Thursday, August 13, 2015

RESTAURANTS IN OMAN: Zen Asian Bistro, in Avenues Mall

Last night was my first excursion out to the Avenues Mall in Ghubrah (near the old Lulu there). Us OPNO girls + 1 husband +kiddos were invited to sample the menu at Zen Asian Bistro and we had a great time.  It is a relaxed, pan-asian (Japanese, Thai, Korean, Malaysian, Indonesian, Singaporean, Philipino, Chinese, etc.) menu that succeeds in the examples we tried, with a few concessions to that, that make it very accessible for families or people who aren't as into Asian food as I personally am.
{Thai is one of my favourite cuisines. Chinese is a close second. But they've got chicken nuggets for your kids, and milkshakes and coffee etc.}. More about the menu and food later.

First, the restaurant itself.
Although I cannot comment on the service, as the restaurant staff knew who I was, and thus, service is moot for me to speak about, before they knew who I was they promptly found us a table, and every other review I've read speaks nothing ill about the service here.

Some people said the restaurant is a bit smoky.

I noticed that but it wasn't overpowering or unpleasant and apparently that is being fixed and is the fault of Avenues Mall. I like smoky myself. I like to feel the kitchen is close and accessible. One can see into the kitchen at Zen Asian Bistro, and the kitchen is clean, and the chef and cooks are smiling.

Unlike places I have eaten at in Thailand and China;) where the food tasted identical.

The decor is a mixture of seating, some more private booths, two Japanese low to the ground tables (loved those although the booths are safer for me with one 3 year old and one 8 month old who crawls off the sides of steps) and regular seating inside. The booths are decorated with wood plank panels and contemporary art and clean lines. The table setting was generally safe for a three year old, not too much glassware about. The tables inside were better for people with babies still-in-strollers or grown-up adult parties and couples and mirrors ran up the side of one of the walls back there, bringing light.

There will be, eventually, outdoor seating, but the mall hasn't completed that phase yet.
The full menu will be launched in two weeks time (inshaAllah) so I am looking forward to my most regular orders (Thai Phad Thai, and Japanese-style steak, and Thai curries) being available then. The value for money was good for Oman and much more affordable than, say, Noodle House in City Center mall etc...
We started with drinks. I had a black Americano, which was actually a nice non-bitter brew. My husband had a cuppacino, which he drank so I assume he liked it. We didn't photograph those. Being a caffiene fiend, I know coffee, opposed to tea, isn't really all that asian, but usually when I go out for Thai food, like at Shang Thai, I have to take coffee before we go, or after we go, at another restaurant or coffee shop, same goes for my daughter, who loves herself some chocolate and icecream, but isn't so big on mango or coconut or green tea flavours. Even in China, I hunt me done some espresso in the evening.... so I am happy it is on the menu, nonetheless.
 The kiddo (my little Omani princess) had a vanilla milkshake, which I also sampled. It was a decent enough milkshake and if the vanilla taste in it was a little stronger, I would love it (being a vanilla milkshake fiend myself).
The other drink we had was a virgin mojito. It was nice, the mint and lime and lemon, however, it was a bit sweet for me (since it didn't have alchohol I guess---and tasted too 7-up-ey). A kid, would love it. I'd love it if it didn't have pop in it I think. Or if it had ground ginger added, to make the pop less sweet. But then it would be less a mojito.... Conundrum... It was the only thing I wouldn't order again for myself (but for kids, sure). The umbrella was the biggest hit for my daughter. Serriously. She's still going on about it.
My husband chose the Prawn Wasabi as his starter. He really found the wasabi flavour to be overpowering on the senses, but this is a man who loves spices, and that was something awesome for him. I don't eat seafood, like ever, so I'll take his word that the prawns themselves for good. He ate it all.
My starter was the Japanese spring rolls (Harumaki), which were a vegetarian non-spicy option.

I've eaten a lot a lot of spring rolls in my life and these were perfectly cooked, the pastry was crisp, not soggy, and the inner veggies were soft but not greasy, and the balance of sweet chill was very good. I usually don't like sweet chilli sauce too much. And the portion was decent for sharing, I wasn't hoarding from my daughter lol.

I'll order this again. I tend to order stuff I like over and over again.
My husband's main, was, I believe, the Sushi and Sashimi lover, Japanese of course... salmon, tuna, and yellowtail, and california rolls. He said the fish was very good value in portion and cut. Taste was good. He'll order again. I'll take his word for it.
My main was from the wok-fried menu and I chose the Thai Black Pepper Beef, which was, admittedly at the limits of my heat index, but awfully decent despite my own limits. My husband would love it more. I'll probably order Phad Thai or Steak or a curry etc... next time, but if you like heat, and beef, this one is good.
The beef cuts were all free of gristle and sweetly marinated in soya, along with all the sweetness of those red peppers, with the heat of black pepper permeating on top of all. I did like it. It was served with rice. I wouldn't say it melts in your mouth, but it is perfectly textured for the dish, and packed with  strong flavours.
Now, the children's menu does have chips and chicken nuggets, etc.. but our little one tends to just play with those and not eat them so we ordered her Korean Noodles, which turned out to be a stir-fry of beef and vegetables on a bed of noodles.

She did like it, after we told her it was "mishakeek" ----Omani meat skewers often of meat--- on indomei noodles, and after we helped her eat it, as wrapping the noodles on a fork (or chopsticks) were hard for three year old skills. The taste she was happy with, and I sampled some.

The beef flavour was strong, the vegetables were nice---mixed well---and the beef itself was mild, good cuts, and tasty. Oh, and the noodles weren't greasy, which is good.

3 mains, plus to 2 starters, plus 4 drinks, plus say, if you had room for dessert, which was 1-3 omr each, averages out to around 10.5 omr per person, but since we didn't have room for desert afterwards it was more like 8.5-9.1 omr per person. If your kids eat kids menus, it'll be cheaper. Not bad value.

Now I am prejudiced towards Asian food to begin with, but I did really like Zen Asian Bistro. Things to note however, if you want a booth or an Asian table between 7-8pm you might need to make a reseervation, the other tables seemed available...

Zen Asian Bistro is located on the second floor (address is 05 what little help that is)  and towards the back of Grand Avenues Mall in Ghubrah, Muscat (near Lulu). For reservations or other information you can call 22060200.
One happy little customer {with her umbrella}


Charan Jaimini said...

The food recipes of Oman are so tastier.

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

Charan: Depends which cuisine rocks your boat. It isn't about Omani food though;).