Eating It Up!

A field guide to hotel buffets
By Amabella Jimenez

During an economic crunch, people can forgo traveling or watching movies. But Filipinos can never forgo their love for eating. And when the game is on, there’s no other arena to play but hotel buffets! But why would you want to spend top peso for a lunch you didn’t enjoy? In this consumer guide, we reviewed six hotel buffets in terms of selection, taste, and value for money. It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.

Dusit Thani Manila

If you haven’t dropped by the new and improved Dusit Thani Manila, you’re missing quite a lot. The renovated interiors of the former Dusit Hotel Nikko are impressive. The main restaurant, located at the lobby, is called Basix, is positioned as an all-day dining restaurant. If you’re looking for variety but don’t want to be overwhelmed with a dizzying array of choices, this is a good choice.

You can find the regular comfort buffet offerings such as smoked salmon, sushi, and meat carvings (we love the rib-eye!), but turn a corner and you’ll be delighted with small surprises such as tom yum, pineapple bread, among others. The best surprise – the roast duck is served a la peking duck style (skin and meat sliced thinly, then wrapped in crepe along with spring onions and hoisin). There’s nothing basic about Basix.

True to being an international buffet, it serves Western and Asian dishes. But there is also the addition of Arabic dishes (taboulle, tatsiki) as well as halal food. The dishes are tasty and flavorful. If you like spice, Basix doesn’t disappoint, as it offered a good number of hot-tasting dishes (the chili for the dimsum can set your tongue on fire!). The experience is further heightened with its modern interiors. The price is actually quite reasonable. And on weekends, for just P300 more, it’s all-you-can-eat at all their five specialty restaurants (you have to check out the beautifully designed Umu). It is definitely a steal!

• Lots of live stations
• Offers great, spicy dishes
• Wide selection of raw food (lamb, beef, pork, chicken, prawns, oysters, mussels, squid, salmon, and tuna) for grilling
• Wide variety of pastries from the different mousses, panna cota to native fare such as bibingka, halo-halo. Plus yummy home-made ice cream
• Very reasonable price
• Hotel-wide, all-inclusive weekend buffets
• Live cooking was not consistent. Lamb was cooked perfectly the first time but not the second time around; mussels were baked with too much garlic
• The tom yum soup was a little bit sweet than expected, considering this is a Thai-owned hotel
BEST: Spicy dishes
PRICE: P1,150 nett weekdays/P1,450 nett weekends inclusive of buffet at their Japanese, Thai, and Italian restaurants)
CONTACT: Lobby Level, Dusit Thani, Ayala Center, Makati City | 867-3333 ext. 3346 |

EDSA Shangri-La

The wide open space greets you as your heart races in anticipation of the food. Everything is beautifully presented. HEAT (which stands for Healthy Eating, Amazing Tastes) boasts of 11 stations including Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Italian, and Western, as well as 20 interactive stations. If there’s one thing consistent across Shangri-La properties, it’s that seafood abounds (prawns, scallops, crab, oysters, and mussels, among others) and is always fresh. The prawns in particularly look like they were on steroids as they were the biggest and plumpest we’ve ever seen. Heat was also the only one among the roster that served scallops. We had both sautéed in garlic and butter and they were mouth-watering.

There’s a live pasta station with all kinds of toppings. For meat lovers, you’ll be excited to find roast beef (very tender), lamb chops, and prime rib (very good). There are also shabu-shabu and noodles stations. We particularly liked the Oriental station (with a Hong Kong-trained chef), which served hot dimsum (plump hakaw), Chinese barbecue, and peking duck. The Filipino selection was limited to a few dishes (you really can’t go wrong with inihaw na baboy).

What we noticed also is that HEAT will never lack for sauces and dips. Even the dessert is not just the usual ice cream, cakes, and pastries. You can have ice cream mixed on the frozen marble. They have a live crepe station and a wooden pail of fresh taho!

HEAT is truly value for money (the weekday price is not bad at all). It has a great combination of taste and selection. No wonder the place is always fully packed!

• The wide selection, not overwhelming and confusing because of the efficient layout
• Seafood galore – and the plumpest prawns you can find (plus scallops)
• Lots of meat selections
• Great Chinese dishes
• The dessert selection is varied, even surprising
• No prawn tempura during weekdays
BEST: Seafood
PRICE: P1,292.55 nett weekdays / P1,784.95 nett weekends
CONTACT: Level 1, EDSA Shangri-La Hotel, 1 Garden Way, Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong City| 633-8888 ext. 2738/2739 |

InterContinental Manila

Café Jeepney is practically an institution among hotel habitués and newsmakers as it’s been around for decades. While the hotel has undergone renovation, the Filipino-themed restaurant needs a little updating. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a sumptuous Filipino fiesta (and throw in a few international dishes here and there), Café Jeepney is a nice hangout.

