Dining Out: Zen Japanese Restaurant, Hawthorn

by April@MyFoodTrail on September 18, 2009

in Dining Out, Hawthorn, Japanese

Zen Japanese Restaurant
388 Burwood Road, Hawthorn 3122
(03) 9818 0116

Cuisine: Japanese
BYO: Yes, $2 per person
Price: Entrées $5.50-$12.50, mains $12.50-$25.50, donburi set $12.50-$15.50, sushi & sashimi $10.50-$21.50
Parking: Along Burwood Road

A few months ago, we noticed a Japanese restaurant had opened up on Burwood Road, replacing Shanghai Tan. Our favourite Japanese place in the area is actually Ben K and shame on me for not reviewing it earlier, but I will visit soon! You know how it is… so many restaurants, so little time!

Hubby had been doing ridiculous hours at work which made it difficult to prepare dinner because I wasn’t sure what time, or if he would be home to eat. One night when I didn’t prepare anything and hubby managed to finish at a relatively decent hour, we used the opportunity to try out Zen.

Zen is just opposite Swinburne Uni on Burwood Road, not far from the intersection of Glenferrie Road. Restaurants in such close proximity to the Uni normally attract a student crowd but I’m not sure how many students would actually frequent this place as the prices are above what would be classed as a cheap student meal.

The atmosphere is cosy and the restaurant has a Japanese décor. The waitresses are dressed in Kimonos and speak Japanese. The menu has a wide variety of items you would expect from a typical Japanese restaurant.

As a complimentary starter, we received steamed pieces of cauliflower with a teriyaki type sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

We started off with the okonomiyaki, which is a Japanese pancake made out of flour and various other vegetables. It is topped with a tasty rich brown sauce, Japanese mayonnaise and bonito flakes. This one was delicious, not too thick or floury and with the right amount of sauce on top.

Okonomiyaki – Japanese traditional pancake $5.50

Next came the seafood tempura. There were 4 types of tempura selections available – assorted, prawn, vegetable and seafood. The seafood one consisted of 2 prawns, 3 pieces of fish, 3 scallops, 3 calamari and 3 pieces of vegetables. The tempura batter was way too thick and so oily like it had been left soaking in room temperature oil. It left an oily film in my mouth so I ended up peeling off the batter and just eating the seafood. The tempura dipping sauce tasted like it was watered down.

Seafood tempura – 2 tiger prawns, 3 fishes, 3 scallops, 3 calamaries (their spelling!) & vege $19.50

Hubby ordered the chicken katsu don for his main. There was a decent amount of crumbed chicken in the dish and was quite tasty.

Chicken katsu don – Deep fried chicken fillet, onion, egg served on rice $13.50

I ordered the gyu don for my main, which was thin slices of beef and onion mixed together with glass noodles sitting on top of rice. The beef had that terrible stinky beef smell and taste and the seasoning wasn’t enough to mask it. I forced myself to finish half of it before I just couldn’t put up with the beef anymore.

Gyu don – Sliced beef with bean vermicelli in sukiyaki sauce on rice $14.50

Both rice dishes came with a serve of miso soup and a small sauce plate of shredded cabbage and rocket leaves. The ground sesame salad dressing was unusual with its slightly nutty flavour but was a nice change from the usual salad dressing.

We finished off with a complimentary plate of mandarins. I liked how they were cut!

Overall: The waitresses were very attentive and quick to clear finished dishes off your table. The food on the other hand was very hit and miss. The okonomiyaki and chicken katsu don was good but the gyu don and tempura, not so. I think tempura is one of the things a good Japanese restaurant should get right! Upon viewing Zen’s website, I realised they had a separate menu for lunch and dinner. The dishes were the same, but they charged more at dinner. Unless the serves are bigger at dinner, I think it is an unjustified ploy.

The best dish was the okonomiyaki and the least favourite dish was the gyu don.

Would I return? No, the food wasn’t enough to lure me back and I’m not impressed with the two different prices for lunch and dinner.

Over & Out, Rilsta xx

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Conor @ HoldtheBeef September 20, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Ah, flappy bonito! 🙂

As much as I love tempura, I rarely order it because it is so often too oily to properly enjoy. I can't remember if I had any tempura while in Japan so I wonder if this is a universal problem, or one just common in western countries.


Rilsta September 20, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Hi Conor: Hehe…now you know what it is! 😛 I don't recall having tempura in Japan either so I'm not sure if they do it better. Deep fried things are only oily if the oil is at too low a temperature or if they don't strain it properly after frying. I'm surprised more places can't get it right!


daiin July 12, 2010 at 6:47 am

I don,t agree with your review.
I am a regular customer and friend of there. you ordered very ordinary dished how do you expect to get impressive? gyudon taste is everywhere nearly same. you have to try their banquet menu or kaiseki bento, it is just about $28
dallars, much value than NOBU.
try this place again or do not give wrong information. thanks


April @ My Food Trail July 21, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Hi daiin: If those dishes I ordered are too "ordinary", then why are they on the menu? I expect all food at a restaurant to be good, that's why I go there! Thanks for your input anyway and what dishes should be tried.


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