I had heard about Zen long before I visited.
Friends had raved about it and pictures of its food kept appearing across various mediums of social media.
I’d also seen a host of North East footballers tweet about it – though don’t let that put you off.
However, I was never sure where in Durham it was. Indeed, tucked away in the city’s Court Lane, this taste of the Far East is a little hidden, yet it’s only a short walk from Elvet Bridge.
The fact it’s away from the cramped cobbled streets favoured by other eateries means Zen occupies a spacious site and there’s plenty of space for parking and an outdoor smoking and drinking area, complete with cosy couches.
The decor matches the menu: a sleek blend of Thai and Asian-inspired features with splashes of spicy colour.
The interior, bathed in orange light and peppered with orchids, looked so inviting I was tempted to sit inside but, as we visited during the heatwave, we opted for one of the cooler outdoor seats.
As such, we were out of the eyeline of our waitress which rendered service a little slow. At least it gave us time to make a decision from the menu.
The menu isn’t as vast as other Thai restaurants, but what it does offer all sounds so delectable that I struggled to choose just one dish.
I “ummmed” and “ahhhd” over soups, street food baskets, thaipas (Thai tapas), dim sum, curries, wok dishes and noodles.
Thankfully, my friend was also encountering some culinary indecision, so we decided to choose a selection of dishes to share.
First off, we ordered a classic – duck and pancakes to share for £10.50 – before diving into more uncharted gastronomic waters.
I’d feared Zen would be expensive, judging by the posh cars parking up that put my battered motor to shame, but you get good value for money.
There was plenty of duck to go around for our pounds and we struggled to clear the plate.
It was nothing too out of the ordinary and was what you would expect from this dish, but our other choices were definitely worth writing home about. I particularly enjoyed twirling the curried Singapore vermicelli (£14.95) round my fork and complementing it with an accompanying choice of honey roast pork, chicken prawns and omelette.
It struck just the right balance of being spicy, but not overly so, and we slurped it up with gusto.
The baked sea scallops were also a triumph. They were served in a sea shell and looked like seafood perfection – now I know why people take photos of Zen’s food so much.
Served with a crispy sweet pork and peanut caramel, they tasted as good as they looked.
They’re a little pricey at £8.50, but as a melt-in-the mouth treat to share, we thought these morsels were worth it.
There’s also a good range of alcoholic drinks on offer including Thai and Chinese bottled beers and lagers such as Singha and Tsingtao for £3.20.
For a taste of Thai, you can’t really go wrong with Zen.