The variety of Filipino dishes is what makes this hotel buffet different. If other hotels promote dishes from other countries, Café Jeepney’s monthly promotion is on our country’s different regions. For instance, last July, they featured dishes from Pampanga, which was a huge success for its diners (it’s not surprising since they were whipped up by the most respected name in traditional Kapampangan cuisine today, Lilian Borromeo of Cucina ng Atching).

We happened to do the review in August, when the theme was seafood, of which there was a wide selection – tanigue, red mullet, salmon, tuna, pampano, prawns, and oysters, among others. You can have them grilled to your liking at the sole live station (there were also lamb and chicken skewers). We weren’t bowled over with the appetizers and grilled meat.

But if there’s one thing that stands out among the rest, it’s the prime rib. Maybe it’s because Prince Albert Rotisserie is just across. Whatever, the prime rib is a must-eat, as it is succulent and mouth-watering, layered with all the goodness of steak fat.

The other highlight: the Filipino dessert selection (with the halo-halo, bibingka, puto seco, and other native sweets). They can’t go wrong with dessert.

• Dessert – they have their winning mango crepe samurai and delicious bibingka
• Perfect for a business lunch where you want simpler choices
• The best rib-eye among the bunch
• Chefs did not seem that helpful
• Grilling took a little longer than expected; grilled meats and appetizers not that great
BEST: Prime rib
PRICE: P1,261 nett weekdays and weekends
CONTACT: Ground Floor, InterContinental Manila, No. 1 Ayala Avenue, Makati City | 793-7000 | www.ichotelsgroup.com/intercontinental/en/gb/locations/hotel-features/dining/restaurants/manila

Hyatt Hotel and Casino Manila

The new Hyatt is a little kitschy with its yellow-painted exteriors (though it certainly makes it easy to spot). But its 24-hour Market Café is as classy as it can get. The first thing you notice as you enter is how interactive the buffet setup is. These live cooking stations which they call “show kitchens” are the main attraction.

And true to its name, Market Café evokes a feeling of being in a marketplace (a very nice one at that!) and shopping around for fresh meat and seafood. At the same time, it feels like your very own kitchen as you hand over your “market buys” to the friendly chefs behind the different counters who will whip up any dish you want. As requested, the prawns were cooked perfectly in butter, garlic, and chili, while the oysters were baked with the perfect mixture of cheese and garlic. As for the grilled meats, we were a little disappointed with the lamb and Norwegian salmon (and no steak!).

But we loved the plump tempura (Executive Sous Chef Mark Biddle says they use the freshest ingredients; the prawns for instance are peeled and cut in the morning), plump dimsum, crabsticks wrapped in bacon, and the Singaporean dishes (beef rendang, black peppered crabs, and prawn sambal), which were featured for that month (they even flew in a chef from Singapore for this).

The real clincher, however, was the roast duck, hands down the best among hotel buffets. It was truly succulent and will make anyone moan with delight. It is served with plum sauce and drizzled in Market Café’s own secret sauce.

For dessert, you get the typical pastries and ice cream but with a surprising twist. There’s green tea crème brûlée, not the usual ice cream flavours (walnut, dark chocolate, pistachio) with real chunky bits, and three different kinds of sherbet to cleanse your palate. Don’t miss out on the pavlova which is a heavenly mixture of meringue, cream, and everything else that will make any sweet tooth lover’s eyes glaze with delight.

• Includes unlimited canned soda and beer that you just grab from the huge glass refrigerators (the only one in the roster that offers this; the rest only includes coffee or tea in the price)
• The selection is not overwhelming but there is enough for variety
• The food has surprising twists, especially the desserts
• Unbelievably tasty roast duck
• The grilled meats were not as good
BEST: Roast duck
PRICE: P1,388 nett weekdays / P1,518 nett weekends
CONTACT: 3rd Floor, Hyatt Hotel and Casino Manila, 1588 Pedro Gil cor. M.H. Del Pilar, Malate, Manila | 245-1234 | manila.casino.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels/entertainment/restaurants/index.jsp

Discovery Suites

Sometimes, you just want a quiet lunch, with just enough variety, and the taste of good, home-cooked, comfort food. And Restaurant 5 at Discovery Suites offers just that. With just nine dishes and two kinds of rice, the selection is not overwhelming but just right. Here, more is not necessarily better.

