IN between the formal structures of Durham Crown Court and Durham City police station is a corner building, shrouded in greenery and framed by overflowing pots of foliage.

It is not immediately obvious what it is, in fact I have walked past it more than once without realising that it is the Thai Asian restaurant I've heard friends speak of.

When I called to make a reservation at Zen I was given the option of 5.30pm or 9.30pm, I optimistically chose 5.30pm and was of course, late.

I cautiously approached a waiter on arrival and apologised for my terrible timekeeping, but it wasn't an issue. I felt instantly relieved and able to take in all that was around me.

The first thing that hits you when you open heavy glass doors is the divine smell of sweet Asian cooking. A fusion of spices that stepped up my hunger and made me eager to browse the menu.

I would encourage anyone to read the menu online before you visit, or face embarrassing yourself twice after asking for even more time to choose your main course. I partly blame the menu itself for being so bountiful.

We started with a Thai Indoor BBQ platter for two (£8.50pp), my husband, Jamie, had already spotted ribs on somebody else's plate before we sat down so they were a definite.

The first course arrived after around 15 minutes, a selection of chicken satay sticks, Mongolian lamb, dragon tail ribs and kebabs served with Thai sweet and sour sauce, sweet chilli sauce and peanut satay and garnished with red chillies and diced cucumber.

It was divine. The lamb was a particular favourite of mine, it was succulent and tender and I thought the chillies were an ideal accompaniment.

Zen has an impressive cocktail menu which offers the classics like bellinis and strawberry daiquiris but also a lot of original and unusual concoctions.

Feeling thirsty and slightly unadventurous we started with a mojito for me (£7.50) and a beer for Jamie (£5).

My cocktail, served in a tall class with plenty of mint and crushed ice, came with a paper straw which I'm always happy to see.

After much deliberation, mostly on my part, we ordered the millionaire noodles (£16) for Jamie and chicken black bean with boiled rice (£15.50) for me, with a side of skinny fries (£3.50) and Asian greens (£4.50).

The sides were absolutely not needed and honestly I felt a little embarrassed when we had to shuffle things around on the table to fit everything on.

Our mains arrived steaming hot, straight from the wok to the plate. My black bean sauce was sweet and sticky and I thought the meat to vegetable ratio was well balanced.

Boiled rice is easily over cooked but mine arrived soft and fluffy, hidden beneath a banana leaf, which was a nice nod to traditional Thai cooking methods.

Jamie's noodles, which I had to sample for work purposes obviously (a line I plan on using every time we eat out from now on), were full of flavour, packed with all kinds of meat with a mild heat, I would have liked more spice but they were perfect for his palate.

His large portion was eaten in its entirety but I couldn't finish mine despite being ravenous by the time we sat down.

After the main course we browsed the dessert menu but I couldn't have eaten another morsel so we settled on another drink.

This time throwing caution to the wind and going with the waiter's recommendations of the 'Singapore sling' (£8), dry gin, cherry liqueur, Benedictine liqueur, Cointreau, pineapple juice and fresh lime.

It sounds harsh and I was fully prepared to sip it and wince, but it was surprisingly smooth and refreshing. A perfect drink to finish the meal with.

It's worth mentioning that there is an 'off the booze' section on the drinks menu, and some cocktails are available without the alcohol, the Singapore sling being one of them.

We enjoyed the laidback vibes within Zen, the restaurant was almost full but the tables were well spaced out so although there were other diners on the tables around us, we still felt like we had our own space.

There is a giant pink cherry blossom tree that covers most of the ceiling near the bar which is beautiful, and a popular spot for guests taking pictures.

Ambient red lighting flows through out and soothing music can be heard alongside the buzz of conversation.

We couldn't fault the service, staff were attentive and pleasant and we felt looked after.

If you're a fan of Thai Asian food I would happily recommend Zen and the BBQ starter is a must.


Zen, Court Lane, Durham, DH1 3JS

Tel: 0191 384 9588 Web:

Food served from: Sunday to Thursday 11.30 am till 9.30pm and Friday and Saturday from 11.30am till 10pm

Thai and Pan-Asian restaurant/bar with vegetarian friendly options.

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 9, service 9, surroundings 8, value 7