Have you ever had the fortune of sitting on your grandma’s rustic kitchen table, eagerly awaiting the food to be placed before you, while she shares fascinating stories of days long gone? Well, that’s how we felt today, at Nicky Ramchandani’s Zen Restaurant in Business Bay — except he’s no grandma– he’s a real life example of chasing your passion and never giving up. Despite ups and downs in the economy over the last decade, this Owner/Recipe Developer/Expediter has stayed strong, not given up hope, and not deprived Dubai of good Thai cuisine!
I visited Zen on the persistent insistence of my blogger friend Eman Qadeer, and I owe her a big thanks for helping me find an end to my quest for authentic Thai food in Dubai. They offer Malaysian and Chinese dishes too, but my focus tonight was on the Thai. We enjoyed an utterly satisfying meal in a very personal and interactive tasting session and felt like we’re in someone’s home rather than a restaurant dining area.
Zen Dubai is essentially a no-frills, Home-Delivery or Take-Out option if you’re craving an MSG-free (YES! MSG FREE), Oriental meal delivered to you within 20-30 minutes.They have quite the limited seating space, but what there is of it is homey and cosy.
If you have the fortune of visiting this relatively undiscovered gem, and you have a palate sophisticated enough to truly appreciate the authenticity and freshness of their menu items, you’ll find yourself wondering what their secret ingredient is- as did I. The answer? Real fresh produce. Every single ingredient in their kitchen (with the exception of sweet corn, which is canned), is fresh– either directly brought in twice weekly from Thailand, or from a nearby local organic farm. These guys use FRESH noodles too! Be it Egg Noodles, Kway Teow, Pad Thai or Rice Vermecelli, there is NO dried stuff in this kitchen, No Sir! “Asian food kitchens can’t be centralized. Everything must be prepared fresh.”, says Nicky.
Our meal commenced with some #17.Tom Yum Soup plus some Thai Iced Tea and Mint Lemonade to wash it down. I was not expecting it to be as spicy as it was, and was met with an instant half-cough half-choke, followed by watery eyes and a runny nose. This made me VERY happy. FINALLY some real Tom Yum! I have a very high threshold for chilies, so trust me when I say this stuff was the real deal! I won’t lie; I’ve had WAY spicier Tom Yum soup in Malaysia, but honestly, there is no way for me to have the latter version without alternating it with spoonfuls of plain rice unless I’m craving heartburn and a stomach ache as an afterthought. And that Iced Tea??? Let’s just say we had to ask for seconds and couldn’t stop rolling it around in our mouths as if it’s the finest (halal) wine, haha!
That Iced Tea though!
Next up, we were brought some:
- #13. Som Tam Salad: This Som Tum was LEGIT. Fresh, crunchy julienned green papaya, packing a punch of fresh chili and lime!
- #10. Laab Nam Tok: The freshness of the mint and red onions contrasted with the meatiness of the beef in a very harmonious way.
- #4. Gai Yang: Juicy, tender, succulent and served with two dipping sauces, this was Chicken Done Justice.
- #44. Steamed Chicken Dumpling: Please refer to my domain name to have an idea of how happy this dish made me. M and I were both eyeing the last piece, but, of course, I being the good samaritan I am, let him have it.
- Salt & Pepper Squid: Batter-coated and deep fried, this squid was topped with a small pile of peppery stir-fried mixed vegetables. It’s something that might be taken for granted, but I could really taste the freshness in those vegetables. I can’t decide if I like these better or the calamari at Busaba Eatthai– they’re both so very good but so very different!
- #24. Phad Phet: This red curry was so flavorful and aromatic, that if i could buy this scent in candle and Air Wick form, I’d have one in every room.
- #40. Phad See Yu: Yeah, M will definitely be seeing you again, Phad. M, who will eat everything but be wow-ed by very little, couldn’t suppress his Fernweh for the years he spent eating Malaysian street food, thanks to this thick rice noodle dish. He pretty much wiped the plate clean, and then whined the entire way home about this restaurant reviewing affair is going to make his ever-expanding waistline call for an entirely new wardrobe very soon.
- #22. Phad Kra-Pao: A DEEP fried egg atop a hill of steamed rice, served with chili chicken basil….come on. This dish is bound to please EVERYONE.
- #66. Brocolli and Black Shitake Mushroom: I actually reheated the leftovers of this and ate them while writing this review. This stuff was the BOMB and had I not been so stuffed, there would have been no leftovers to bring home! These are not your average supermarket Shitakes. These are next level.
Pad Kra Pao
For dessert, we enjoyed the Tap Tim Crob. This sweet melange of julienned jackfruit, water chestnuts coated in tapioca starch, palm seeds and ice cubes–all submerged in a bowlful of coconut milk– is the perfect way to cool down one’s throat after a blazingly delicious meal.
Throughout the meal, we saw Nicky taking orders on the phone and interacting with the many customers who came and left during our stay there. The fact that he was giving the same attention to each and every customer speaks volumes on the authenticity of him as a person and that in turn speaks volumes on the quality of the food he’s putting on our plates. He even asked this little girl who wasn’t eating anything if she’d like some fries–which i found very heartwarming.
With how fast paced and fast-food based our lives have become, a dose of this personal involvement, authenticity, and passion is just what we need in our lives. M and I walked away from this meal well-fed and inspired; reassessing our own goals, our own restaurant dream reignited.
This is, till date, my most heartfelt review ever.