What do you do after a massive gym workout that’s left you shattered? Eat your calories back in Thai food, obviously. I took myself off to Zen Yai in Civic for a lunch time treat that’s a bit more interesting than your average salad.
Zen Yai is in a pretty accessible location in Civic situated in the Sydney building, close to the bus interchange, and a few doors up from Mooseheads on London Circuit. However, over a year ago now there was a fire in the Sydney building which has left some businesses closed and a big old ugly construction site starting right next to Zen Yai. Local media last year reported that the restaurant was struggling because of reduced foot traffic and also because people assume the restaurant has closed down due to the fire.
Zen Yai was one of the first restaurants I ate at with the first new friends I made when I moved to Canberra four years ago. I hadn’t been there for at least two years so was looking forward to trying it out again.
I remembered it as a warm restaurant with nice lighting and comfortable chairs, but it looks completely different now. The carpet has been ripped up to reveal green concrete, the chairs are mismatched, the wall artworks have been removed and I think a whole wall that used to conceal a private dining area has been taken down. I was a bit shocked but hey, I was there for the food – not the decor.
Zen Yai has a lunch time special of $10 meals (or $9 if you opt for takeaway). Some meals are more expensive if you choose seafood instead of chicken or beef, but they still scrape in as a cheap eat for $14.50. There are 16 options, including favourites like mussamun curry, pad thai, laksa, and tom yum.
I picked a takeaway chicken laksa and a soft drink (only $1.00 for the soft drink!) and took a seat to wait for it to arrive. I was in a rush to get back to work so was pleased that the service was very quick – I had my laksa within about five minutes.
The laksa was packaged in two sealed containers. The first contained regular noodles, vegetables and crispy noodles, and the other contained the soup, chicken and tofu. Zen Yai earns points for this – it would be easier to just put it all in one container, but the meal travelled better back to my office with all the components separated. After all, no one likes soggy crispy noodles!
This laksa was delicious. I’m no laksa expert so I’m not sure about how spicy they’re meant to be, but this one was probably a tiny bit too spicy for me. I could eat it, but I had to guzzle a lot of water with it. There was a really decent amount of chicken in the laksa too – I know some establishments can be a little stingy with the amount of meat they put in their dishes but this definitely did not disappoint. There was also a fair bit of tofu in the laksa. I’m not a huge tofu fan but this tofu was really soft and easy to eat. Not sure if this is how tofu should be or not but it was to my liking anyway.
The veggies were fresh and crispy which added to the appeal of the dish. The overall serving size was huge. I didn’t finish it and I was super hungry after exercising so I think most people would find it filling. For a total price of $10 I’d definitely go there again.
What: Zen Yai
Where: 111 London Circuit, Civic
Opening hours: Lunches 11.30am – 3.00pm; Dinner 5.00pm – 9.45pm (7 days a week)
Delivery: Yes! They do delivery; 5.00pm – 9.45pm (7 days a week)