T: 028 9023 2244 F: 028 9023 6600
55-59 Adelaide Street, Belfast, Northern Ireland, BT2 8FE
Zen is one of Belfast's much loved Asian cuisine restaurants. By definition, Zen means enlightenment through meditation. When you eat from our range of delicious Japanese meals at Zen, we want you to reach enlightement.
Located in Belfast City's centre and only a few minutes away from the City Hall,
Zen is the perfect location to relax and enjoy the Asian taste experience, during the day for lunch or for those late evenings meals.
A spectacular and beautifully furnished modern interior adds to the experience of quality Japanese cuisine. Wonderful ultra violet interior designs juxtaposed with a traditional Japanese decor does not detract from a unique and personal experience, with a seating layout which promotes comfort and privacy.
The innovative menu on offer at Zen provides a wide range of new and exciting Japanese style dishes, where the experimentation with new ingredients and methods of preparation have allowed Zen to set the pace in food design. Zen also caters for those with more reserved traditional tastes, offering a plethora of 'Fusion cuisine' consisting of Japanese and Asian cuisine with a Western fusion.
A diverse drinks list compliments the menu and also offers a significant range of alcoholic and non-alcholic beverages. Beers, fine wines and cocktails of various origins are available from the bar which caters for all tastes and moods.
Monday - Friday 12.00 - 15.00 & 17.30 - LATE
Saturday 17.00 - LATE
Sunday 13.30 - 22.30
Phone now to book a table at Zen on 028 9023 2244
Northern Ireland's appetite for Asian food will never be satisfied. Judging by the number of Chinese and Indian restaurants and takeaways (about 150 in the Greater Belfast area alone) the love affair with duck, noodles and rice and chicken, curry and naan continues to run smoothly and without end.
Such is the strength of this love that new Asian arrivals are starting to pop up all over the place. We now have the brilliant Nu Delhi Lounge in Belfast city centre (see review next week) and the Cosmo chain stepped up the competition and recently opened its first Northern Ireland operation - a fusion diner in Victoria Square offering dishes from nine Asian culinary cultures.
This sounds like a shot across the bows of the existing Asian fusion restaurant, Zen, which has become an institution in the heart of Belfast's business district. Popular with the suits at lunchtime and with excited teenagers and romantic twentysomethings in the evenings and weekends, Zen has carved out a reputation for itself as a value-for-money cocktails-and-fried-rice restaurant that is a bit Japanese too.
I was never convinced by the Japanese element of Zen's menu after having tried some sashimi, udon noodles and other Nipponese dishes that were either too bland or indistinctive. The Chinese food, on the other hand, can be great.
The look and feel of Zen is pure showbusiness. It's dark, creates spaces with the use of intricately-made wooden screens and curtains through which you can peep, almost unseen, into next door's booth; there are bird cages and lanterns, backlit frames behind the bar and the whole place exudes a kind of eastern glamour and decadence, a hint of Shanghai in the early 20th century.
Business people like it because it is intimate without being lugubrious and you can get on with your conversations in private. Young ones like it because its night time edginess is predictable and reliable - the only risk they're going to encounter is a surly waiter.
The menu is a heady mix of 'fusion' dishes including starters like Zen dragon tail ribs coated in honey and plum glaze, spring roll Japanese style (with pumpkin and cabbage), roast duck samosa (including scallions and hoi sin sauce), and pan-fried Japanese dumpling (filled with minced chicken, Chinese vegetables and ginger).
The starters menu has dauntingly more and includes extensive choices of sashimi, sushi, maki rolls, salads, soups, teppanyaki and tempura. It's all clearly enough spelled out, though, so if it's your first time you won't feel like a fish out of water.
And that's the point about Zen - people come here because they've been before and have decided what their favourite dish is. They may have been a bit scared when they first came, but now they're regulars. Our teen is a frequent visitor with her friends and usually goes for the honey peppered shredded chicken. Also on her list of favourites from the mains menu is the garlic butter coriander king prawn. We order both following a selection of openers including spicy seafood soup, which is excellent - a kind of hot and sour miso with plenty of deep, salty flavours and a generous presence of shrimp.
