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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Buffet snobbery begone!

I think sadly that it's far to say that food cooked for large groups of people tends to fall short of the quality we like to see in meals when dining out. I'm sure we've all been at a wedding or ball where the food cost a bomb and tasted like one too. I for one have scored a worm in my salad at my high school graduation dinner, a beach worth of sand in my lettuce at a friend's wedding, was at a conference earlier this year that ran out of vegetables and salads half way through service and refused to supply any more, and had a number of incredibly disappointing vegetarian dishes that basically consisted of the normal meat dish but with the meat part taken off the plate.

Such group feeding is often in the form of a buffet, which can either go very well or very badly. Very badly may involve having the person in front of you take the last piece of chicken, not being able to actually identify any of the other food, and then getting lightheaded over a combination of hunger and overpowering bain marie fumes. Very well would generally involve a wide variety of interesting and delicious dishes on offer (cold and hot), attentive staff who continually top up stocks as they get low, and of course an opportunity to go back for seconds and possibly thirds!

To my delight I experienced two very well run buffets while in Adelaide. The first was not exactly a huge surprise, being the breakfast buffet at our hotel, the Sebel Playford. It really was one of the best hotel breakfast buffets I've ever seen, and I wish I'd been more awake and up for more photography to show it off a little better.

The continental side of things was really well taken care of, with an amazing selection of organic fruits - sliced bananas with honey and nuts; berry compotes; sliced peaches, pears, kiwis and pineapples; beautiful fresh cherries; berry parfait; and a couple of different types of fruit salad - a good range of cereals (with many different milks and yoghurts), bircher muesli, porridge with honey and cinnamon, great breads and conserves, very nice fresh danishes and pastries and a nice choice of cold meats and antipasti. There was also a PANCAKE MACHINE. You got to press the button and it made you pancakes!! A button! And pancakes!

The hot selection was quite nice too, with eggs to order, scrambled eggs with feta, lamb chops, gourmet sausages, bacon, house baked beans, herbed tomatoes, baked mushrooms and I'm sure some other things I can't remember. Actually, writing these down doesn't really make it sound that amazing. Wow, eggs? And bacon? My god, how incredible! All the dishes were done really well though, even though the hot selection wasn't quite so impressive as the continental choices.

We did the buffet breakfast for two of the mornings we were there. The first time was due to us having little time prior to getting over to the conference, and thus just choosing to eat at the hotel, and the second time was because we enjoyed the first breakfast so much (and needed to eat at 6:30am in order to catch our plane). I only captured a few of our multiple plates during these breakfasts..

Breakfast Round 1 - bircher muesli, berries, apricot, peach, cinnamon & honey porridge, juicy cherry and natural yoghurt

Breakfast Round 2 - olives, pickles, caper berries, tangy tomato relish, baby capsicum and smoked salmon

Breakfast Round 3 - poached egg, toasted grainy bread, freshly made baked beans, herbed tomatoes and mushrooms topped with chopped capsicum

The day of the conference seemed to be a special day, as my bulk-feeding prejudices were questioned multiple times. A standout dish during the breaks were the snacks served at afternoon tea. They were little individual servings of yoghurt, with a dollop of fruit/fruit coulis (blueberry, passionfruit or citrus) sitting at the bottom of the glass. It certainly made a nice break from the usual conference snack fare of pastries/danishes/muffins/biscuits!

What really blew us away though was the conference dinner that night. For starters, the room was decorated quite cutely with large silk inflated things hanging from the ceiling - they seemed to be going for a marine theme but it was a little difficult to identify what the big things were exactly meant to be. Secondly, the people were great and we had a lot of fun at our table. Thirdly, the food was fantastic! A really nice entree (Tandoori chicken breast with sweet mango chutney and onion salad) that was brought to the table (sorry, no photo! I blame the champagne!) and a perfect example of how good buffet dining can be for the mains and dessert. And fourthly, the alcohol was quite nice and very free flowing.

The cold buffet menu was as follows:
  • Poached seafood salad with capsicum emulsion
  • Roasted beef fillet slices with whole grain mustard dressing
  • Assorted poultry platter - includes chicken char sui, Aldinga turkey and five spiced duck
  • Black Forest ham with pineapple and chilli relish
  • Antipasto of pickled vegetables
the salads were:
  • Mesclun, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, Spanish onion with French dressing
  • Roasted baby potato salad with light curry flavour
  • Baby spinach, sweet potato and eggs with mustard dressing
  • Crispy noodle salad with Chinese cabbage and roasted pine nuts
the hot buffet:
  • Slow roasted sirloin of beef with Yorkshire pudding
  • Poached market fish with lime, minted butter and wilted greens
There was also a great selection of desserts (not just some stock standard cheesecake!) that of course I can't remember now, but wished I had an extra stomach to try all of at the time (well, apart from my usual extra dessert stomach).

Mains Round 2 - poached seafood salad with capsicum emulsion, poached market fish with lime and minted butter, crispy noodle salad with Chinese cabbage and roasted pine nuts, chicken char sui and assorted grilled vegetables

Dessert Round 1 (and only) - fresh fruits, cream-filled chocolate cup with toasted pistachios and an apricot pudding with creme anglaise

Now I'm wondering why I thought writing this post at dessert o'clock was a good idea... I could really go an apricot pudding right now. It's a good thing I saved a couple of the Ferrero Rochers that were placed on my pillow each morning in the hotel (not while my head was still there).


Rilsta July 19, 2009 at 10:43 AM  

I think it really depends on where you go for buffets. I've been lucky that the past few buffets have been great. High turnover so the food was always fresh and of a good quality.

Same with the last few weddings I have been to. They have been at the better reception places, but the food has been top notch, restaurant quality. I was surprised!

P.S. I have nominated you for an award. Check it out on my blog!

Conor @ HoldtheBeef July 19, 2009 at 3:16 PM  

Hi Rilsta. I'm so hoping that this marks a turnaround in my buffet fortune (especially with the seemingly thousands of my friends who are getting engaged lately, my buffet consumption may increase exponentially in the near future).

And...yay! Thanks so much for the nomination! It's just a pity I can't nominate you back! Hmmm..now to think of 7 interesting things. This may require a cup of tea.

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