When the charming, three-storey shophouse that had housed the iconic Restaurant André for 10 years became vacant after the restaurant’s closure, everyone in Singapore knew the next tenant had big shoes to fill. To the surprise of many, it was Swedish chef Bjorn Frantzén who took up the challenge, opening a sister venue to his eponymous Stockholm restaurant in 2018.
With Scottish chef Tristin Farmer at the helm, Zén was an instant hit, its success attributed as much to the atmosphere and dining experience as to the outstanding Nordic-Japanese food. The former shophouse on Bukit Pasoh Road was renovated to give it a Scandinavian character in line with the gastronomic concept: its minimalist pale wooden tables, appealing curved banquettes and romantic candlelight immediately inspire a sense of calm and peace.
Although the average meal at Zén lasts between four and five hours, diners often comment on how quickly time passes at the restaurant – primarily thanks to the team’s flawless pace in delivering each of the nine courses, coupled with well-orchestrated movements across its three dining spaces. The meal starts in a ground-floor area called The Kitchen, where canapes are served, before guests move to the main dining room on the first floor for main courses, and finally into ‘The Living Room’ on the third floor for desserts and drinks.
The front of house team, headed up by general manager Aaron Jacobson and restaurant manager Lisa Nilsson, works hard to inspire a feeling of luxury through thoughtful touches, well-timed anecdotes and curious engagement with diners. A crew of more than 20 (almost the same number of staff as covers) deliver a casual but refined service style that makes diners feel comfortable yet spoiled. Each member of staff seems genuinely happy to be there, thanks also to the three-day-weekend policy that Zén put in place in recent years.
Despite its outstanding pedigree and high price tag, Zén doesn’t take itself too seriously. The same feel-good, rock-fuelled playlist that became famous at Frantzén is also played here, to the delight of customers who often can’t stop themselves from singing along. Towards the end of the meal, diners are served the signature Waffle Party – heart-shaped waffles accompanied by various toppings.
Chef Farmer’s mouth-watering, Scandinavian-inspired fare, featuring top-class Japanese ingredients and complemented by thoughtful alcoholic and non-alcoholic pairings, showcases the amount of research and testing that sets Zén apart from the rest. Delivering a unique dining experience that is warm, relaxed yet utterly luxurious, Zén is setting a high standard as the winner of the Gin Mare Art of Hospitality Award 2023.
Discover more about the previous award winners