Quentin Long sits down, gets up and down again for two and half hours to find out if Sydney’s newest gourmet buffet is a ‘trough’ or a self-directed degustation experience.
“A buffet. Like an all you can eat buffet?”
I get my wife’s incredulity.
Two kids, two fish, a dog and a mortgage and all I have to offer to celebrate 10 years of wedded toil is a ‘trough’ (our affectionate name for all-you-can-eat dining).
To say previous incarnations of the hotel restaurant have had a problematic relationship with success is not unfair. Several attempts at à la carte fine dining have been less than stellar.
So to avoid the ultimate madness, repeating the same behaviour and expecting a different outcome, the folk at The Langham have taken a bold and brave new direction, if not totally unique to Sydney.
Gourmet buffets in Sydney
Gourmet buffets have been installed with varying success across the city.
The Star has done particularly well with the Harvest Buffet, catering to its demographic.
Sheraton Grand Sydney Hyde Park has had similar success with Feast. While it has certainly leapt out of the ‘trough’ category it has never reached the elevated heights of true gourmet in my two trips.
Observatory Bar, The Langham, Sydney
To ease nerves and hopefully set the tone for the evening, we stop off for a pre-dinner drink at The Langham’s Observatory Bar.
It is a re-imagining rather than a recreation of the much-loved bar that, in a time before being rebadged as The Langham, Sydney, was the centrepiece of the hotel’s lobby and a favourite for any true bar connoisseur.
The reimagining is a sumptuous success. The chesterfields have been replaced with textured cream sofas and oodles of plush pillows.
The drinks updated to an extensive cocktail list with a generous list of exotic spirits. The gin list spans the globe and a page and half of the menu.
Kitchens on Kent
We wander back through the lobby to the maître d’ at Kitchens on Kent to be asked if we have a reservation.
Okay, that’s a bit different, and an immediate sign that the times might just be changing for buffet-dining. Requiring a reservation in days gone past was as likely as making a booking at McDonald’s.
The restaurant floor is humming. Most tables are filled with six or eight or more patrons sharing plates and tastes from across the world.
Sashaying through the tables we are shown to one of the few unoccupied tables.
The waitress lets us know it may be a buffet but we aren’t necessarily required to leave our seats. We can order food via the wait staff who will collect it from the stations and voilà, it will be delivered à la carte.
But that would mean sacrificing half the fun of this experience and we decline the offer. Wine ordered – wine list is reasonable if a little short – and we are off to eat with our eyes.
There are five savoury chef stations to choose from: Indian with its own tandoor (the chocolate naans are reportedly exquisite); Asian stir fry and Hong Kong dumpling bar and tonight’s special – peking duck pancakes; Italian fresh pasta and pizza bar; the Japanese robota grill that houses the carvery as well.
But it’s the fresh shellfish and sushi station in the centre of the restaurant that is the showpiece and dispels any ‘trough-like’ reservations.
The prawns, oysters and mussels are on display but not mountainous to be grotesquely excessive. Meanwhile the sushi chef cuts tuna, salmon or swordfish sashimi to order while you can help yourself to hand-crafted salmon and tuna sushi.
Our ‘entrée’ is an extended hour-long affair with the seafood station. Two trips each consisting of eight to 10 fresh plump Sydney rock oysters, salmon sashimi and a few cheeky prawns for me. My dining companion of 10 years shows more restraint with only one trip to the seafood station in which more than a handful of sweet and juicy king prawns are deftly dispatched.
The Asian station does a roaring trade of dumplings, Peking duck pancakes and stir-fry. The gow gee are the favourite. Moist not soggy, the prawn filling is not overwhelmed by garlic and spice but a restrained meat mix in which you can actually taste the crustacean.
Two sirloin slices are grilled in 30 seconds over the robata grill with a few veggies. This is great quality produce simply cooked and untarnished by elaborate sauces, treatments or emulsions.
The dessert station, the sixth and final chef station, is a sugary affair of chocolate fountains, almost every cake known to man and then a selection of ice-creams and sorbets with an Aladdin’s cave’s worth of toppings, crushed Oreos would be our kids’ favourite if we’d had a brain fade and invited them.
As a gluten-free eater, the pasta and pizza stations are unfortunately overlooked, but more due to the extended visit to the seafood than for want.
Two-and-a-half hours pass by as we eat our way languidly around the world.
We pause at intervals to enjoy the company and wine and realise we actually do have conversations left to be had after 10 years.
The service is attentive, whisking away finished plates and replacing cutlery with alacrity to maintain the stylish restaurant ambience.
It is a luxurious way to eat; at my leisure and as little or as much as I feel like.
There is a danger of gluttony at a buffet where volume can (and typically does) trump quality. At Kitchens on Kent the meals may be a little on the simpler side but the quality of produce speaks for itself.
The experience is a self-directed unfussy degustation.
Kitchens on Kent details
The Langham, Sydney
89-113 Kent Street, Millers Point