Address: 104 Customs Street West (next to Tepid Baths)
Phone: (09) 377 8239
I used to date a musician and the endless hours that he and his fellow band members would spend trying to think up the ultimate name for their band were well... endless. Naming a restaurant must be a bit like that. Trying to find one that's memorable, that will stand out in a crowded market place and that actually represents the dining experience you're offering, is no mean feat.
When I heard that a new Japanese eatery had opened in the viaduct and called itself "Industry Zen" my immediate reaction was "cool name".
Gathering together a few friends known to be keen on their Japanese food from years of living there, we arrived at the venue only to become confused.
Our menus said "Rikka" but our serviettes were printed with "Industry Zen". Inquiring of the staff, we discovered that this was in fact the re-located Rikka Sake Bar from Victoria Park and the new branding has yet to fully take hold.
The interior is an impressive mix of traditional Japanese tavern, with wooden beams and stencilled banners, and a modern industrial feel with big silver ventilation ducts snaking their way across the ceiling, plus a huge screen showing beautiful moving images of Japanese lifestyle and landscape.
Dramatically, at a designated hour, we were called to attention and this screen slowly retreats into the ceiling to reveal a wall of glass behind which the army of chefs stand at attention.
The formal Japanese welcome is then bestowed (read "shouted") upon us, before each chef takes up his tools. Along with the staff, who all wear secret service type earpieces, it adds to the theatre of the place and our excitement level was high.
The menu is sectioned into raw, wrap, samurai tapas, teppan tapas or robata dishes, meaning the food has been grilled using the famed Japanese charcoal "bin-cho-tan".
Finding the menu difficult to navigate, we ended up doing away with any structure and simply began ordering a selection of each until our waiter looked nervous and indicated we probably had enough to get on with.
Tables are huge at Industry Zen and the reason for this soon became apparent when our food began to arrive. Extravagantly elaborate doesn't being to describe their presentation.
Carriages, huts, bridges, boats - it's all part of the breathtaking way in which each dish is presented. I know that Japanese cuisine places huge emphasis on presentation, but this was beyond the belief.
Edamame beans are served warm and salty - delicious. The agedashi tofu, even for a non-tofu fan like myself, was magnificent. Piping hot, deep-fried tofu, steeped in a delicate dashi (sweetened sauce made from fish stock) garnished with plenty of bonito flakes provided tasty mouthfuls of a combination of crispy and silky textures.
The duo of tako-yaki (octopus fritter balls) and okonomi-yaki (pancakes) were not up to scratch though. These popular street snacks are best served hot so that the slightly undercooked batter is creamy. These ones arrived lukewarm and hence were gluggy.
The Japanese mayo chicken was sublime - succulent chicken thigh doused in a dark sticky teriyaki dipping sauce and that creamy mayonnaise that the Japanese love on everything. However, the robata scallops and prawns were less imaginative. Served on skewers these were disappointingly dry and bland.
The prawn tempura, again impressively presented, were over-battered, something that decent tempura should never be. The selection of excellent dipping sauces - spring onion vinaigrette, sweet miso, teriyaki, sesame and spicy garlic soy - almost made me forgive them.
The beef teppan arrived sizzling to the table and was divine. Good quality scotch fillet cooked rare and served with a selection of five home-made salts - plum, curry, chilli garlic, Japan herb and yuzu citrus - that both picked up and anchored the meaty flavours. The night was a mix of highs and lows, from the service to the food. Some dishes were sensational and some were disappointingly ordinary in flavour.
The service waxed and waned and was at times frustratingly slow. But throughout the evening we were kept entertained by the spectacular dishes that were being ferried out to awestruck diners.
If you have a hankering for genuine Japanese cuisine there are other places you could go but the interesting design and ambience of Industry Zen, combined with the extraordinary presentation of the food, makes it worth a visit.
Industry Zen deserves an "A", not for "authenticity" but for "awesomeness".
From the menu: Edamame $6, daruma salad $9, seafood fritters $16, Japanese mayo chicken $16, beef teppan $16, agedashi tofu $6, robata scallops and prawns $8, tempura prawn $13, takoyaki & okonomi yaki $6, Zen brulee $7, green tea ice cream $8.
Drinks: Fully licensed.