The second coming of Chi’Zen in Mall of the Emirates has been refreshingly low-key and, happily, devoid of the highfalutin claims of ‘redefining Cantonese cuisine’ that accompanied the opening of the Festival City branch. I visited Chi’Zen Mark Two under the impression it would be a more streamlined version; a different restaurant for a different demographic. This assumption was blown out of the water as I walked into the dark reds, mahoganies and blacks that constituted the colour scheme of the original. If anything, the dim lighting and sight of glimmering crystal glasses jarred with the luminous lighting of the mall outside, making the restaurant feel totally surreal. This feeling was compounded by the fact that my date and I were the only customers, which was no surprise since Chi’Zen is tucked away in a quiet corridor leading to The Pullman.

We started with crystal prawn dumplings, which arrived piping hot and suitably flavoursome. However, they took some eating: the contents were too heavy for the thin noodle shell, and the dumplings came apart too easily. This aside, they proved a promising start to the meal, especially considering the frightening rapidity with which they arrived at our table.

The barbecue chicken buns didn’t fair quite as well. Usually served with pork (cha siu baau), the dough was overly sticky while the chicken filling was insubstantial and flavourless.

In true Chinese style, mains arrived on the table in order of readiness: first the chicken and tofu claypot, then the rice, then the mapo tofu, and finally the scallops and shrimps. The quick-fire succession of dishes was a testament to the exemplary service, undermined by a quick-fire succession of questions – ‘How’s the food?’, ‘Are you enjoying your meal?’ Still, overattentiveness is better than inattentiveness, so it’s a minor quibble, especially as the staff didn’t have any other guests to contend with.

The food itself was commendably fresh – the mapo tofu was brought alive with a sprinkling of spring onions, while the scallops and shrimps swam happily in spicy seafood XO sauce. The chicken and tofu claypot was mildly disappointing in that the chicken, for the second time in the meal, was of puny proportions and its taste was difficult to discern.

Nonetheless, Chi’Zen’s offerings this time round seemed far more palatable thanks to the absence of pretention that accompanied the Festival City branch. All it need do now is fill tables and secure its licence (something we’re told is in the works), and the Mall of the Emirates will suddenly have a new jewel in its culinary crown.

The bill (for two)
1x Crystal prawn dumpling Dhs22
1x Barbecue chicken bun Dhs18
1x Chicken and tofu claypot Dhs46
1x Scallops and shrimp XO Dhs62
1x Mapo tofu Dhs22
Total (excluding service) Dhs170