Name: Den Udon
Where: 2 Acton Street, London, WC1X 9NA (020 3632 1069) http://www.den-udon.uk.com/
Cost: Tsumami (small plates) start at £2.50 for pickled vegetables and rise to £8 for a serving of prawn and vegetable tempura. Udon noodles, the restaurant’s speciality, are available with a number of ingredient combinations, none of which costs more than £12. Though the noodles can be served many ways (hot, cold, with broth and without) the restaurant has a selection of similarly priced Donburi rice dishes as an alternative. At lunchtime, both are available as a lunch set, with homemade pickles and a rice dish for £2 extra.
As for the drinks, a bottle of Asahi Super Dry beer is £3.50, and all cocktails, including fruit sours made with the Japanese spirit shochu, are £5-6. Like the considerable sake selection, all of the wines are available by the glass at no extra charge. This means that, though bottles are available for less than £30, diners can choose not to break the bank.
Den Udon has also partnered with London men’s magazine Mr Hyde to offer a tasting event ahead of its official opening – featuring a selection of small plates, udon broth and hot and cold sake – for just £10 per person. Tickets for the first two nights have sold out, but check here for more news.
About: Den Udon, as the name suggests, is a Japanese restaurant specialising in the eponymous noodles; in fact, they call themselves “udon evangelists” and each menu also includes a helpful guide to preparing udon noodles at home. The restaurant has a very clean, Japanese(y) design with sharing tables and benches.
As well as the noodles, the other cornerstone of Den’s cooking is their dashi stock - made the proper way, from scratch and freshly everyday, it had distinctive, clean umami flavours only good Japanese stock can offer.
At Den Udon the base dashi broth for their udon dishes is available as a light white or a thicker black (with added soy). Both can also be made with mushroom rather than fish stock which is good news for vegetarians.
What We Ate: At Den Udon, as in many other Japanese restaurants, dishes can be served as they leave the kitchen, and so the small plates may turn up all together and/or with the main dishes. We began with a sharing platter of small snacks which included pretzels made from Udon noodles, tamagoyaki (the delicate Japanese omelette familiar to most sushi lovers) and a portion of smoked clams served with grated daikon. These are traditional izakaya snacks, where the crunchy pretzels and spicy, salty clams are ideal accompaniments to very chilled beer.
These were followed, a tad annoyingly, by all other dishes, starters and mains we ordered all at once. These included a selection of tempura prawns and familiar vegetables, from broccoli to brussel sprouts. The batter was light and crispy, leaving the bold colours of the tomatoes and butternut squash to glint through. Likewise, the bright pink sakura salt (cherry blossom), a very nice addition to the dish, drew out the fresh flavours of the vegetables and the feather-light batter.
Additional small plates included Chicken Kara-Age, a well-known Japanese dish of fried chicken marinated in soy. Den’s kara-age was flavoursome, it had been made darker by the strongly coloured soy but it could have been crispier in our opinion.
Similarly, the Red Wine Stewed Pork Belly was another delicious dish, rich and warming. The decision to add red wine to this traditional dish (buta kakuni) gave it a dark red coloured sauce with a refreshing acidity, into which the meat fell straight from the bone.
For mains, we ordered a pork belly udon soup served with cabbage in a black dashi broth, as well as another dish of Udon with spicy cod roe (mentaiko), fresh egg and spring onions. The noodles were made in the restaurant kitchen, and had an excellent texture - they were thick, elastic and with a lovely bite to them without being chewy. The accompanying pork belly was soft, and the black broth well-balanced, this was a great udon noodle.
Likewise, the spicy cod roe – known as mentaiko – gave the second dish a wonderful fish flavour that I just wished there were more of in the thick soup. The addition of egg stirred into the broth made for a thicker sauce with an extra layer of flavour.
What We Drank: We began with cocktails made from Japanese spirit shochu. To make a sour, the shochu is served with a dash of tonic over ice, and diners are left to squeeze whichever citrus fruit they desire over it - a refreshing cocktail with a unique presentation.
This was followed by an Asahi Black Beer, which takes its colour from the three different Japanese malts used in the fermentation process. This gives it a rich flavour that goes brilliantly with much of the menu, from the salty udon pretzels and kara-age chicken to the umami udon broths. We also tried the sweet Takara Plum Wine, which comes with a light colour and a bold fruity flavour and ended our meal on a high note.
Likes: Den Udon offers a well thought out menu featuring freshly made udon noodles (made in the premises) with great texture and flavour. Floor Manager Masumi Maeda is passionate about the food, and will help everyone, from experts to novices, to order and understand the restaurant’s menu options.
Dislikes: the timing of the dishes being served needs looking at, the kara-age chicken could have been crispier and my mentaiko udon could have had a tad more mentaiko in it, but apart from these minor glitches, all else was spot on.
Verdict: Den Udon is a lovely new Japanese Diner in Kings Cross offering a wide range of excellent Udon dishes at very competitive prices. Finally, a London Udon restaurant that will not break the bank! Recommended.