Many a time has The Gourmand entered an all you can eat establishment to be greeted by the ubiquitous roar of: “Look on my buffet, ye Mighty, and despair!” The place is – despite such grave admonitions – inevitably left, in Shelley’s words, a ‘colossal wreck’, as the lone and level plates stretch far away. But wherefore such destruction? Whence such gluttony? Whither such mountainous quantities of food? Ah, deepest secrets heretofore untold, dear readers, shall now be yours; read on, read on.
The art of the buffet is a delicate one whose difficulty to master leaves many slumped in a chair, Creosotally bloated, their palates savouring of the bitter tang of defeat. Like the seduction of a lady, it requires a certain amount of finesse and forethought, so mindlessly charging straight for your prey without a solid battle plan will only end in tears; therefore heed my words, young Lotharios of lunching, as The Gourmand presents priceless tactics for getting the most out of buffets.
1) The fast
Overlooked by many, but if you’re serious about your gluttony, dedication is what you need. Oftentimes a Sunday lunch buffet session requires fasting from somewhere around Saturday lunchtime. Resist the Saturday night takeaways, the midnight nibbles and especially the Sunday breakfast pangs. Be strong. Be a champion. Make that first morsel taste of true victory: you’ll have earned it.
2) The cuisine
Which darkened corner establishment will you visit to satisfy those primal urges? This is a choice which comes down to personal taste as well as strategically and scientifically approved inhalation of food, with available options including…
A classic buffet, the Orient’s fare seems perfectly suited to the all you can eat framework, with a rich array of questionable meats enrobed in glutinous sauces as well as more refined delicacies such as shredded Peking duck providing a satisfying protein fix which gives you plenty of bang for your buck. Thai restaurants also offer an impressive selection of curries, so if you happen to spy the likes of Penang beef or chicken, by all means dig in for a rare treat. Beware the noodle and rice dishes so earnestly proffered by the restaurateurs of these places – but more on that later.
Pizza Hut’s lunchtime buffet certainly is a bargain, offering a reasonable selection of differently topped pizzas along with a plentiful salad bar, all at a fair price; but when it comes down to it, the unacceptably high bread to topping ratio is something of a disappointment in such large quantities. This did not, however, stop two members of the OxStu editorial team from finishing a gargantuan fifteen slices each in a friendly competition, forcing the restaurant to close for the evening ‘due to an unexpected excess of custom’. Professional pride is taken very seriously here at Gourmand HQ.
A relative newcomer to the all you can eat game, sushi buffets are increasingly prolific – and it’s easy to see why. Whilst this is certainly the best way of approaching a sushi-based meal if one has any sort of appetite at all, be careful to veer towards the more substantially piscine offerings of sashimi rather than allowing yourself to be taken in by the rice-heavy hosomaki or, even worse, futomaki. On the other hand, try to avoid emulating the actions of one UCL student who, having ordered ninety pieces of salmon sashimi, was begged by the manager to stop, lest they run out of salmon for the other customers; the affair prompted the instatement of a new ‘3 portions of sashimi per customer’ rule, much to the chagrin of gluttons everywhere.
The churrascaria – a style of all you can eat barbecue originating in Brazil – has only recently reached our shores, but I can gladly say that it is undoubtedly their best export. Servers bearing large swords of varied barbecued meats circulate, slicing off erotically large and juicy hunks of animal onto patrons’ plates. The real fare is accompanied by a rabbit food bar which, to its credit, does also offer an impressive selection of condiments, salsas and deep-fried bananas as well as chips to satisfy any appetite. As always, the dangerous distraction is this latter part, so resist and fill your stomach instead with any number of cuts of steak, pork, chicken hearts and anything else from the veritable smorgasbord of farmyard critters.
3) The strategy
Having reached your battlefield after an arduous day-long fast, shivering with anticipation, it would be so very easy to fall at the first hurdle in overenthusiastic excitement; but keep your head and consider these tips before you launch yourself at your poor, unsuspecting target:
– The biggest trap set for every buffet rookie (and into which, sadly, I’ve seen even good men fall) is the cheap, accessible carb option which ensnares the poor victim then mocks the meat that feeds on it. Free prawn crackers? No, thank you. Heaping portions of largely meatless chow mein? I’ll pass. Go for the good stuff to make sure that not a single cubic centimetre of precious stomach capacity is wasted.
– Sugary, carbonated and alcoholic drinks are all big mistakes, as they fill up with liquid and gas what could be packed with rich, delicious meat. For that matter, soup also falls into this category. Don’t do it. You’re better than this.
– Beat the twenty-minute mark. There is, as any experienced epicures among you may know, a space of twenty minutes between the moment food reaches the stomach and the brain’s realisation that it’s filling up. By taking advantage of this short window, you can achieve impressive feats of gluttony before your body even knows what’s hit it.
– A tip touted by OxStu features editor and long-time partner in gluttonous crime, Tom Ough: do as the professionals do, and use hula-hooping motions to help the food work its way down and settle in the stomach.
A final word: though officially the OxStu does not condone the use of performance-enhancing drugs for the most illustrious sport of all-you-can-eating, some unsavoury characters have been known to make use of such substances; do what you will, just be careful not to get caught up in any Lance Armstrong-esque doping scandals…