ZEN by MEL, the Japanese fine dining fusion restaurant and sister brand of CC by Mel, has released a new Niisho lunch menu that we were invited to try.   

While the DiscoverKL team has reviewed ZEN by MEL twice before, both were for their dinner service, so this was a welcome change. 

Joined by Sade (who has dined with them before), I visited the Bukit Jalil restaurant on a fine Sunday afternoon to learn that it was just the two of us that day. Lunchtime isn’t as busy for them as of now, the team shared. Luckily for us, that made for a nice, intimate midday meal. 

Sitting across from the chefs, we were able to witness the final preparations of our three-course lunch. 

As always, the dishes were created by Chef Jordan, who trained in Singapore and has worked in a Michelin Guide restaurant, and Chef Mohd Shafik, the Chef de Cuisine with 27 years of culinary experience. 

Here are our thoughts on the meal. 

Some off-the-menu items

To appetise us before the actual appetiser, we were served an off-the-menu item, introduced as a Japanese version of the mushroom soup.

Its dark base featured smoked shiitake and roasted kombu, with bits of applewood-smoked king oyster mushroom. Salty and umami, I’d say it did its job as a palate opener well. 

As ZEN by MEL’s lunch menu also comes with a complimentary beverage, we were served cerulean-coloured mocktails called Blue Lagoon to go with our meals. Another seemingly off-the-menu item, this drink was refreshing with an acidic tang. 

1. Appetisers: King Hamachi Nigri & Temari

With the appetiser course named The Tale of Amaterasu, who is the sun goddess in Japanese mythology, cold smoke is used in the presentation of the dishes. 

A plate of three nigiris, the King Hamachi Nigri featured hamachi (Japanese amberjack or yellowtail) from Kyoto. For the spring season, the hamachi is said to contain a higher fat percentage, which contributes to a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness. Flavour-wise, the fish was mildly sweet and buttery. 

What truly shone in the dish was the paired toppings. Each nigiri had a different topping—Ikura (salmon roe), Iranian caviar, and miso—that brought forth a distinct burst of flavours. The roe was creamy while the caviar was earthy. 

For the miso nigiri, curry leaves and shallots were used, allowing for some familiar Asian flavours to come through. 

Meanwhile, the Temari features three spheres of sushi resembling handballs, which is a toy and folk art from Japan. 

Two of the temari featured tuna, which was cured with some seaweed and topped with sweet ginger glaze and sesame seeds. The third was blanketed by thin avocado slices, seasoned with Ivory island salt. 

The rice used in both dishes was roasted, adding a sweet smokiness. 

2. Entrees:  Maguro Tataki & Unagitaka 

Moving on, we were introduced to the main course, named The Tale of Susanoo, the storm god. 

The Maguro Tataki featured a generous portion of rice and maguro (tuna). Seared on the outside and coated with mixed sesame, the raw fish was fresh and firm, but admittedly not much to write home about. 

Adding a spicy kick, the East Coast Dressing was what elevated the meal beyond a simple rice bowl. Inspired by Kelantanese and Thai flavours, the dressing (or sauce, really) is served on the side and tastes fishy and a little nutty.

More impressive, however, was the Unagitaka

Looking almost like a rice burger, this layered dish featured rice at the bottom, then sweet glazed unagi (eel) atop it. The final layer was a spinach salad drizzled with a wasabi dressing. 

Tucked in between the layers of unagi and rice, you’ll find a buttery, crispy paratha that makes for a surprisingly delicious addition. They also used an aubergine jam created with honey and cumin to hone in on the South Asian flair. 

Between the two, the Unagitaka was a much stronger contender and better showcased the culinary prowess and creativity of the fusion restaurant. 

Both dishes were generous and rice-forward, which made them very filling meals. But finished with shallot oil and mixed with furikake, the rice—which is Akita Komachi rice, to be specific—was beautifully seasoned. 

3. Dessert: Moon Rosette & Mitarashi Dango

After the filling entrees, the dessert course—named The Tale of Tsukiyomi, the moon god—was served. 

Both desserts were on the underwhelming side. The Moon Rosette was essentially just a kuih rose (AKA kuih loyang). It was finished with a passion fruit tuile and pineapple cream. 

The result was a fruity, crunchy delight, but it was a little too simplistic and—dare I say—amateur for my liking. 

Meanwhile, the Mitarashi Dango came with five mochi balls. The mochis didn’t have any filling but were instead covered in a Mitarashi sauce, which is a sweet soy sauce glaze. 

The chocolate gelato, which was featured in both dishes, was the highlight for me. Creamy and rich, the dark chocolatey goodness is further elevated by the sprinkling of sea salt. 

On the Moon Rosette, there was also some bits of chocolate crumble layered underneath the ice cream for added crunch.

Referencing our past reviews here, it seems that desserts still aren’t exactly ZEN by MEL’s strong suit. 

Overall thoughts

With this marking my first time at ZEN by MEL, I found the lunch affair to be thoroughly enjoyable. My choices (the nigiri, followed by the Maguro Tataki, then finished with the Moon Rosette) seemed to be delicious, albeit simpler than I anticipated. 

Sade, who has enjoyed the Niisho dinner menu before, felt that it wasn’t exactly the team’s best or most polished work. The dishes were filling thanks to their rice bases, but she didn’t find them satisfying per se, at times even commenting that there was a bit too much rice.

While the RM188 per pax price was reasonable for this three-course lunch, I did wish there was more creativity and nuance to my meal. 

Compared to their dinner courses, the Niisho Lunch menu appears to be a friendlier option for the less adventurous eater. Of course, that comes at the cost of not pushing the envelope as much as the restaurant’s other menus.

For those who have been looking to try ZEN by MEL but haven’t been able to commit to the pricier and also busier dinner service, perhaps this lunch menu is a good one to test the waters, but don’t let it define or limit what you think ZEN by MEL is capable of. 

Zen by Mel

Address: F-10-01, Pusat Perdagangan Bandar, Persiaran Jalil 1, Bukit Jalil, 57000 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur

Contact: 011-5636 8875

Website: https://www.instagram.com/zenbymel/

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