I don't know the exact number of times you must visit a place before you can call yourself a 'regular', but I have been to Zen enough times to think of it as a place where I take special people, and I have plenty of fond memories.
The extraordinary detailing on the mixed sashimi platter
Zen Japanese is a small restaurant, hidden in the world's most expensive carpark behind the old Subiaco Pavilion Markets. Because it is difficult to find if you've never been there, it's a bit of a secret, and because it's small it feels like someone's house.
This is exactly what chef Hideki Hayashi (formerly of A Lure in Burswood) intends when you walk through the door, that you feel welcome and entertained.
The staff are exceptionally friendly, and even if there is sometimes a bit of a language barrier, the genuine smiles and waves from the guys in the kitchen when you leave – even though they haven't had anything to do you with except prepare beautiful food – make you feel like you have been visiting a friend.
If someone else is ordering for me then I am brave and will try anything. But when I am in charge of ordering, I tend to stick to what I know is good, and at Zen I will always order a fresh sashimi platter, a serving of takoyaki and the fillet beef tataki. They are all sublime, and I know that whoever I am dining with will be impressed.
The garnish was so pretty I wanted to take it home
The mixed sashimi comes in three sizes (small $19.80, medium $26.80 and large $36.80). The fish is superb and the presentation breathtaking. There are two major challenges with this dish. The first is that you must destroy the beautiful arrangement in order to enjoy it; the second is trying to savour the flavours and not to eat it all in under a minute.
The fillet beef tataki ($14.80) is a fillet of marinated beef, quickly seared to just seal the edges, leaving the middle more than just a little but pink, then thinly sliced into wafer thin pieces that melt in your mouth. Raw fish. Check. Raw meat. Check.
Takoyaki ($8.80 for 8) are little balls of omelette with chewy squares of octopus. At Zen they come threaded on a skewer and are drizzled with mayonnaise, Japanese BBQ sauce and sprinkled with toasted nori. I love them so much, I ate my share before I remembered to take a photo.
There are ten entrees on the menu, perfect for sharing ($6.80-$16.80), a noodle menu ($19.80), nine main dishes including teriyaki and tempura ($16.80-$29.80), and an enormous selection of sushi rolls and sashimi.
One of the lovely touches at Zen, is that even though there is a dessert menu (including black sesame ice-cream and Zen-style custard ball), they will also offer you a complimentary dessert.
We went to Zen for dinner. We ordered beef tataki (superb) and salt and pepper squid. The salt and pepper squid was rather ordinary and quite tough. Our mains were beef teriyaki, another excellent dish, vegetable tempura, which was light and crunchy and the ox tongue dish. The ox tongue was delicious, but on the tough side. The complimentary dessert was tasty and a pleasant surprise. Even though the waiter mixed up our orders and we had to wait a while for our dishes to arrive, the staff were friendly and the overall price was very reasonable. Not an exceptionally riveting dining experience, but pleasant nonetheless. Would I go back again? Perhaps....