There are two ways to attack a buffet. There’s the standard way: just go down the line from soup to salads to cold plates to hot plates to dessert. (Booooo-ring!)
And then there’s the targeted attack: Do a once-over, take a mental note of the dishes you like, then “attack.” I subscribe to, and suggest, the second approach, especially for large buffets. It’s a tip I learned from my father, the proud buffet warrior, who stuffs himself first with two whole plates of sashimi before going for the roast beef.
But hey, it makes sense! Why waste space on greens and carrots? Target the most expensive items instead, like cheese and prime rib. After all, if a hotel is going to put a +++ to the price of your meal, you might as well match if not outsmart their cunning!
Hotel buffets are not cheap. They average around P2,000 a plate and are not always good. The worst of the pack is Fresh at Solaire. Contrary to its name, it is anything but. To be fair, the selection is as expansive as it is expensive: Chinese, Japanese, Continental… the usual. But the food on the spread looks like they lost big time at the casino—a loser’s buffet. Sure, there is a welcome amuse bouche, a nice although odd touch, considering that there is no a la carte menu available. But what matters is wilted. Even the cheese looked depressed.
On the other end of the spectrum, shining brightly as if Napoleon were still alive, is Spiral at Sofitel. “Bonjour, Mabuhay!” the costumed entourage gaily call out as you walk into the hotel. For almost the same price as Solaire, this buffet presents a spread that is alive and worth the money and the wait. It is no wonder that even on a weeknight, if you come without reservations, you’d find all 444 seats booked and a depressingly long wait list.
While you wait, do explore the stations. There are 21 dining “ateliers,” including North Indian, French, Japanese, a cold station that boasts of lobster and sashimi, and best of all, a Cheese Room with 19 types of cheeses and 20 types of charcuterie. When you finally attack, skip the Filipino and Korean sections (boring). Instead, zone in on the lobster at the cold station, the Chinese dumplings (except the xiao long bao), the Indian tandoori chicken, the escargot and other French fare and, of course, the cheese. (Note to Sofitel: Do consider adding better crackers for your cheese. A selection of crackers, if possible, to match the different varieties.) Then do at least three rounds and feel your stomach expand. Anyway, the toilets have a bidet. Hehehe.
Circles at Shangri-La Makati has become like a smaller version of Spiral. Nevertheless, for those who find Spiral a little too overwhelming, Circles remains the great comfort zone—and with a more affordable price at P1,671 net for a weekday lunch. Best of all, the quality remains consistent.
Other hotels lure you in with themes. Paseo Uno at The Mandarin usually has a guest chef from its overseas hotel outlets. Most sought after is its Thai festival where a chef from Mandarin Bangkok is flown in. Also featured regularly are Filipino chefs, among them the late Chef Ed Quimson who served heritage recipes. Lately, the hotel has been featuring Pauline Gorriceta Banusing and her Ilongga specialties.
Meanwhile, Spectrum at the Raffles Hotel prides itself in presenting international cuisine with a Filipino twist. Think lechon kawali sushi or chocolate calamansi cake.
Then there is the Sunday showdown. Impressions at Maxims in Resorts World has earned raves from the Network Maven, who said, “Yun ang pinaka-okey for me. Slightly less than P2,000 but it has caviar and foie gras. Good Lord!”
Marriott Cafe also has eat-all-you-can foie gras, steak and cocktails, while Spiral offers bottomless champagne. When did Sunday become the designated day of dining opulence?
Personally, I don’t fancy hotels and malls. I’d rather go to good ol’ Cabalen. It has been around for 26 years and is still the best value-for-money Filipino buffet. Just P298 for a Filipino buffet and P398 for a Filipino-Asian buffet. You can’t beat that, though I heard that on a weekday in a mall outlet, the entrees looked like reheated leftovers.
Other value-for-money buffets are Buffet 101 which clones the hotel setting but serves the hotel spread at half the price. No, it’s no Spiral; it’s the Greenhills version of your Italian Prada bag—so pwede na, hehehe.
Another popular buffet place is Vikings. Friends described it as “parang Spiral pero mura (but cheap).” Why not? Indeed the spread is impressive. The head waitress said, “Ma’am, there are over 300 selections, hindi ko sila lahat ma-memorize (but I can’t memorize all).” Best of all, you can bring kids in for free-as long as they are less than 3 feet tall. (Huwag bigyan ng Promil agad si Junior.) Seriously, though, if you need proof that it’s really value for money, just look at the long line of people waiting to be seated. So unless you are a masochist, do not just walk in. I went on a weekday to the branch just outside the Mall of Asia. My number was 42. They were serving number 21. Horrors!
For a Japanese buffet, check out Yakimix and Sambo Kojin. Unlike other buffets where the sukiyaki is served in a bowl for you, here it’s served hotpot style (i.e. you get to mix your own yaki). Beef sukiyaki all you want. Fun!
But if you want a really unique experience, check out Tramway. It’s the jeje buffet that will make you smile. I would hit this place with office buds any day. You can eat all you can and down it all with a Coke Litro on your table. The menu is primarily Chinese (sweet and sour pork, dumplings, noodles, fried rice) with sushi and Filipino desserts on the side. Price per head: P245. BUT don’t lose your utensils-it’s how they count orders. And most importantly, you must finish your food. Otherwise they charge you P6 per 10 grams of what you leave on your plate.
You cannot say you were not warned because every 10 minutes, there is an announcement over the speakers: “Paalala lang po…”
So there you have it: some of the metro’s most popular buffets. A few more tips: If you’re getting too full, hot water helps. Pacing, pacing, pacing. Change your plate. Don’t get too excited. And most importantly, don’t wear tight jeans. •
Vikings. SM Mall of Asia (tel. 846-3888, 846-4888, 846-5888); Marikina (tel. 570-3888, 570-4888, 570-5888); North Edsa (tel. 376-3888, 376-4888, 376-5888).
Buffet 101 International Cuisine. SM By the Bay (tel. 556-2888, 556-3888, 556-9888); Robinsons Magnolia (tel. 961-2291, 961-2926, 961-3025).
Yakimix. Macapagal Blvd. (tel. 556-6673, 736-7904); Tomas Morato (tel. 352-1866, 332-8073);SM Mall of Asia (tel. 836-1535, 836-1536, 836-1537); Greenbelt 3 (tel. 475-5153, 475-5154, 998-8039); Trinoma (tel. 861-1718, 861-4022, 901-0057); Podium (tel. 806-4331, 806-5367, 634-0302); SM Masinag, Antipolo City (tel. 781-4182, 781-4183); North Edsa (tel. 921-9806, 921-6375);Robinsons Place Manila (tel. 354-9289, 353-4674); Alabang Town Center tel. 553-4757, 553-7433)
Sambo Kojin. Eastwood (tel. 421-0145 to 46); Edsa (tel. 726-4466 / 726-4520); West Avenue (tel. 372-8846 / 921-2873); SM Southmall (tel. 511-7843 / 511-7853)
Cabalen. West Avenue (tel. 373-2914, 372-3515); SM Mall of Asia (tel. 556-4874); SM Megamall (tel. 633-1761);Alabang Town Center (tel. 809-6698);Trinoma (tel. 901-3602); Glorietta 3 (tel. 893-9884); Robinsons Place Manila (tel. 536-7987); Bonifacio Global City (tel. 728-2930).