Signature dish

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 July, 2011, 12:00am


I went to a buffet on Sunday. It's quite unusual for me - I can't remember the last time I went to one, even though the buffets served at top hotels are actually quite good.

Buffets seem to bring out the worst in people - it's as if they think that since they're paying so much, they have the right to be wasteful. While it would be a great time for parents to teach their children to take no more food than they can consume, they do the opposite: I've seen parents encouraging their children to pile their plates high, then after leaving much of it uneaten, they go back to try something else. It's not as if they're limited to the number of trips to the buffet selection; it would be better if parents told their children to take small amounts of each dish, and if they like it, they can go back for more.

Adults can be worse in their greed. At a Japanese buffet in a five-star hotel, I was on my way to the sushi selection when the chef came out from the kitchen with a fresh platter. A well-dressed, bejewelled woman nudged past me so she could be the first in line and took all the uni. That's my favourite as well, but I would never think of taking all of it and leaving none for the other diners.

My main problem with buffets, though, is that I never think I'm getting my money's worth (the one I went to cost about HK$400). My buffet-loving friends have a strategy: go for the expensive ingredients, never eat noodles, rice or bread (they'll fill you up too fast), and get the labour-intensive dishes. They do an initial reconnaissance of the entire buffet, mentally dismissing what they call 'filler' - all the dishes that are interspersed between the expensive items, and which make the selection look more varied, colourful and lavish.

The problem for me is that, sometimes, the so-called filler is the tastiest part of the buffet. On Sunday, I remembered the advice of my friends and had some sashimi, but the ark shell clam and hamachi were nowhere near as good as what I'd get at a top-notch Japanese restaurant. At a place specialising in sushi and sashimi, I'd probably eat a few pieces of many different types of fish, rather than the six pieces of both items that the buffet chef piled on my plate (there was no faulting their generosity). The only other expensive buffet items I ate were spotted clams (four of them) and some prosciutto.

I then decided to eat what I wanted, rather than trying to keep a mental tab of the value of all the ingredients I was consuming, and enjoyed myself much more. I had a small portion of cold soba noodles, some Southeast Asian salads and salted anchovies. I tried a bowl of curry laksa but found the broth tasteless. At the cook-to-order noodle station, the chef made a delicious plateful of fried noodles with dark soy sauce, bean sprouts and fish cake. A few slices of melon, and I was finished.

Was it worth HK$400? Definitely not - my friends would be appalled. But I wasted very little, enjoyed what I did finish and went home feeling satiated but not stuffed.