Zen caught my attention with its simple modern signage whilst it was still in the fit out stage.
Mr GG and I have been to Japan on numerous holidays prior to Gourmet Getaways and we have always thoroughly enjoyed our experiences, especially the food! So anytime there is the opportunity to try a new Japanese restaurant locally we are very quick on the uptake.
Zen is located in quite a small shop in Park Ave, Coffs Harbour. It doubles as a Japanese giftshop and also includes a selection of Japanese cooking ingredients for the home cook.
When we walked into the restaurant we found a raised seating platform with cushions and little tables for customers. We decided on a table near the front window and peruse the menu.
The owner explains the concept of the restaurant as “Japanese bar food style”. Customers choose small tasting dishes from the blackboard menu and order at the counter. Each dish is prepared fresh and customers are called to the bar to collect the dishes as they are ready.
Mr GG and I were very hungry so I ran through the menu with the intention of ordering a fair selection of dishes, and then perhaps returning for a second round. Unfortunately the rice dishes were not available at that time as the kitchen
The first section on the menu contains condiments such as wasabi, pickled ginger and soy sauce. All for the very reasonable price of $1.
The second section is blank as the menu item is not yet available.
The third section shows the drinks menu, a selection of hot and cold teas plus bottled water, again well priced at only $2.
The fourth section includes a selection of Japanese salted pickled vegetables at $3.
It is in the fifth menu section that I find my first dish. I enjoy tofu and at Zen they have one hot and one cold choice. The first is cold with shallot and ginger served in soy sauce. As I make this dish at home all the time I decided to order the Hot Teriyaki Tofu. $3
The tofu was deliciously soft and fresh with a lovely teriyaki flavour. I had expected that it may have been grilled; caramelising the teriyaki but this dish was served just warmed.
The sixth section on the menu is dedicated to Yasai or vegetables. I always tend to order Edamame when I have the chance so I was pleased to see that it was one of the three vegetable choices available and I ordered a bowl.
Edamame, green soy beans that are usually boiled and salted, is a very popular dish that can be found in the Japanese, Chinese and Hawaiian cultures. This dish, usually served as an appetizer, is very popular in most Japanese and Chinese restaurants in Australia. Because of the versatility of Edamame and it’s nutritious properties, this dish has become popular all over the world. It can be eaten as an appetizer, a snack, or a side dish with your favorite meal. You might even be able to find it in the frozen food section of your local grocery store. Before settling on a favorite preparation, you should try Edamame prepared in the traditional manner, and if you happen to be visiting Tokyo, you’ll have the chance to enjoy a very traditional Edamame.
The Edamame, or soy beans were cooked beautifully with just the right amount of salt. We sat there popping the little beans in our mouth whilst we looked at the rest of the menu.
We had made our way across most of the board and had not found a lot of sustenance in the menu.
The next section was for Men or noodles, again there was one hot and on cold selection each for $3. I choose the hot noodle dish which was lovely soft Udon noodles served in a citrus pepper broth. I had ordered the additional topping of tofu from the menu to add a bit more body to the soup. The flavours were perfect and very authentic.
Naturally at this stage Mr GG and I are still quite hungry. As the next two sections on the menu contain rice dishes they were not available for selection yet.
This left only three variations of Miso soup to order. The first was the usual variety being Shiro or white Miso soup. The second was Kara, which is a spicy Miso soup and the final was Hokkaido Miso which included the addition of soy milk for a creamy Miso soup. Each Miso was again only $3
We chose the Spicy Miso Soup which was absolutely delicious and flavour filled. It made me wonder why I had never thought to add the spicy Japanese seasoning I have at home to our regular Miso!
As we were still quite hungry I enquired as to how much longer before the rice would be available. We were told it would only be another ten minutes. Mr GG and I ordered 3 different varieties of Onigiri which are Japanese Rice balls.
We chose to have all our Onigiri wrapped in Nori. The first one I tried was the Ume, which has a salted pickled plum paste filling. The filling was very nice but I found the outside of the Onigiri more salty than I have ever had in Japan.
The next Onigri I tried was the Kombu, again this is a Japanese rice ball wrapped in Nori but this time with a sweet soy seaweed and sesame filling. I loved the flavour of the seaweed and sesame. It took me straight back to my time in Japan, the taste was so authentic.
The last Onigiri ordered was the Ama Miso, another perfectly cooked and hand formed Onigiri, this time with a sweet miso and shallot filling. Once again the filling was delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed the authentic flavours.
Still hungry Mr GG and I had literally eaten our way through the menu. There was still the option of ordering a bowl of rice or a Chirashi Zushi each available for $2 but since we had already had most of the rice topping options (nori, shallot, tofu) we felt like we had come to the end of the menu.
Zen is quite different to the other Japanese options in Coffs Harbour. Firstly it has a great authentic atmosphere and the food has genuine Japanese flavours. You will not find Australianised sushi here! Secondly it is a vegetarian and vegan restaurant which very much suits the fresh Japanese style of eating. It is a great addition to the Coffs Harbour dining options to have a completely vegan choice.
I would really love to see the menu extended quite a bit. When I saw the floor seating I immediately hoped for a vegetarian Okonomiyaki Hiroshima Style or some Sukiyaki, even some vegan Tempura would have been nice.
I would have also loved to have had a Sapporo beer or two as the food really lends itself to this style of casual eating. Zen is BYO though, so if you are after an authentic experience I would buy a few Sapporo or Asahi Beers and make yourself comfortable on the cushioned floor.
55 Grafton Street