Although I'd never been to Z'en Japanese Cuisine, I've been to its sister restaurant, En Japanese Dining Bar, which serves exquisite Okinawan food. So I knew we'd be in good hands.
During weekday lunches, they have an ala carte buffet at $42, so most of us opted for that. The more weight-conscious ones ordered from the set and ala carte menus instead.
The food at the ala carte buffet was excellent. Every dish was well-executed and of utmost quality. There was none of those crappy, second-rate (compared to the ala carte menu) food served here that you find at some other ala carte buffets. The quality of the buffet food was the same as from the ala carte menu.
We started off with the raw stuff, Salmon Sashimi. These were thickly sliced, fatty and full of omega-3 goodness. Fresh, clean and sweet.
We also got the Salmon Sushi, similarly sweet and fatty, on a bed of rolled up sushi rice.
I love aburi anything (half broiled), so we ordered a portion of the Salmon Aburi Sushi. I love the nice sear of the salmon.
The highlight of the buffet has got to be the beef dishes. For one, the Beef Shabu Shabu was amazing. Look at that marbling! We got several helpings of this.
The Saikoro Steak, Tenderloin Beef Cube Steak served atop creamy mash, was another memorable dish. The beef cubes were battered and fried to a crisp, but the insides were still tender and juicy.
The Sirloin Steak was another crowd pleaser. It was done medium rare, with the signature pinkish-red in the middle. The steak was hearty and juicy, flavourful on its own without additonal flavourings.
The Enoki Gyu Maki, Beef and Mushroom Roll, was another hit. Thinly sliced beef were wrapped around Japanese golden mushrooms and char-grilled to smoky perfection.
The poultry dishes were also good. The Yakitori Chicken and Leek was smoky, succulent and sweet, with fresh leek balancing the sweetness of the yakitori sauce.
The Teba Gyoza, Fried Stuffed Chicken Wing, was also yummy. Fragrant chicken wings stuffed with mince and spring onions were fried to a golden crisp. A pity the filling contained coriander, eeks!
The humoungously-portioned Tori Kara Age, Deep Fried Chicken, was succulent and juicy. Tangy piquant teriyaki sauce provided a nice balance to the fried dish.
The Age Gyoza, Fried Dumpling, was fresh out of the fryer, crispy and juicy.
The vegetable dishes were also great. I loved the Yasai Itame, Stir Fried Vegetables. Lightly sauteed vegetables in a delicate oyster sauce based gravy.
The Yasai Tempura, Vegetable Tempura, was very light and crisp, so the natural flavours of the vegetables were very distinct. I love how the Japanese are able to make fried dishes taste so light.
The Grilled Asparagus with Cheese Sauce was also very well done. These were grilled soft without being limp. The saltiness of the cheese balanced out the bitterness of the asparagus.
The Agedashi Tofu, Fried Tofu with Broth, was fried wonderfully light and crisp, with the beancurd remaining amazingly silky and soft.
The Edamame, Boiled Soy Beans served chilled, was refreshing as a snack.
The Ebi Fry, Deep Fried Prawns, was also good. Excellent as finger food.
The Ebi Tempura, Prawn Tempura, was arguably better than the fried version. Loved the light batter, which enhanced the natural sweetness of the prawn.
The Kawaebi, Fried Small Shrimp, were fried so crispy that the whole thing could be eaten in its entirety.
The Yariika Sugata Yaki, Grilled Squid, was also grilled to perfection, the point between soft and chewy, and glazed with a sweet smoky marinade.
The Kaki Kobu Yaki, Baked Oyster, was another hit. The plump juicy oysters were immediately snapped up in seconds.
The fried version, Kaki Fry, was another another crowd favourite. Fresh, juicy oysters coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried, what's not to like?
The Takana Chahan, Garlic Fried Rice, was also very well done. It was garlicky and savoury, so even if we were stuffed by then, we still managed to finish bowl-fulls of this.
Some preferred the Unagi Chahan, with the addition of eel to fried rice.
I loved the Cha Soba, Cold Green Tea Buckwheat Noodles. Refreshing, simple and light.
I also liked the Yaki Udon, slippery thick noodles in a luscious gravy.
The selection of desserts, although limited, was well done. The Coconut Cream Brulee was commendable, a thin layer of smoky burnt sugar set on creamy coconut cream.
The Cheese Cake was done Japanese-style, very delicate and light, it almost worked as a palate cleanser.
A little note about the very slow service, some of us spent quite a fair bit of time waiting for our food. I think they just didn't have enough staff to handle our group of 28 diners for lunch.The Professor was of a different view though. He thought that was a delay tactic to not let us eat up the restaurant's supply of food. Who's to know for sure?
Z'en Japanese Cuisine
205 River Valley Road
UE Square #01-75
Tel: 6732 3110
Open Mondays to Fridays from 12pm to 2.30pm; 6pm to 12pm
Saturdays, Sundays & PH from 6pm to 12pm