Driving into Zen, one automatically gets the impression that the colonial behemoth of a house that greets you houses the Zen restaurant kitchen and dining facilities. Honestly, I had a raised eye brow. However from a closer observation, this historical building seemed vacant and all kitchen activity occurred in an adjacent out house.
A walk around the side of the building was guided by garden lights and our final destination was a large and well lit dining area on split levels.
Like most restaurants here in Kigali, Zen is open for dinner at 18:00 hours and therefore it was hardly surprising that I was the only guest present at the time. This led to a wrong conclusion that Zen simply exists and is not busy. I could not have been further from the truth because as time went by, there was a steady stream of diners walking in and it was an eclectic mix. This speaks to the popularity of Zen as a choice restaurant and oriental food as a choice cuisine.
The lower level of the dining is more cozy in terms of lounge furniture and would seem ideal for the intimate dinner party of two. This area also features a Teppanyaki grill, a mainstay in Japanese/oriental restaurants where live cooking is done to the delight of the guests seated at this spot.
The upper dining section has a mix of two seater tables to 8 seater tables and is a common area for corporate dinner functions.
The staff at Zen looks good in their head to toe black ensemble. Personally, black is my favorite colour and the uniform and soft light combo results in a non intrusive addition to the ambience.
Speaking of the staff, these guys are on point and if you seems to have no idea of what to order, they have menu knowledge and this is indeed a positive for any restaurant.
Not all is rosy here though. I was disappointed to find that our table setting featured chipped dinnerware. This is not acceptable and these chipped items must never be used in service.
The food here is good as has been testified by visitors who have made their opinion known on several social media platforms.
In order to get a good feel of the food here, my guest and I went for a two course journey that started with a chicken sweet corn soup and chicken lettuce rolls and our main course consisted of a sizzling diced chicken with oyster mushroom and Yang chow fried rice with prawns, chicken and green peas
And we topped this off with one of the specials, chicken teriyaki maki. This is a chicken sushi roll of Philippine heritage and is a delight to consume.
I noticed the use of button mushrooms, green onions and asparagus is signature to Zen and indeed is symbolic of Japanese/oriental cuisine that features fresh vegetables that are lightly sautéed.
Zen features a good wine selection that included one of my favorites, culemborg from the Western Cape in South Africa. Our choice was a red dry and it was a good end to a fantastic and sincerely large meal.
Zen is located on KG 9, Nyarutarama and is open for lunch and dinner service. I would recommend that prospective diners do call ahead and make a booking.