Last Updated: July 12, 2018
When I think of heading to town for a catch up over a decent meal with my friends, Orchard Plaza would definitely not cross my mind.
What with all the shady shops, I honestly never thought that I’d pay this tacky building a visit someday… Until I came across this Japanese-Italian restaurant, Il Den, helmed single-handedly by Chef Javier, an ex-Iggy’s chef.
Dim warm lights, soft jazz music in the background — the cosy setting of this hole-in-the-wall diner immediately gave off a very homely vibe. With the capacity to accommodate only 8 – 10 people at a time, it is akin to having an intimate dinner affair at a friend’s humble abode.
The menu offerings are pretty straightforward — omakase-style Lunch (starting from $25) and Dinner (starting from $75).
Without much hesitation, I picked the lunch set ($25) which came with a starter, main and a dessert.
For starters, I was served a pâté and topped up an additional $10 for a sake-cured foie gras terrine. The platter of pâté and terrine came with a crisp plain toast and a dollop of wholegrain mustard sauce.
The Pâté is made out of ground pork, cognac and pistachio. Texture-wise, it reminded me a little bit of luncheon meat, with the small lumps of ground pork in it. I think the addition of the pistachio was great as it gave it some textural contrast.
Unlike the smooth, spreadable texture that I’m more accustomed to, this one had more bite to it. Paired with the lightly-burnt toast and a dash of the wholegrain mustard, it was an appetising start to the meal.
For the uninitiated, the terrine is similar to a pâté, but it consists of more coarsely-chopped ingredients. The Foie Gras Terrine we had here turned out just the opposite of what we had expected — it had a softer, more melt-in-your-mouth texture to it.
Whether you choose to spread it over the bread or savour it by itself, if you’re a fan of foie gras like I am, you will enjoy the decadent and buttery morsel of foie gras terrine.
The satisfying starters whet my appetite, and I could not wait to see what the mains had in store for me.
Prepared in a very traditional Italian style, Chef Javier uses only egg yolks and cheese for his spaghetti alla Carbonara. Grated cheese and guanciale (cured pork jowl) are then added to the bowl of pasta before it is served.
Twirling the al dente pasta with my fork, I caught a whiff of the Parmigiano. This Carbonara tasted nothing like the ones I have had before.
The dense egginess and distinct flavour of the cheese were intense, imparting a strong savoury flavour to the handmade noodles.
The authenticity of this dish went right down to the bacon used. Chef Javier cures the pork — a balanced mix of Spanish Iberico pork jowl and pork belly, all by himself.
The Yuzu, Lime and Ginger Sake Jelly had far more components than just the ones mentioned in the name.
The base of the dessert consists of two different kinds of jelly made from scratch by Chef Javier. I loved how the fiery kick from the ginger-white wine jelly is balanced by the sweet-tart apple-lime jelly.
The translucent bed of jelly is topped off with a scoop of refreshing yuzu sorbet and sprinkled with raspberry, blueberries and shiso. I think it was wonderful that despite the strong flavours of each of the ingredients, all the components complemented rather than overpower one another.
Finishing up the dessert, I had a chat with Chef Javier, who shared with me his experience as a chef in Kyoto. Amidst our conversation, he casually asked if I liked uni (sea urchin). Without hesitating, I nodded my head excitedly.
“Wait ah, I prepare something for you, but it’s not in your set lunch. Additional one, on the house,” and he emerged from the kitchen, balancing a box of uni and a couple of other fresh ingredients.
Within minutes, he placed a bowl of cold uni and tako somen (sea urchin and octopus) on the table. The somen was mixed with freshly-grated mountain wasabi, shiso and fresh tako.
The cold wheat noodles were evenly-coated with a sauce that had a thick consistency to it — and the tako lent a refreshing “oceany” taste to the dish. On top of that, the chewiness of the octopus and bits of freshly-grated mountain wasabi added a great textural contrast to the somen.
Chef Javier’s enthusiasm and passion for his work is undoubtedly demonstrated in his culinary creations. One thing’s for sure — the lovely ambience and exquisite cuisine would definitely keep me going back for more.
As a testament to how good it is, here’s a little advice: Be sure to make reservations in advance. The last I heard, he is fully-booked for the month!
Expected damage: $25 – $150 per pax