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Restaurant review: The Buffet Star

AA Grill is back, but not on a high note

Published on August 25th 2010.


Restaurant review: The Buffet Star

THERE is something about fat people and staircases. By “fat”, I mean only in the dictionary-defined, critically neutral, emotionally uninhabited sense of the word; in other words, no offence. The same goes for any other term used here whose meaning is the opposite of thin.

'Peking style' crispy duck had been pulverised to a kind of mush resembling tinned tuna. It didn't taste much like tinned tuna, but it didn't taste much like duck, either

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, fat people and staircases. They don't, or won't, go together. Whey they do, it can end in tears and endless viewings on YouTube (judging by the number of videos out there – including the charming “Two Fat People Die Falling Down The Stairs” – every time a fatty goes near a set of steps, some sicko is eyeing their every move. Up stares, down stares).

When they don't, or won't, governments intervene. A couple of years ago, Labour ministers decided to step up, literally, the war on obesity. Architects were being urged to make staircases more attractive to the oversized, the Daily Telegraph reported. The results of this initiative are unknown but my suggestion would be a chocolate vending machine on every landing.

At the Buffet Star, you have no need to fear the stairs; there is generally someone on the next step to break your fall. It is common for an orderly queue to form from the ground floor entrance to the vast restaurant space below.

The Buffet Star is an All-You-Can-Eat. Or, in this particular case, “Eat As Much As You Like”. More an invitation, less a challenge. If Hampstead did Eat-As-Much-As-You-Likes, New Labour would have outlawed them long ago, for, however you look at it, they are not the route to a healthy lifestyle.

If the Buffet Star's stairs are too much to contemplate, there is a lift to incentivise the horizontally-challenged. What's more, a ramp runs alongside the stairs to the toilets so if you are dining with a porky pal, you can roll him all the way to the loos. The ultimate toilet roll.

This particular night, the conga stretched into Hanover Street, a byway whose chief attraction used to be the Green Shield Stamps shop. In a time Before Credit – whose life offered eternal debt to us all – you saved up the stamps (one for every pre-decimal sixpence spent at the shops) all year, then exchanged them for such treasures as a pair of garden shears, or, if you had collected especially diligently, an electric kettle.

Green Shield Stamps offered Value For Money, the key psychological component at work in the All-You-Can-Eat phenomenon.

The surroundings at the Buffet Star, like the atmosphere, are functional, but this is not a place where you hang out with your trendy friends. The first thing that hits you is not, as expected, a passing paunch, but the thought that, actually, there are no more category-obese people in here than anywhere else. Which leads one to deduce that if the bulk, as it were, of the Buffet Star's patrons are hooked on anything, it is good deals, not bad meals.

Whether the Buffet Star is a good deal rather depends on your taste or, to be blunt, whether you have any. Lunchtime sittings (starting at noon) ostensibly offer the best value, when £6.90 (£6.20 Mondays to Thursdays) buys you access to in excess of 60 Chinese and Thai dishes, and as many trips to the trough as you like, depending on your perseverance and the capacity of your stomach, for anything up to six hours.

A sign warns diners they must “evacuate” their tables by 6pm, though after these amounts of food it's likely to be a close run thing which diners evacuate first, their tables or their bowels.

Outstanding

If the choice of food is immense, the “equally extensive” wine list actually stretches to 17 choices, suggesting numerical literacy is not their strong point. Neither, unfortunately, is food. So many dishes meant our expectations of quality cuisine were low, so at least we weren't disappointed.

We tried about about a fifth of the total offerings, which mostly ranged from adequate to barely edible. King prawns were fine, not overcooked, and a Thai green curry proved so popular it disappeared before we got the chance. Deep fried shredded beef, in chilli sauce, had become glued together in clumps, endowing it with a molecular structure identical to that of a Toffee Crisp, which is okay if you fancy a Toffee Crisp for your dinner.

Spring rolls were soft, ditto chips. The egg in the egg fried rice was stiffening by degrees, in the manner of tile grout that's been left out in the open for too long. Against one wall, abandoned plates of half eaten food began to pile up.

Sui mai (Chinese dumplings) put me in mind of oversized bogeys. A quick roll around the tongue added to the impression; the diagnosis denied only by a lack of saltiness, which was a surprise since salt, along with heat, were the overriding sensations of our visit.

The selection of vegetables was uniformly limp but it didn't matter because nobody was eating any of it anyway. “Peking style” crispy duck had been pulverised to a kind of mush resembling tinned tuna. It didn't taste much like tinned tuna, but it didn't taste much like duck, either.

Squid came extra rubbery; salmon had had every trace of texture cooked out of it; prawn toast glistened with oil as it was squeezed between fingers. Salt and pepper chicken pieces, fried in a rough, pitted batter, were, observed Mrs Grill, “like picking a scab and eating it”.

Mussels looked particularly unappealing. I tried one but couldn't keep it in my mouth long enough to assess its gustatory properties. How long they had been sitting in their tray is hard to say, but since bivalves have existed on Earth a long time, let's say it was anything between five minutes and three hundred million years.

By the time it came to leave, the airport hangar expanse seemed to have shrunk, maybe because there were more bodies arriving to fill it out. Or maybe there were the same number of bodies; they had just got bigger.

The trouble with this experience, aside from a fairly dismal standard of food, and shocking waste thereof, is that you are pretty much required to overeat; to have a little more, and then a little more, to ensure that you take full advantage of the contract on the table. Never mind the quality, feel the girth.


Rating: 6/20
Breakdown: 3/10 food
2/5 service
1/5 ambience
Address: Buffet Star
87-89 Hanover Street
Liverpool, L1 3DZ
Tel. 0151 703 0645

Liverpool Confidential reviewers dine out unannounced and pick up their own tabs.Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafés against the best cafés Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: get a DVD, 10-11: if you must, 12-13: if you’re passing,14-15: worth a trip,16-17: very good, 17-18: exceptional, 19: pure quality, 20

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