Onions (£8), my companion chose the Mixed Vegetables in Thick Gravy (£7.50).
Although the noodles were silky smooth – ideal for slurping action – we both felt that our vegetarian broths could have done with a richer flavour. I added plenty of chilli flakes and further dashes of soya sauce to lend extra depth. Having not quite mastered chopsticks just yet, the long, fat stringy noodles were also very fiddly, especially alongside all the vegetables and broth.
The Seaweed and Mixed Leaf Salad (£5) was, however, deliciously seasoned and with its salty taste and crispy onion topping, it would be a welcome extra topping to both noodle soups.
The menu could do with further vegetarian options. The service was also a bit touch and go. My companion’s Green Tea (£2) arrived after our main dishes were served, and the side seaweed salad came at the end of the meal. Nevertheless, with their claims for healthiness, these noodles will undoubtedly enjoy a surge of popularity with those ever impending New Year detoxes.
Den, 2 Acton Street, King’s Cross, London, WC1X 9NA