December 2, 2022

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Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants: What It’s Like to Eat at a Japanese Den

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants: What It's Like to Eat at a Japanese Den
(CNN) – On Tuesday night, Den in Tokyo was awarded top honors by the world’s 50 best groups, recognized as Best restaurant in Asia.

Trophies are no stranger to Den. It has two Michelin stars and has been among the top ten in the world’s best in the past years. But it also happens to be the place where I had one of the best meals of my life.

Going to fancy restaurants can be intimidating, especially for the solo traveler. Some of the big name restaurants I looked at on my November 2019 trip to Tokyo wouldn’t even accept a single dinner reservation.

But I put my name on the waiting list at Den, and a week before the flight I got a phone call confirming that I had registered a seat thanks to an odd-numbered group at the table next to me. It was like knowing I was going to a great kids’ party or got accepted into my ‘get to’ university.

Left: Chef Zayo Hasegawa with his cuddly pup; Right, a jamb in the den where customers leave letters of thanks.

Lilit Marcus/CNN

While I was happy to get a reservation, I was also nervous – would the experience be tense, formal and full of ingredient names I hadn’t heard of before? Will I leave the restaurant feeling like I crossed something off the menu, or am I actually going to enjoy the food?

With pleasure, I can say that the answer was the last.

The den is fine dining with a silly sense of humor.

In the salad, carrots are thinly sliced ​​and cut in the form of smiley faces. Japanese-style fried chicken arrives in a dummy fast-food box covered in jokes and a goofy picture of the chef. A course arrives with the national flag for each diner stuck in it—a quick scan around the small dining room that night showed tiny American (hello), Chinese, Japanese, and Canadian flags, making them great souvenirs for the meal.

And that’s not all.

Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa is not the type to hide in the kitchen and let the food do the talking. He’s funny and gossip, with his long-haired Chihuahua Bucci Often when he visits the dining room.

Tokyo is one of the largest food cities in the world. During my week-long trip – my first visit to Japan – almost everything was delicious, from the small onigiri shop to the late-night ramen to the expensive sushi prepared in front of me.

Now, I can say that one of the most memorable restaurants I have ever visited has been voted the best restaurant in all of Asia.

But I can also say that my night at the den was full of fun.

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants of 2022

1. Den (Tokyo)

2 – Sorn (Bangkok)

3 – Florileg (Tokyo)

4 – Le Du (Bangkok)

5 – The President (Hong Kong)

6- LASEM (Osaka)

7. Suhring (Bangkok)

8. Odette (Singapore)

9- Neighborhood (Hong Kong)

10 – Nassara (Bangkok)

11 – Sazenka (Tokyo)

12 – Fu He Hui (Shanghai)

13. Audi (Tokyo)

14 – Villa Aida (Wakayama, Japan)

15 – Narisawa (Tokyo)

16. Mingles (Seoul)

17 – Cezanne (Tokyo)

18 – Joo Ok (Seoul)

19. Insui (Shenzhen, China)

20- Meta (Singapore)

21- Mask (Mumbai)

22- Hindi (New Delhi)

23 – Les Ames (Singapore)

24- Caprice (Hong Kong)

25- Blue by Alain Ducasse (Bangkok)

26. 7th Door (Seoul)

27 – Muso (Seoul)

28 – Da Vittorio (Shanghai)

29 – Sushi Masato (Bangkok)

30 – Onjium (Seoul)

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31 – Samrop Samrop Thai (Bangkok)

32- Mono (Hong Kong)

33 – Ga (Bangkok)

34- Wing (Hong Kong)

35- Ministry of Crab (Colombo)

36- La Maison de la Nature Goh (Fukuoka, Japan)

37 – Zain (Singapore)

38. Logy (Taipei)

39- Ultraviolet rays by Paul Barré (Shanghai).

40 – Labyrinth (Singapore).

41- Burnt Ends (Singapore)

42 – Ete (Tokyo)

43. Cenci (Kyoto)

44- Cloudstreet (Singapore)

45. JL Studio (Taichung, Taiwan)

46 – Ran Jai Fai (Bangkok)

47. Wing Lei Palace (Macau)

48.8 1/2 Mezzo Bombano (Hong Kong)

49 – Megu (New Delhi)

50 – Dewakan (Kuala Lumpur)