Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review: Industry Zen

Industry Zen - what a great name.  If you are thinking a factory floor sort of space, a large room with rough wooden beams and metal piping, you'd be right.  If you are thinking precision and perfection, dim lights and dark colours, you would also be right.  But if the name brings to you a picture of calm and peacefulness, inner reflection and understated beauty, nothing could be further from the truth.

The interior decor matches the restaurant's name
This restaurant serves food as art, for sure.  But it is a bustling, busy venue, not one you would head to for a quiet meal.  The dishes, in particular the lunch sets, are nothing short of spectacular, in a showy over-the-top way.  Some might call it kitsch; others, a pleasant surprise.  In any case, you are getting your value for money.

In most places, a Japanese lunch box consists of a tray, partitioned into many rectangular containers of food. Industry Zen takes it to a whole new level, with boxes stacked on top of each other in a rickshaw, for instance.  My photos below don't begin to do justice to these sources of wonderment.

Lunch Box - vegetarian tempura-ju.  The shigi-ju (teriyaki chicken lunch box) came with three layers in the rickshaw.

Chef's Special Sashimi & Teriyaki Chicken Set

Sashimi Boat Set

Rikka Combo - Sushi & Teriyaki Chicken - comes with circular shelving that almost hides you from the person sitting opposite
You could easily be mistaken, from seeing all those tiny plates above, that they comprise the whole lunch set.  In fact, before those main trays came out, we also received miso soup and appetisers, including lotus root chips and little salads.  And at the end of the meal, we were served a thankfully small and barely sweetened portion of dessert.

Miso soup and appetisers included in the lunch sets
Although I would recommend the lunch sets when they are available, you can also order off the main menu at any time.  With certain dishes, you are offered a selection of Himalayan rock salts (pink, black or crystal), the difference between which my palate is too unrefined to tell. At lunchtime, you are just given a tray with the salts in granule form, while at dinner, someone would actually grate the salt over your meal from a large salt ball.

But let me tell you about my one dinner experience from the beginning...  We had made a booking for 8:30pm during the Rugby World Cup.  Fortunately, we decided we were too hungry and turned up half an hour early, because at 8:15pm someone started banging on the drums and a waitress came over to ask the name of the birthday boy (yes, it was a special occasion).  The chefs stood in a row behind a pane of glass in the show kitchen (as opposed to the hidden one out the back where most of the work gets done) and were formally introduced.  More drums, then all the birthday celebrants were announced (there were four that night).  You get the idea.
Formal introduction of our chefs
I thought the main dishes were less jaw-dropping than the lunch sets, but that didn't stop the oysters from being served in what looked like a toolbox, with a bonsai tree.  There was also a lot more staff involvement, in the form of waiters grating salt for some dishes, blowtorching others, cooking items on hot plates in front of you, and even (as happened at the next table) chanting and clapping around you while the birthday girl downed a giant bowl of what may or may not have been sake.  Either she was drinking slowly, or there was a serious amount of liquid in there too, because that encouraging noise they were making seemed to go on forever.

Sushi , one of the more minimally presented dishes
Overall, I would say the food is tasty, but not outstanding in its own right.  There are plenty of fantastic Japanese restaurants out there.  Together with the presentation of the dishes and the atmosphere of the establishment, though, Industry Zen will make your meal a fun and delightful experience.  Sit back and enjoy.

Panda Recommends

Mains: the lunch sets ($19-$24). Sounds expensive, but worth it for the experience of seeing your friends' eyes bulge. You get a good amount of delicious food too.

Vegie Pandas
You can get a vegetarian tempura lunch box, or order off the bigger selection in the main menu.

Lunch menu

Main menu - page 1

Main menu - page 2

Restaurant Details

Industry Zen
104D Customs Street West, Auckland Central
(09) 3070936

Opening hours:
Mondays to Sundays 12pm - 11pm

Industry Zen is just behind the Tepid Baths which are currently under redevelopment

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