How to Eat (All-You-Can) Like a Brit
Updated: Apr 8, 2022
My wife, Sheryl, and I spent a month in the UK last year: two weeks in London, one week in The Cotswolds/Bath, and a week and a half in Glasgow. That’s a long time to be immersed in a culture. It’s long enough for me to notice that food is not bland in Britain. It isn’t. If anything, it is just a myth probably propagated by their historic rivals, the French.
No, food is not bland in Britain. It is loaded with variety and flavor. No, I am not talking about Fish and Chips, meat pies, sandwiches, haggis, or clotted cream. I am talking about what the British eat almost daily. It’s what the locals eat. It’s what the natives enjoy. I am talking about an all-you-can-eat Asia buffet.
If you are in London and wonder why Arsenal, Chelsea, or the National team football matches on TV have thin crowds, they are probably in one of the many buffets in the city feasting on roast duck and Singaporean rice noodles. Yes, these joints are always packed. In Chinatown, if you see long queues, they are not for a show, musical or Shakespearean drama. They are for unlimited beef broccoli and prawn crackers.
Living in the UK, especially in London, is expensive. Being a US dollar earner doesn’t help since exchange rates favor the British Pound. Given these circumstances, it is critical to be mindful of how you spend. Eating out is one of the biggest expenditures and the UK restaurant scene is booming. From pop-ups to multi-awarded joints, they have it all. But again, I don’t have a bottomless pocket. It’s quite shallow. So restaurant hopping is not an option.
Our first encounter with unlimited-affordable food was in Camden – on the way to The Roundhouse to watch The Jesus and Mary Chain. Expecting the show to end late, Sheryl was searching for a place to have an early dinner in case food wasn’t available at the venue. A few meters from the Camden underground, she saw this giant Chinese fire dragon hanging on the front side of a building. Below that was the buffet called “Max Orient.” To enter this dragon, we had to shell out £9,95 per person, which is a steal considering we can stuff our faces up for hours for the price of a burger in Soho.
The place was packed with locals. One table was occupied by a family of four. Two 70-year old punks in DIY wearing mohawks sat at the table next to us slurping their hot and sour soups with increased decibels. In one corner, a group of grandfather mods navigated through plates chow mien, chicken wings, and tofu while they made sure their bangs were in tip-top shape. Next to the buffet counter, a throng of senior citizen bikers clad in leather and chrome queued for some sesame chicken.
After 2 rounds, we quickly realized that we were amateurs compared to every diner there. We didn’t fill up our plates as they did. Our plates were modest and flat. Theirs were bombastic and peaking with duck. We called it quits after 2 rounds, the rest went for about 5 to 8 on average.
I said to Sheryl, “These Brits know how to buffet.”
Fish and chips and haggis have their limits. We enjoyed them the first 2 times, but after that, it became a monotony of tastes and textures. It didn’t help that our flat in Glasgow was right in front of Blue Lagoon chip shop. If you are curious if we ate fried pizza and fried mars chocolate bar, we did.
In search of something new and different Sheryl found a Chinese buffet appropriately and descriptively named “Chinese Buffet King.” Here it was even cheaper than Max Orient. For only £8.99, were given the keys to the kingdom. Though cheaper, this was more upscale than the Camden joint. It had a nice dessert spread with fresh fruits, Ice cream, and pastries. Again, we did not live up to the locals in getting our money’s worth. Though a little better than our debut in Camden, we went 3 rounds, including the sweet treats. One teenage girl and her grandma made numerous round trips, including a double round for the pepper steak.
Hidden in the main street from our flat was another buffet that caught our attention. But unlike the previous two, this had a broader geographical reach. It is called “Marble Global Buffet” and it promised a world of food, and it delivered. This one was high-end. Where else could you have carbonara, jerk chicken, paneer masala, smoked brisket, masaman curry, croissant, tempura, and burrito all in one plate for only £18,99?
Marble is a proper buffet with a great layout. It has about a dozen stations with freshly-made top-quality dishes. My favorite was the roast pork with crackling and the Sichuan roast lamb. These 2 dishes could easily be served at a hip joint for £20 a pop and there will be a queue for it. At Marble, it’s just another dish that you can eat for hours. The dessert bar is on another level as well. They have a chocolate fountain! Now, that is premium buffet-ing, if there is such a thing.
We hoped to have eaten more, but again we fell short compared to our fellow eaters. We went 4 rounds. Much improved from the last time but not even close to the activity around us. After 3 buffets in the UK, I reckoned that like mediation, eating is a skill that can be mastered. With constant munching, the muscles begin to remember and the stomach adapts to the increasing volume.