There is a live station that serves pasta and paella on some days (at night, it’s Mongolian barbecue). There’s also spicy, flavorful dishes (Malaysian chicken curry) since they have a lot of European and Indian guests. The Spanish rice was yummy, as well as the cream dory with tomato and olives, lechon kawali, and saffron lamb blanquette.

We also like the fresh, fat tuna and salmon sashimi and the plump oysters, which are always available with a variety of dipping sauces, including refreshing granite with the kick of ginger. There is also a panini and pizza station as well as a daily roast carving station. The salad bar contains a variety of interesting dressings. Chef David Pardo de Ayala also likes to experiment as seen in the dessert (papaya almond terrine, passion fruit panna cotta, grasshopper pie, and mango tiramisu). If you like to discover new desserts, you’d appreciate it; otherwise, the only familiar dessert was the halo-halo and the crème brûlée, which unfortunately wasn’t to our liking). Of course, Discovery Suites is known for offering lots of breads and cheeses.

Restaurant 5 is a quiet venue for intimate gatherings, perfect for that day when you want good food but not really after the excitement of having wide variety and live stations. It’s all about comfort food. And at only P795, it’s the most affordable lunch buffet in the roster.

• Comfort food that’s tasty and pleasing to the palate
• Perfect for intimate, quiet lunches
• Cream cheese
• Cream dory

• Limited choices, although that’s the whole point
• Desserts may be too experimental for some
BEST: Spanish rice
PRICE: P795 nett lunch / P695 nett dinner, weekdays only

CONTACT: 5th Floor, Discover Suites, 25 ADB Ortigas Center Pasig City | 683-8222 | www.discoverysuites.com/facilities.htm

Sofitel Philippine Plaza

For many, Spiral at Sofitel Philippine Plaza is the mother of all hotel buffets. This is one buffet you have to prepare for your stomach for, it being the longest and the most number of dishes at one time (320 for crying out loud!).

The good thing about this multi-cuisine, open cooking station setup is the sheer variety (Japanese, Italian, Greek, Indian, Western, Chinese, you name it). The bad thing is it can’t possibly offer everything perfectly.

But let’s get the bad stuff out of the way. We’re not so crazy with the carvings. The lamb and prime rib were not as good as the others we tasted. Some of the dishes were not warm and have lost their crisp, due to the sheer quantity. We also didn’t like the Indian dishes.

Now on with the good points: for one, the chefs know their stuff.  Spiral consistently baked the most perfect oysters among the hotel buffets we reviewed. The chefs will even suggest which sauce to dip them in. We loved the shrimp toast which you can add fresh honey on top (another great suggestion by the chef).

We like the dishes served at the Japanese station, with its wide selection of sashimi, tempura, yakitori, and sukiyaki, among others. We also enjoyed the filo and moussaka among the Greek dishes. And the Chinese selection is superb – dimsum, barbecue, roast duck, noodles, they’re all good.

Spiral made a point to offer cuisine vitale, which is healthy, organic food. For instance, they use pamora free-range chicken as well as sugar-free desserts. We liked the tiny signage on these dishes detailing the nutritional value. You won’t also pass up the appetizers and cheeses because they are delicatessen, not the usual cold cuts. And it’s a haven for dessert lovers – ice cream, halo-halo, crepes, cakes, pastries and even churros!  And of course being a French hotel, they serve their beloved crème brûlée in three variants – vanilla, mocha, and chocolate. They also have Chinese sweets. One of the must-haves: their very popular chocolate chip cookies.

• Live stations feature great consistent cooking from chefs
• The Japanese and Chinese stations; some Greek dishes
• Good seafood selection
• It offers cuisine vitale
• There’s always something for everyone: if you don’t like a certain cuisine, there’s a whole lot of others to choose from

• Meat carvings not too great
• Some dishes are no longer as fresh
• Layout was just a little bit confusing; for instance, Japanese hot dishes were separate from sushi and sashimi, and one can overlook the inside counters, where you could miss great finds like the tempura, eel, and filo
BEST: Spanish rice
PRICE: P1,704.80 nett weekday / P2,318.90 nett weekend
CONTACT: Lower Lobby, Sofitel Philippine Plaza, CCP Complex Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City | 551-5610 | www.sofitel.com/fichehotel/gb/sof/6308/fiche_restaurant.shtml

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