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Zaks Fine American Restaurant (Norfolk & Norwich)

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Locations in Norfolk and Norwich.

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      30.03.2009 18:36
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      A great American style diner that is consistently good

      Zaks on Mousehold Heath, Norwich is your typical American style diner that serves the typical burgers, pastas, salads and grilled meats of restaurant of this type. Before I met my other half and before I became exposed to the delights of 'proper' Italian, Indian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese food these American style grill houses were the restaurants of choice for my mates and I on nights out and Zaks was always a favourite although that was over four years ago.

      I had arranged to catch up with an old work colleague and after struggling to think of going somewhere for dinner it was agreed that we should go to Zaks to take advantage of the current "2 for 1" offer on the burger menu. Being a cold Tuesday night in early March, and in Norwich, I did not see the need to book a table. After all, how busy could it be?

      We got to Zaks around 6.45pm and the first thing I noticed was a lack of space in the car park. Despite the car park being quite small I have never had problems finding a space, even in the busiest of times. However, due to the haphazard parking skills on this occasion we were forced to park either on the road (you do not want to leave your car on the side of the road outside this restaurant) or in the pitch and putt car park, a 10 minute walk away. We chose the latter and walked the short distance to the restaurant.

      When we got to the door I was amazed to see the number of diners. So much for the credit crunch and recession, I thought. One thing I did notice was that everyone was eating burgers, obviously taking full advantage of the current offer, and little else. This promotion really had caught the attention of the public of Norwich and whilst other restaurants and eateries in the area are really feeling the squeeze, Zaks is definitely thriving.

      The staff managed to squeeze us on a small table along with all the other diners. Good job there was only two of us as there would have been a very long wait if there were others in our party.

      If you are taking advantage of the "2 for 1" deal then the voucher is handed to the waitress when your order is taken. I thought this was a ploy to pre-determine which tables are having "2 for 1" so the portion size can be reduced accordingly. I also thought that if you were taking advantage of this offer there would be loads of terms and conditions in that only certain burgers would be permitted, it did not allow the opportunity of double stacking etc. etc. How wrong I was. This offer is available on all burgers, you can still double stack (obviously for the extra cost of £2.50) and the portion sizes are still massive, in fact they were so big that I felt uncomfortably full after my meal.

      There are many burgers to choose from including a standard cheeseburger (with salad), a cheeseburger and bacon, a chilli burger and a burger with mushrooms and onion rings amongst many others. All the burgers have their own unique names such as a "blue vein" or "Desperado". The burgers are 6 oz, which I find is more than enough, although there is the opportunity to double stack it, i.e. have a second burger, for an additional £2.50.

      One thing I did find a bit nerving was when the waitresses asked how you want your burger cooked. Burgers are not like steaks that can be eaten whether raw, cremated or anywhere in between. Burgers have to be properly cooked and if you fail to do this then you're asking for trouble. There is only one answer, well done and I was amazed when a bloke on the table next to me asked for a 'rare' burger.

      The burgers come with curly fries, original fries or wedges. I find that many restaurants have really started scrimping on the amount of chips or fries served with their meals (an specific example of this is the Glass House (a Wetherspoons pub) that gave about 15 chips with a burger I bought from them) but this is not the case here. The plates are massive and there are loads of fries that are stacked really high. The burger meals do not come with a garnish, as such, although there is some lettuce and a couple of slices of tomato on the top half of the bun.

      The buns are plenty large enough to hold the burger but mine wasn't toasted, which was a shame. My friend's, on the other hand, was. I guess I was just unlucky to get a bun that had only seen the grill for a few seconds before being plated up.

      The cost of the burger meals vary from £7.45 for the "Deluxe" (a standard burger) to £9.45 for the "big un" or a chicken burger. Most of the burgers are around £8.50. Unlike other restaurants where you then need to add the cost of the fries this price is all in. The burgers are great value for money, especially considering the amount of food you actually get.

      The burgers are very edible. They are not great and I can only liken them to the ones you'd expect from other similar restaurants such as Brewer's Fayre, Beef Eater and the like. However, the portion sizes are so much larger at Zaks making it much better value than the similar restaurants.

      As well as burgers the menu contains starters like chilli, chicken wings and garlic bread amongst other things. The starters are very large, and almost a meal in themselves. The typical price is around £4.00 although there is ribs or crayfish tails for £4.95. There are also starters to share, which are a lot more expensive but there is the bonus of having a variety.

      Main meals consist of steaks (rib eye, sirloin and rump), chicken breasts, a rack of ribs, fish (scampi and catfish), various pasta dishes, salads and house specials. There are no hidden extras with these meals which is great. The prices vary depending what you have but all meals are very large and represent great value for money. I can't comment on the taste, but if they are like the burgers then I would suggest the quality is like that of similar restaurants.

      If you want to view the full menu, and price list then details can be found on the Zaks website http://www.zaks.uk.com.

      The décor is very dated and the premises are looking old and tired. They have been in this way for as long as I can remember and I can't ever recall a major refurbishment but it is the dated look that adds to the charm and atmosphere of this diner, which is absolutely superb. It is relaxed and comfortable and you can just be yourself. If you are a loud and brash party no one really cares. If you are a quiet couple then ditto. I have never felt any tension or feeling of unease at Zaks.

      The toilets are rank and stink. There is a chart on the wall suggesting that they are regularly checked and cleaned, and this is signed by the staff members, but I really do doubt this.

      The waiting staff during my last visit were very helpful, in fact I would say that they were too helpful. As soon as your glass was empty they would come over and offer to fill it up. During my previous visits it got to the point whereby you had to get up and go to the bar if you wanted a drink. I also noticed that the waiting staff were really pushing the starters and deserts. They never used to do this. I think this change in behaviour is down to the promotion. By giving a free burger meal the lost income has to be made up somewhere else and I think this is done by pushing the extras, and it appeared to work well. I would say too well since most diners were buying more than they would have done if they had to pay for all their meals. I know we were sucked in and ordered a starter because we were getting a burger free (we would not have usually done this) and we ordered more drinks because they were offered and since the drinks are at highly inflated prices our bill ended up being very high.

      I think people get caught up in the moment, like we did, and end up shelling out a lot more during these special offers. It is very clever advertising by Zaks and the only way to beat the system and actually make a saving is to go in knowing exactly what you want and sticking to it.

      A big negative of Zaks is the lack of condiments. A couple of years back every table was given a large selection of sweetcorn relish, mayonnaise, BBQ sauce, ketchup and salsa and the pots were huge. Now all you get is a small bottle of ketchup. The other sauces are available but you have to ask and they no longer come out in large silver dishes but in thimble sized paper containers that holds very little. I asked for more and was told that there was an additional charge for the second pot, and subsequent ones thereafter but was not told how much. I didn't even bother and just told them to forget about it. Needless to say there was a reduction in my tip for every negative I found.

      ****Conclusion****

      Overall Zaks is not that bad and it is somewhere that I will be going back to but only if there is a two for one special. Next time I will not get sucked in to buying a starter that I didn't really need (the meals are plenty large enough) and copious pints of coke (making me pee like a race horse all night).

      The food is no better or worse than other diners in Norwich and the variety is not that much different either. Where Zaks does win hands down is on the atmosphere. This is a really comfortable place to eat and even though it is old and dated it doesn't matter that much.

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