"Hey, there's a new Japanese restaurant opening up along Upper Street!" L mentioned during lunch over the weekend and we went there to check it out that very afternoon despite having a heavy takeaway through HungryHouse (if you have to know, it was from Sen Viet).
Zen Mondo, the newest addition to the small Japanese culinary scene in Angel Islington, has opened up just three doors down from Equation along Islington Upper Street. Unlike Tenshi, its kitchen is hidden in the basement and thus lacks a certain vibrancy that we so crave in a Japanese restaurant lending a sterile feel to it. Also, its bright red signboard seems ripped out from some manga and looks oddly out of place along Upper Street. In fact, it can easily be mistaken for a cheap takeaway. The plus side, however, is that you can't possibly miss it as you walk down the street.
Appearance notwithstanding, its food is decent or at least the tatsuta lunch set that we had (£8.50) is. It is but one of the nine lunch sets that Zen Mondo's menu currently offers. The deep fried chicken marinated in sesame and soy sauce was served with steamed rice and miso soup. I thought the chicken was somewhat soft and lacked the crispiness and juiciness of that served at Exmouth Market's Necco or even Soho's Tonkotsu. Wife said that I was just too fussy. Well, fans of udon or soba would be disappointed - Zen Mondo doesn't serve any during lunch at the time of writing.
The dessert, however, was a letdown. Its lunch menu offers an option of two (out of five choices) mini dessert for a mere £3.25. We went for the macha chiffon and sesame blancemange. I was able to cut through the chiffon cake only after much effort. Might be a case of being sat too long in the fridge. The sesame blancemange, on the other hand, was a tad too watery for my liking. The adzuki beans cafefully set on the blancemange's surface immediately collapsed when the dessert was placed onto the table.
What really left an impression on my was the service at Zen Mondo. Although there was some fumbling at the onset, which is perfectly expected for a new setup, the staff more than made up for it for their attentiveness. The fact that we were the only customers that afternoon helped too I suppose.
On hindsight, we probably should have dropped by when things are more settled in at Zen Mondo. Its current lunch menu seems scant compared to Tenshi or Sasa Sushi for that matter. I wouldn't be surprised if that would change in the near future. It's still early days yet and we would definitely be back to check out its dinner offerings.
If you are in the area, don't let its tacky signboard deter you. Pop in for a meal and let me know what you think.
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Neige d’Ete – Feb 2017
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