Melbourne, VIC 3122
Who doesn’t love a hidden gem? Aside from the exclusivity factor, there’s also the guarantee that the food is lovingly made by hand, as opposed to churned out by the bucket-full. Taking a well earned post-exam break, Chris and I headed to Zen Japanese Restaurant at the recommendation of the lovely Sophia.
Despite being a bit scruffy, the inside of the restaurant manages to feel charming and homely, rather than grungy. Little touches such as bamboo screens and bottles of sake make the experience all the more authentic.
|Placemat and Chopsticks|
We had the option of ordering off the main menu but we opted to order from the lunch specials (consisting of bento boxes and ‘dons’, also known as ‘stuff on rice’) as well. The staff were extremely polite and accommodating.
Not being very hungry, I decided to order an Okonomiyaki ($8.9), which is a traditional Japanese pancake (or pizza, depending on who you ask) with octopus, and drizzled with Japanese mayo and BBQ sauce. What came out on the plate was a lot smaller, but also a lot more refined than the offering at Teppansan. The pancake was soft, fragrant and interlaced with cabbage, though there was nary a piece of octopus to be seen. The sauces on top are less creamy than I’m used to, but overall it makes for a good light snack.
|Toriteri Bento ($10)|
Being a little hungrier than me but still not very hungry, Chris decided on the Toriteri Bento ($10) off the lunch specials, which was basically a teriyaki chicken bento with a side of salad, rice, and miso soup. The teriyaki chicken was possibly one of the best I’ve had, with lightly smoked chicken drizzled in a sweet sauce that made it light yet decadent at the same time. The side salad was also impressive, a simple salad of cabbage tossed with a deliciously nutty sesame sauce; I never thought I could like a salad with raw cabbage in it but, this one proved me wrong!
We’ve had a very pleasant experience so far, so it was an enormous shame that at this moment, disaster chose to strike in the form of the rice. There was nothing wrong with the rice itself, being fluffy and scattered with sesame seeds – the problem was with the little rice ball that came with it. I was originally rather enamoured with the adorable little rice ball studded with seaweed with sesame seeds, and I was about to take another fragrant bite when I noticed a hair. It wasn’t on top of the rice, so I couldn’t even pass it off as my own hair and keep eating, but right through the rice ball. Needless to say neither of us touched the rice ball after that.
|Complimentary Apple Slices|
Thankfully, they redeemed themselves somewhat at the end of the meal by handing us a small plate of apple slices. Nothing fancy, but it was a nice little touch.
The hair incident aside, we had a very nice, light lunch at Zen, and some of the smells coming from the kitchen were truly amazing. However, we’re not too sure if we want to come back – we were both quite put off by the hair, which is a shame really, because the food here is definitely better and more authentic than your run-of-the-mill Japanese restaurant.
Rating: 12/20 – waiter, there’s a hair in my ball!