Eating out should first and foremost be fun. An enjoyable experience, you want to talk about and revisit, time and time again. I had one of those evenings, last night in Zen; the pan Asian restaurant tucked away on Adelaide Street. My Vietnamese friend Sarah & I had gone to their special event for Belfast Restaurant Week, 2012, a cocktail tasting combined with a five-course Asian banquet, which included dishes inspired by the various cuisines from China, Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The atmosphere in Zen is funky. It's dark and cafe del Mar type low key beats set the music scene, an infra violet highlighted bar with waiters who know how to shake and pour drinks, create an sense of suspense and screens made of giant beads and open panelling to craft different areas to dine, making the restaurant space feel intimate.
Very often wine and Asian foods ruin each other when consumed together. Restaurateur and owner of Zen, Eddie Fung knows this. So instead of trying to do the virtually impossible and match wine and Asian food, he and his team matched cocktails to the spices of the sub Asian countries cuisines.
The opening cocktail was an Apple Sour Martini, or a fresh pineapple and apple martini for those who weren't drinking alcohol; this was to match a duck salad, that came served in a martini glass. The salad combined Chinese Roasted Five spice shredded duck, grapefruit segments, lambs leaf lettuce, pinenuts, and notes of garlic and chilli. Eaten with the Apple Sour, it created a zingy flavour in the mouth, that made Sarah & I want to keep returning to the taste.
Marshall Yuan from Zen told us, 'We wanted to create food and drink combinations, that allowed the diners to think about taste in a new way. Slightly controversial mixes of opposing flavours - such as sweet, salt and sour - that create a energising taste combination.'
In the west it is generally accepted that sweet, bitter, sour, and salty are the basic tastes. While in the East the Chinese add spiciness and the Japanese add Umami which means 'a pleasant savory taste, that is unique from saltiness'. These extra tastes were evident in the food served at Zen.
A pineapple and mint mojito served with frogs legs in a salt chilli spice, really mixed up all the tastes, and I felt gave me a freshness that I would not normally associate with Asian food. Neither, Sarah or I had tried frog legs before - its a meat that is commonly eaten in China - and we were surprised to find how tender and succulent they were, with a texture similar to the meat on chicken wings but with a milder taste.
At one point during the evening, the lights dimmed completely, and pumping music blasted out of the speakers, then - two boys and two girls - appeared and began to dance. Sarah told me the girl's especially mixed traditional Chinese movements with funky western choreography. Everyone in the restaurant seemed buoyed by the dancing, and it really added a sense of energy fun and laughter to the evening. As well as amazement from all the diners, at how high the boys could kick and hold their legs.
Pudding was a Northern Irish favourite given a Japanese twist - Pavlova nests dusted with green tea powder and pistachio nuts, served with a bitter raspberry coulis. These were the best meringues I have ever eaten in a restaurant. Light and fluffy, with marshmallowing insides, the nuts and green tea powder cut right through what can often be overpowering sugariness. The nuts in particular added a stickiness, and a slight bitterness to the taste and they seemed to caramelize in the mouth.
The girls sitting beside us Danielle & Paula, had eaten in Zen before, and such was their delight at the food and atmosphere, they had come to Belfast from Enniskillen, especially for Zen's Belfast Restaurant week event.
The largest ethnic group in Belfast is the Chinese community, and they run the biggest genre of non-western restaurants in the city. Chinese - both Mandarin and Cantonese - is said to be the most widely spoken first language in Northern Ireland outside of English, Ulster Scots and Irish. Hospitality, Sarah explained to me is paramount in Asian homes, as it very important to show respect to guests, through offering them food and drink. At Zen all of the staff practiced this in their friendliness and efficient service to the customers. The evening ran very smoothly, without exaggerated waits between courses, and the food portions left us feeling full, without being overwhelmed.
Having the opportunity to eat Asian food paired with cocktails, during Belfast Restaurant Week was a really fascinating taste experience. I learnt new things about flavour. Thoroughly enjoyed the food and drink combinations. As well as having the opportunity to try foods I have never tasted before, like frogs legs traditionally prepared in Chinese fashion. It was an exciting evening, and one I will be thinking and talking about for a long time to come.
Zen's next Cocktail and Food tasting runs at the end of November, I highly recommend you go and experience energizing taste sensations.
Ever wanted to be a cocktail master? This is the perfect Birthday party, Hen Prty or Team building event for you friends and work colleagues.
Full use of the Karaoke room, bring your on music and dvds to make the fun unique to you!
Take the experience of Zen out of the restaurant and bring it home or to your workplace with Zen's full outside catering services offering canopies to the full Menu that we know you love.
That's right - Karaoke at Zen!
Contact us for more details!
Spend your special day at Zen.
Contact us for more details!