Hidden in a rather old shopping centre within the Orchard Road shopping district, Il Den is perhaps one of the places that one can rightfully call a hidden gem; tucked away from the crowd, Il Den is located at a corner at level four of Orchard Plaza, where most newly-established eateries would most probably not consider setting up shop at considering the building’s sleepy outlook.
Being just a rather small shop, Il Den is a cozy and rustic bistro that seats 8 to 10 pax. The shop’s layout reminded us of the look of Summer Hill; albeit simple and less elaborate, but still as cosy and intimate, considering the only dining space would be the communal table set in the middle of the shop in between the entrance and the open kitchen area of the shop. Il Den is pretty much a one-man show; the chef-owner doubles up as the wait staff, introducing the menu while shuffling between kitchen duties and bringing out the dishes to the guests. Prices are set at rather wallet-friendly rates, sitting around prices similar to cafes. The menu is well-sized, providing patrons enough options when it comes to pasta and mains with a few sides to choose from. Beverage options include cold drinks, as well as a small selection of alcoholic drinks.
Going for one of the starters to share, we went for the Foccacia; the bread being all light and crusty yet spongy and fluffy. Absolutely delicious even though it was lightly salted and finished with a drizzle of olive oil to provide a slight richness to the flavours of the bread; something which we thoroughly enjoyed.
One of the starters that caught our attention while we skimmed through what was available on their menu was the Egg Pudding; the Egg Pudding is essentially somewhat similar to a Chawanmushi; smooth and custardy, the jus added to the egg pudding provides a slightly briny flavour that matches so well with the savoury flavours coming off from the pan-seared Foie Gras. The Foie Gras, whilst not being too gamey, provided a complimenting flavour and a hint of smokiness to the briny jus, giving the egg pudding an interesting contrast of flavours.
Our choice of pasta was the Carbonara; something which the chef-owner himself had recommended alongside their Chorizo Pasta. Making their own pasta from scratch, the strands of pasta were al-dente, whilst laced in that rich, luscious sauce that was absolutely creamy and rich; carried a bite at the same time. It came with a generous portion of chunky pork; provided a bite while it did carry the meat’s natural sweetness without carrying a distinct stench, while everything else is topped off with shaved cheese for just a slight hint of cheesiness. While some may pass this off as a regular cream-based pasta, this was an item we absolutely loved; something that gets better with every forkful.
(Braised Pork Jowl)
We also went for the Braised Pork Jowl from the mains section of the menu; the Braised Pork Jowl comes with Polenta and a tomato-based sauce that helps to cut through the richness of the Polenta and the meatiness of the pork jowl. Again, the pork jowl came all chunky, providing a bite whilst being absolutely tender and melt-in-the-mouth, while the tomato-based sauced help to carry that twang and zinginess. The polenta, while not being exactly smooth nor consistent in terms of texture, was well done as it was; at times, one could feel the slight graininess or even some bite. That being said, the Polenta did help to provide a contrast of textures that went well with the dish; one that gave it an unrefined and unpolished feel with a certain degree of appeal that gives it so much character as a dish.
Overall, Il Den is indeed what we would call a hidden gem, considering its discreet location and its incredibly intimate vibes; a concept that not many are able to replicate. While the food may not be mind-blowingly awesome, the dishes do feel well-executed, homely and cosy; the sort of food and service one would expect when a talented friend cooks at home for a gathering. It is also truly amazing to see how Il Den is run as a one-man show, with just the chef-owner at the helm to take care of the entire operations, from the daily routines to the small details involved; such dedication and passion is something not many people can hold themselves to for a business. While reservations are recommended (which can be done via their Facebook Page; link at the end of this post), we must say that Il Den is certainly a spot that one should perhaps consider adding to the list of places to visit; it certainly brings a slightly different vibe to dining out as opposed to a typical eatery around town. We applaud the chef-owner for Il Den for his efforts in providing such an experience to the local food scene and wishing him all the best in what has to come in the future.
150 Orchard Road
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/ildensg/