Grand buffet feast fit for all but Fred Flintstone

(No.9, Vol.3, Oct 2013 Vietnam Heritage Magazine,Advertorial)

Clay pot skewer. Photo: Windsor Plaza Hotel

As with many foreign residents, it is not often I leave my comfort zone of Districts One and Three in HCMC, but the other night, an invitation to sample what is billed as Saigon's largest buffet lured me away to the Windsor Plaza Hotel in China Town (District Five). I can not substantiate this claim, but believe you me; I could have made good use of an electric wheelchair for my trips to the spread of myriad tables in the vast dining hall. As for choice, the food is predominantly Italian Mediterranean and Pan Asian. Almost anything imaginable is available, though my joking request for a dinosaur steak did flummox them. However, the likes of Fred Flintstone and Co. are hardly going to turn up in their animal skins at this classy joint looking for their antediluvian cuisine!
Upon arrival at the fourth floor restaurant we-my teenaged daughter and I-were met by marketing manageress Miss Nguyen Thi Dong Hai and promptly introduced to two enthusiastic Italian gentlemen- General Manager, Signor Guiliano Callegaro and Executive Chef, Signor Giovanni Parrella. Guiliano gave us an overview of the operation. ‘Every month we try to add something different,’ he said. ‘Next month, expect some really good beer and wurst as we are taking up the German Oktoberfest theme. This month-and this will be a permanent feature-we have expanded our grill section.’ Situated outdoors on the terrace, meats are grilled over an open wood fire and there is a rotisserie for roasting chicken and other delicacies. Aside from the usual chicken, fish, and imported Australian beef it also features such exotica as crocodile steaks and frog legs. Giovanni explained the international make up of his sous chefs; they hail from Malaysia but are of Chinese and Indian ethnicities. I was most impressed to learn that the pastry chef is sent to Italy every few years for training and professional development.
Giovanni next led us on a tour of the buffet. Respecting the home culture here, there is a noodle soups section and a stand of various Vietnamese snails, where a lady is waiting to cook them for you and serve them up in an herb and spice broth. There is a section for cheese and cold cuts from Italy together with a selection of breads. Next comes the steamed area, serving various steamed buns and Hue rice cakes (banh beo). There is a pizza oven with a large variety of slices of the thin crusted pie. You can ask the chef here to rustle up a pizza with ingredients according to your taste. ‘Actually', Giovanni explained, ‘cooked-to-guest orders can go for anything in this buffet.’ Then, for those who love the raw and wild, there is a Japanese table for your sushi, sashimi, vinegar rice rolls and miso soup-go easy on the wasabi [very piquant horse radish sauce] now!’ It goes without saying that there is an array of temptations at the sweets counter, starting with seven flavours of home-made ice cream. My daughter was to be the main taster and judge here. There are lasagne, Mediterranean and Vietnamese stews, as well as another in the style of an earthy and filling Spanish ‘cocido’ or a French ‘pot au feu’ with its aromatic vegetable broth concocted according to Giovanni’s own specifications and with beef, veal, charcuterie and chicken all in the melange. This is the Northern Italian stew ‘Bollito Misto’. Lastly of course there are seafood treats from the East Sea; prawns, crab, oysters, clams and other shellfish.
With respect to something with which to wash things down, there is a free flow of soft drinks, mineral water and jasmine tea included in the price. Wine and beer packages can be bought extra at quite reasonable prices and the list is international and very extensive. We were given a very attractive sky-blue mocktail as a welcome drink
Where to start? Father and daughter were of one mind choosing an assortment of the Japanese tidbits as a starter. Upon returning to our seats, it seemed as if some genie in a bottle had anticipated my desire and conjured up a platter of blue clawed crabs together with a small hot pot to cook them in. We waited until the claws had turned a more familiar pink and deemed them ready for the downing. I can honestly say that this was the tastiest, most succulent snowy white crab meat I have ever had. Next came the snails which came of various sizes and shapes. The herby broth was a bit too spicy for Angela, but just right for me. Like most young Saigoners, she loves pizza, so a couple of slices were selected. I did not know she knew lasagne and both of us were not passing by a helping full of that. My daughter was pretty well sated by now, but I had room enough to sample chicken breast and roast beef from the grill station and ordered a couple of sausages, which incidentally came from the hotel's subsidiary downtown German restaurant ‘Gartenstadt’ They were delivered to the table within ten minutes. Another thing I tried and can highly recommend was a gratinated baked oyster.
Oh dear me! So many gorgeous things to try and one only has the one stomach. It would take several buffet evenings to try it all. I could hardly follow the rubric on the examinations I took as a schoolboy – ‘Attempt all’ – but I am giving priority to the ‘Bollito’ next time. It was time to get vicarious pleasure in observing the daughter consume dessert. A scoop of chocolate ice cream was her first concern. You can imagine the scrumptious look on her face when challenged by the ‘Green Tea and Chocolate Brulee Cake’. As for me, I caved in to temptation as a combination of lust, curiosity and nostalgia for a twist on an old English favourite had me succumbing to the ‘Sweet Potato Crumble’. Actually, the crumble and the pastry flavour left it mattering little if apple or sweet potato had been used.
As indicated below, the price of this buffet at the equivalent of just around twenty two American dollars does represent exceptional value for money. There is no skimping here. Everything is totally fresh and dishes get replenished and do not run out after half an hour, as in some cheap buffets. There is imported foreign expertise in the form of the staff as well as imported delights from Italy and Australian prime beef. Your stomach and taste buds are guaranteed a good time here. There can not be a soul on the planet who would find it difficult to assemble a delicious meal from this spread, unless of course, you have bought Fred a tuxedo and are dragging him along!

Windsor Plaza Hotel
Cafe Central An Dong
18 An Duong Vuong Street, Dist.5, Ho Chi Minh City. Tel (08) 3833-6688
Lunch buffet, Monday to Saturday, VND298,000 /person. Sun and public
holiday VND318,000 /person
Dinner buffet: Monday to Friday: VND468,000 /person. Sunday, Saturday and public holiday VND498,000 /person

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