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Zense and Sensibility

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‘…we went into Zense expecting it to be a large, corporate-feeling restaurant lacking its soul. So for us to leave so thoroughly stuffed satisfied, yet still smiling, was no small feat.’

Text & Photos by Paul Cypert.

Usually when you offer something for everyone, you lose a bit of yourself along the way. While we can’t say that Zense Gourmet Deck & Lounge Panorama, one of Bangkok’s most ambitious restaurants (and possibly also one of Bangkok’s longest restaurant names), is perfection personified, we have to admit that it somehow manages to balance all it’s trying to accomplish better than we could have imagined possible.

Some might remember a small beer garden attempted on the roof of Central World a few years back. The food was by Greyhound and the place was stylish if somewhat forgettable. It was a noble effort, but was never really going to set Bangkok on fire. That was replaced by Zense (let’s say 1.0), which was unfortunately forced to close shop due to some rather ill fated circumstances before it could fully hit its stride. The third time something is chanced atop Central World looks to be the charm as the group responsible for the new Zense (2.0) took the time to really give things a thorough overhaul. Tweaking menus, décor, architecture, and more.

On the 17th floor above Zen, Zense isn’t Bangkok’s highest open-air restaurant, but that doesn’t mean the views are any less stunning. On one side you have the constantly congested Ratchaprasong road, with views of Bangkok’s tallest skyscraper in the distance. To the other you have the St Regis and Polo Sport’s Club grounds. You’re high enough to be mostly free of the noise of the streets below and can enjoy slightly cooler air, but aren’t so high anyone’s going to be risking vertigo.

Zense is honestly cool enough to visit without the view though, thanks to the interior designing of Thailand’s own Amata Luphaiboon. The space feels part luxury fashion house, modern loft, and industrial workspace. There are steps that lead nowhere, long tables perfect for corporate dining, and intimate nooks and crannies. We literally walked through the restaurant four times and kept finding new areas we’d somehow missed on the previous pass through. You can honestly come for an intimate date or a large group party and both will feel completely right…something few restaurants in Bangkok can manage.

But unless you’re professional model slowly starving away and showing up only in a desperate bid to be seen by the city’s movers and shakers, none of the glitz will mean a thing if the food’s not worth venturing out for. It’s a restaurant after all…well make that five restaurants. And not just any five restaurants, but a collection of some of the city’s best known brands or long-loved favorites. The Thai cuisine is by White Café, Italian food is from Gianni Ristorante, Japanese food lovers are treated to Kikusui (loved by Japanese expats and those who just enjoy Japanese), Indian is by Red, and there are some modern dishes from To Die For.

We began the meal with puffed salmon. To our delight it was an upscale Yam Pla Duk Fu with salmon instead of the usual catfish and roasted cashews instead of peanuts. The acidic green mango avocado relish was a bit harsh on first bite, but when combined with all elements blended into one tasty bite.

Then we were treated to a sashimi cocktail salad from Kikusui. We didn’t even need the creamy dressing, as the sashimi cuts were fresh and loaded with flavor. Amazingly for Bt 400, the salad was topped with some of the best roe we’ve seen anywhere near this price point.

The last appetizer to come out was from Red. A roti pai boti, or ginger marinated lamb cubes sautéed with herbs wrapped in Indian bread. The roti part of this dish was a bit sad and had possibly suffered under a heat lamp waiting to come out, but the lamb itself was succulent and had just the right balance of gaminess.

Already overly full we took one for the readers and ventured into the main courses starting with a grilled lemon sole. This is a classic dish presented artistically and executed possibly well enough to impress a snobbish French friend. The lemon and caper sauce worked together without overwhelming the delicate fish.

Lastly was the lamb shank stew from To Die For. The last time I ate at their proper restaurant it was helping pioneer spicy spaghetti. We really had no idea they could cook proper, solid dishes like this. All the details were there on this dish – the peas had just the right amount of snap, the reduction sauce further moistened an already spoon tender lamb shank, and the lamb was cooked to perfection. Somehow even as perfect as the dish was, we thought in the right pastry crust this could become a savory pie unlike any Bangkok has seen, but it’s great as is.

The only miss of the night came at dessert, which was out of the Zense Patisserie. We were excited by the idea of a molecular gastronomy S’More, but we’ll have to keep waiting till we get it. While many of the parts resembled broken down pieces of the campfire favorite, the tastes never combined to anything resembling the gooey, messy treat we loved as kids. In fact there were some downright displeasing tastes in the mix. The one saving grace was the chocolate ganache, which we could have enjoyed an entire bowl of.

If we’re honest, we went into Zense expecting it to be a large, corporate-feeling restaurant lacking its own soul. We anticipated a mess that pleased none in its attempt to appeal to all. So for us to leave so thoroughly stuffed satisfied, yet still smiling was no small feat. I can’t imagine the balancing act required to run five different kitchens, groups of all sizes, and also probably some large scale events and business dinners. If they can maintain the level we experienced we have no doubt Zense will be as much of a must-visit as the mall it’s perched atop.

Contact Details:
Zense Gourmet Lounge & Deck Panorama
17th Floor, above Zen Dept Store,
CentralWorld, Rajdamri Road