Zeno’s Cafe, Hillarys
After a lovely brunch at Voyage Kitchen by the seaside in Sorrento, I was struck by a sense of déjà vu when we decided to visit Hillarys Boat Harbour again to prematurely celebrate my friend’s birthday. We thought the seafood restaurants of Hillarys would be the way to go for a enjoyable casual dinner.
After a failed attempt into getting in to the Breakwater’s Reid Lounge on a Sunday evening (I had seriously underestimated how crazy crowded it could get) one of our other friends recommended Zeno’s for their fish and chips. As the guys were starving, we slotted into a table of five and I discretely checked my mobile urbanspoon app for the aggregate rating. To my shock and horror, it was revealed that the restaurant ranked below my standard 70% mark, meaning that bad food would surely entail. I was scared. However, I had to keep an open mind for the sake of an objective review and sat there engaged in the flow of conversation.
We waited for a while, only realising much later we had to go up to the counter and pay prior to eating. The huge red notification at the end of the menu (“Please Order at the Counter”) was definitely a strong indicator. Doh! My friend and I hurried up to the counter and placed our whole table’s order. After the 15 minute mark, our food came out and I started my onslaught of food photos.
A basket of complimentary bread was popped onto our table which were standard dinner rolls with packet butter. I test tried a few cam shots with the bread, only to receive disapproving looks from my friends. Oh the social sacrifices of being a food blogger.
We also tried some Cheesy Garlic Bread ($9) which came in five thick slices, liberally buttered and sprinkled with herbs. A good splatter of mozzarella cheese laid on top of the bread, which had been grilled to just brown. It took me back to the days when I use to have toasted “cheesies” at my Primary School canteen. It was a good starter.
There were wide anticipatory eyes as my seafood chowder came out, a steaming soup contained in a cob bread loaf. The idea of a cob bowl originates from San Francisco and is truly an ingenious idea – if you’re going to eat something, why not eat the container too? Getting the most out of your meal is 100% satisfaction! The chowder itself was hot and heady, creamy and well seasoned. It was packed with seafood, every piece cooked to perfection. There were generous portions of flaky fish, prawns and mussels, and I detected a scallop swimming in there at some point. The spice value shot up a few notches with a dash of paprika and pepper.
I downed the soup by the spoonful, only slowing down towards the bottom of the cob where the breadcrumbs had created a mushy slop. I chowed down on my bread bowl lid, but unfortunately couldn’t finish the whole thing which was ultimately consumed by the guys. I watched it slowly disappear, bread chunk by bread chunk, feeling immensely satisfied. Give me another seafood chowder, stat!
The Jumbo Spanish Mackerel ($33) was like your standard fish and chips – crispy battered exterior with white flaky fish inside. It was all steaming hot, as were the chips. The chips were crunchy but could have done with a little more seasoning – there was a hunt for the salt shaker at our table after the first few were devoured. The salad that came with the dish was standard: a medley of cherry tomatoes, red onion, shredded carrot, cucumber and lettuce leaves. A little pot of tartare sauce sat on the side, ready to zest up the fish and chips!
The Crispy Skin Atlantic Salmon ($34) was encrusted in a basil pesto and was nicely pink inside. Despite the fish’s well-executed quality, I thought that the slab of salmon was a bit on the small side. The chips were piping as hot as before but again lacked seasoning. The salad rounded off the dish adding some well needed vegetables to our seafood fest!
As I toyed around with the SLR camera, I asked my friends to give me feedback on each of their dishes for the purposes of writing up the blog. The following was some of their incredibly descriptive feedback:
“It was okay.”
“The fish tastes like fish.”
And: “I wonder what they do with the bread inside after they take it out it to make the bowl?”
Safe to say, it wasn’t all that constructive.
My friend’s calamari ($28) came in abundance, piled mountainous on her plate and was accompanied by a decent number of chips and salad. The calamari was crisp on the outside from the batter, with the squid meat keeping its chewy texture. It was seasoned quite nicely and before long my friend realised that it was much too big for her little stomach. The boys acted as rubbish bins, effectively cleaning up the rest of the unfinished calamari. The chips were typically crunchy, as all good chips are. A big, generous dish with some cracking calamari! A brief image of Homer Simpson crying as he ate his boiled pet lobster “Pinchy” flashed into my mind as I devoured the calamari and chowder. I felt like I was consuming a good portion of the seafood population that particular night.
I was pleasantly surprised by the food offered at Zeno’s – there was great care taken with cooking the seafood and most of the dishes had liberal portion sizes. Also, who can say a bad thing about a place that offers free bread? I was also contently satisfied by the generosity of the said seafood, bar perhaps the salmon. The ambiance was bustling, a cacophony of slamming pans and dishes reverberating in the air at times (the consequence of an open kitchen). Another curious thing was that Zeno’s was predominantly filled with large families and older couples. Service was decent with the food not taking too long to get to our table. Zeno’s also offers you the option of grilled or fried (battered) fish – thank you for healthy options! Whilst I don’t think it is a restaurant that is original with the seafood dishes they offer (i.e. you aren’t going to find any creative three-way-done prawns in this joint) nor demonstrate particular finesse in the kitchen, there is a vast variety of hearty dishes to choose from that would suit any casual, family-friendly diner.
At the end of the night, I told myself off for using Urbanspoon as a reliable indicator for restaurant scouting – more often than not, it’s a highly skewed view of a restaurant resulting in misinformation being fed prior to eating. Overall, I thought Zeno’s Cafe catered for a great night filled with good food and company. I think my parents might like it, so I’ll be sure to return with them in tow!
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
Address: Shop 33, Sorrento Quay Boardwalk, Hillarys, 6025
- Open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week!
- A big blunder I made for the night was not checking to see if Zeno’s was in the 2013-14 Entertainment Book. Sad to say, it was – with a 25% off the total bill up to a value of $40 (in the Gold Card section). I’ll be sure to use it for next time!
- No reservations available, walk-ins encouraged.