Rather, there is a tendency for sameness; the hot food station, the salad bar, the sushi, the pasta or pizza area, the grill and sometimes but not always, the roast. Yes, one restaurant will be different to another, and certain buffet eateries in Saigon boast some exceptional fare. But the concept is usually the same.
Which is why the Sofitel’s latest offering is worth a mention. A refurbishment has seen Café Rivoli transformed into a new restaurant, Mezz. Yet, it’s not just any old makeover. It’s US$1million refurbishment that has seen the space resized and reorganized. Colonial French-style floor tiles mix with art-deco Parisian designs. Hung delicatessen meats and wrapped cheeses fill one corner, while elsewhere there’s a Chinese section complete with a chicken rice-style, roasted poultry window. There’s also a salad bar, a French-styled hot food area, a bakery and an Asian corner. The overall combination makes you feel you’re walking into a Gallic bistro. A buffet restaurant. Are you sure?
The key, says Sofitel’s executive assistant manager, Julien Tavagnutti, is the idea of “interactive dining”. Each food station is manned by one, two or even three chefs, each serving you portion sizes according to your need. This gets even better at the sushi and sashimi station where the fish is prepared fresh in front of you. The deli station is similar, with the meats and cheese being sliced according to need.
This way, adds Julien, not only does the restaurant avoid the wasted food syndrome, where a person or a family will pile as much onto their plate as possible, regardless of how much they eat, but it also creates interaction. Interaction with the chefs that doesn’t exist in your standard buffet restaurant.
Avoiding wasted food also allows Mezz to increase the quality of their ingredients. As an example, check out their cheese section: here it’s not just your cheap edams and bries, but morbier, gruyère, bleu de gex, rouy, tomme de savoie and much more. And I haven’t even got to the deli meats yet. Did anyone say Parma ham and prosciutto?
The Nuts and Bolts
As ever, what makes any restaurant tick is the food. Before writing this article I’d visited Mezz twice. Now on my third visit, here’s a rundown of how I ate my lunch.
First the salad bar: baby octopus salad, seafood pasta, smoked salmon, roasted vegetables in olive oil, salad greens, parmesan, boiled egg, sun-dried tomato; a very light continental mix.
Next, sashimi — octopus, salmon and tuna. There’s a nice little touch here. On the side you can add the likes of daikon radish, seaweed and edamame.
And then, already close to bursting, onto the hot, western food station. And that with all the Asian cuisine, grilled seafood, deli meats and cheeses left out in between.
My conclusion? Here it’s about the experience. Each time I got food I found myself talking to the staff. “What’s that?” I asked of the guy at the deli counter. He responded. When I looked over the cheeses, the staff seemed determined to serve me up some of the more expensive cuts. So full was I that I didn’t accept.
The waiting staff did the same, engaging me in conversation, serving me bread, drinks and more, ensuring that everything was okay with my meal.
It’s refreshing. Normally in buffet restaurants you pile up your plate, open your mouth and fill yourself up to the brim. It’s a get ‘em in, get ‘em out scenario. Here there’s something in between. It’s called service. — Nick Ross
Mezz is on the first floor of the Sofitel Plaza, 17 Le Duan, Q1, Ho Chi Minh City. The meals range from VND610,000++ for weekday lunches, while dinner starts at VND850,000++ with an extra VND140,000++ added for freeflow beer, wine and soft drinks