Hong Kong restaurant reviews

New & noted: Zen, Wan Chai – a satisfying mix of old school and hip dishes for all tastes

From traditional char siu and sizzling Chinese lettuce hotpot to the funky pan-fried king prawns and clams with vegetables in red fermented wine paste, this enjoyable menu celebrates both new and old cuisines

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 January, 2018, 1:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2018, 12:58pm

Those of you with long memories will remember Zen back when it was in Pacific Place. By the time it closed in 2013, it was getting a bit tired, and wasn’t anything I would have recommended. On the other hand, Zen Too – a younger, hipper reincarnation that existed for only two years – was excellent, and we were sorry to see it go in 2016.

So what was Zen – the newest version, in Wan Chai – going to be: old-school and mediocre, or young, hip and delicious?

I’m happy to say it’s the best of both. It’s an elegant, quiet and discreet space with a menu of both classic and inventive dishes, that were – with one exception – very well done.

The manager who took our order was helpful and steered us away from dishes he thought weren’t up to scratch.

We ordered several dishes from the snack section of the menu. Deep-fried crispy baby oysters Taiwanese style (HK$68) were delicious – a plate piled high with small juicy oysters that had a thin crust.

New & noted: Kani Kei, Japanese crab restaurant, less expensive than many – and the grilled shell crab is just fantastic

Chilled spicy and sour shredded potato with pig’s stomach (HK$63) was refreshing, with julienned potato in a lightly spicy sauce. The pig’s stomach was finely sliced and so mild and tender that one of my guests – an innards-phobe – didn’t notice he was eating an organ meat.

Our third snack – sautéed beef cubes with crispy garlic (HK$88) – was the only dish of the night we disliked; the meat tasted as if it had been tenderised with baking soda.

Char siu (HK$108) was old school – although that isn’t meant as a complaint. It wasn’t made with Iberico, as so many high-end restaurants are using nowadays, so the texture was toothsome, rather than very soft. We liked the light glaze, and the meat had a fair amount of char.

We loved the deep, funky flavours of sizzling Chinese lettuce hotpot (HK$118), which had a plentiful amount of dried shrimp paste and dried shrimp. Deep-fried sesame chicken (HK$198 for half, HK$388 for whole) had moist meat, and was served with a traditional spring onion dipping sauce.

From the chef’s recommendation section, we ordered pan-fried king prawns and clams with vegetables in red fermented wine paste (HK$188). The seafood was perfectly cooked so the prawns had a crisp bite and the clam meat was tender. The dish included two types of mushrooms (enoki and shimeji) which soaked up the sauce.

We finished the meal with a traditional Cantonese winter warmer: Chinese cured meat fried rice (HK$168). We were full by this point, but couldn’t resist eating the entire serving. The glutinous rice grains were separate, and had a very rich flavour from the tiny cubes of Chinese sausage.

Zen, 2/F Garden East, 222 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, tel: 2868 1883. About HK$250 without drinks or the service charge

While you're in the area:

Restaurant review: Deng G in Wan Chai – not overly spicy

Review: Baijiu Bar in Wan Chai adds new twists on old cocktail classics

Restaurant review: La Piola in Wan Chai – Italian dishes are a mixed bag of hits and misses