After a fairly unpleasant first experience at an all you can eat buffet, it was with some trepidation that Mr W and I set off for the second instalment, at Red Hot World Buffet. Red Hot is part of a nationwide chain and is one of Cardiff’s biggest restaurants, occupying two floors just off the Hayes, and near St David’s 2. It serves a variety of cuisines from around the world, at an ‘all you can eat’ price of between £8.49 and £14.99, depending which day and time you visit, with reductions for students (we know this because the large table of students next to us spent some considerable time having a major kerfuffle amongst themselves with NUS cards and splitting the subsequently reduced bill).
The buffet area is impressive by anyone’s standards down to its sheer extent. It took me about 10 minutes to just walk around, take in what was on offer and get my bearings, although the buffet set up does flow well, so it’s fairly easy to find your way from starters to mains to puddings. Starters include fresh salads (although we saw some that didn’t look so fresh – an occupational hazard of putting fresh food on buffets, it would seem), a good selection of sushi and seafood, including mussels and king prawns, and a variety of hot Indian and Chinese starters. I tried a few different salads and some of the sushi. I’m not a sushi aficionado, but what I had seemed very good, and I’ve heard reports from friends who have been and know more about sushi than I do that it is very good too. Mr W got a little confused about what constituted a starter, and tried a couple of slices of pizza, which didn’t look great to me – the bases looked a bit thick and doughy, and, again, they seemed to have suffered from hanging around for a bit too long. He said they were okay, but certainly nothing to write home about.
When it came to a main course, I really did struggle to decide what to have. I don’t like mixing food together that doesn’t ‘go’, so I had to try and narrow it down to one or two things (although a man at the next table had the right idea by having at least three separate plates of main courses: Indian, Mexican and Italian. Had I had a bigger appetite, I may have done the same! As well as these options, there’s a selection of Chinese dishes (including, oddly, crispy chicken pancakes), the aforementioned pizza and a teppenyaki bar. This is one of the ‘live’ cooking stations, which also include the Italian pasta bar, where they will make up a dish of your choice from the menu (I liked the idea of this, as the two pasta dishes they had pre-made didn’t seem to have benefited from being kept warm!) and a dosa station.
In the end, I opted for a broadly Chinese theme, with some noodles and a couple of the hot dishes from the numerous tureens. The sweet and sour pork was particularly good, and probably the highlight of my meal. Mr W chose an Indian selection and also said it was pretty good for what it was, although not to the standard that you’d expect in an ‘a la carte’ restaurant.
Some friends had actually visited the restaurant the weekend before we went and had high praise for the desserts, so I was looking forward to this part of the meal. Another live cooking station offered fresh pancakes and waffles, so I started with a waffle, some caramel sauce and some ice cream from the ice cream bar, where a wide selection of flavours was available. I opted for banoffee – just the one scoop, which seemed difficult for the man serving to comprehend, as everyone else seemed to be taking the ‘all you can eat’ concept more literally than I was! This was really good and the waffle benefited from being freshly cooked and not having hung around.
We also tried a few of the selection of cold mini-desserts, which included chocolate brownies, tiramisu, a couple of different cheesecakes and various jellies. I managed to find a small bit of room to try the one hot dessert on the buffet, apple crumble with custard – this was another highlight of the meal and I’d have happily eaten a full portion of it, had I not already reached bursting point!
I had a couple of different cocktails with my meal. These were very pleasant, but not really what I’d class as ‘proper’ cocktails as there wasn’t any real mixing, shaking or skill involved in making them (or very much alcohol in them!) – but the flavours were nice.
Service-wise, it was a shaky start when the staff member whose sole role seemed to be to welcome people at the door didn’t really manage to do that. He obviously couldn’t be bothered to check for our booking and then plonked us on the nearest table for two, right next to the aforementioned big, noisy group of students and then left us to it, with no explanation of how the buffet worked, what the process was for ordering drinks (you have to use the ‘I’m thirsty’ sign provided on your table) or who would be serving us. Fortunately, once our server, Rihan, realised we were there and came over, things got a lot better, as she was excellent and looked after us very well. We would have given four stars for service had we just been served by Rihan, but we had to deduct a star because of our experience on arrival.
In terms of the ambience, I found the seating area a bit dark and oppressive. Dark red upholstery on the chairs was a bit reminiscent of one of those Angus Steakhouses in London, and this, combined with the fact that the tables are fairly close together (which would be fine if the concept of the restaurant didn’t involve people getting up and walking around almost constantly), made it a less than relaxing experience. A couple of times we had to move drinks away from the edge of our table as people were squeezing past and – through no fault of their own – getting a bit close for comfort. That said, the buffet itself was extremely well-presented and well laid out, and the food looked infinitely more appetising than what we’d experienced at Spice Route. The other factor that made it less than relaxing was the fact that all table bookings have a time limit on them. We were booked in for 7 p.m. and the booking confirmation stated that we had to vacate our table by 8.45 p.m. I can totally understand why this is, as a high turnover of customers is key to making this concept work, but it didn’t really work for me.
All that said, as far as the buffet concept goes, I think this is a pretty good execution of it. I’m never going to become a big fan of this style of eating, but I can definitely see that it works for a lot of people (students, families, large groups, people on a budget, anyone for whom a good meal depends on a balance of quantity and quality etc.)
Food: *** Service: *** Ambience: **
Red Hot World Buffet, 03-06 Hills Street, St David’s, Cardiff CF10 2LE
I was invited to visit Red Hot World Buffet as a guest and as such our meal and drinks were complimentary.