Search for Great Places To Stay & Eat

Restaurant Review - Zen

Restaurant Review - Zen

Tuesday 23 August 2016

For many of us, the first experience
 of exotic food was Chinese, mostly of the bland Cantonese variety, until the more fiery Sichuan cuisine hit our shores in the padded-shoulder Dallas and Dynasty era of the 80s. I have memories of great Chinese food back then, when we all fell
in love with aromatic duck and Sichuan prawns, but with good Chinese food as rare as hen’s teeth nowadays, I’m wondering was 
it all a dream like Bobby Ewing emerging from the shower?
When the Thai food fad took over, many Chinese restaurants, instead of upping their game with more authentic or contemporary Chinese food, for a now widely travelled diner, jumped instead on the mundane Thai food/Japanese Teppanyaki Table bandwagon. Indian restaurants, however, ignored the Thai phenomenon,
 in favour of developing a lighter innovative Indian cuisine, which has seen them thrive both here and in London. I think of people like Atul Kochar, the first Indian chef to gain a Michelin Star; of Asheesh Dewan’s Jaipur Group, and of Nisheeth Tak’s Rasam in Glasthule.

Anyway, I headed optimistically to Zen, which has been in Rathmines for over twenty years. Set in a red-bricked church building, we were greeted very warmly and seated at the end of a central banquette, but with only a couple of other people there all evening it was ‘church mouse quiet’– apart from some awful nothingish pop music trying to imbue atmosphere. Eleven starters, plus soups, were reasonably priced between €4.50/€6.50. There was also a half
 aromatic duck Sichuan at €18, but as restaurant reviewers and their guests need to try different dishes, we were slightly bemoaning 
the lack of quarter portions – as many places have. Also, 7 of the 11 starters involved pork by way of wraps, ribs or dumplings, which was a bit heavy on the
 ‘oink oink’. Anyway, Pang Pang (€5.50) was shreds of chicken tossed in a soya bean chilli mix while pan-fried dumplings gua tie (€6) were three unappetising armour clad dumplings, seared on one side, which reminded me of the commercial variety you can buy in Asian stores.

We scoured the mains (€15-€19) hoping to
find something exciting, settling finally on a ‘classic Sichuan cooking’ dish of shredded lamb (€18.50) with celery, fresh chilli, Sichuan pepper and ginger; and king prawns (€18.50) with wild Sichuan pepper and fresh chilli. The lamb was an unappetising brown on brown dreary slosh,
and very expensive for what was involved. We left most of it. The deep fried battered prawns, sprinkled with diced chilli peppers and spring onion, alongside two bowls of dipping sauces, were ‘fine’, but also expensive for what we received – and more expensive than we realised at the time. We’d also ordered a side of Dan Dan Noodles (€4.50) – a flat noodle mixed with sesame oil and Chinese vinegar topped with crushed cashew nuts – but I see since that they charged
 me €21.50 for the prawns with “Options-fried noodles’”–and also charged me €5 for the Dan Dan Mein (€4.50 on the menu), while we also had to ask for the rice that was included with the main courses.

With a bottle of crisp aromatic Esperanza Rueda Verdejo Viura 2015 (€27.50), bottled water (€3.75), our bill came to €87.75, which made me wince somewhat when I thought of what we could have had in our local Chinese takeaway for the price.

Looking at the mid 90s Egon Ronay plaques affixed to the walls, it certainly felt like a time warp. The hunt for that great Chinese restaurant goes on!

Zen Restaurant

89 Rathmines Road Upper,
Dublin 6.

Tel: (01) 497-9428