Bangkok Post reviews
Catching the buffet bug
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: June 28, 2013 at 8:18 am
Japanese gastro-bar pulls in the punters with impressive all-you-can-eat selection
Although the buffet is very popular, the restaurant offers a self-service food station to ensure that the customers’ appetites are satisfied at all times.
Over the past couple of years, an astounding number of restaurateurs looking for success in Thailand's highly competitive gastronomy business have turned to the same magic marketing ploy _ the buffet.
Making Vegas look like a buffet novice, Bangkok has added various culinary genres to the all-you-can-eat formula: barbecues, seafood, sushi, shabu shabu, fine Chinese, dim sum, high tea, street food, desserts _ you name it. As the punters queue up for more, the cash flows into the tills, and everyone's a winner.
Even some well-established a la carte venues can't resist the buffet bug.
In order to attract a budget-sensitive crowd, they either transform themselves solely into buffet joints or offer the eat-all-you-can experience alongside the original venture.
Tan Tan Izakaya is a remarkable example of such evolution. Originally called Izakaya Stadium and attracting mainly Japanese expats, it was initially launched in 2010 as an izakaya, or Japanese gastro-bar. Since its relaunch a year later with a buffet offer, however, it has lured plenty of Thai customers as the space expanded and business burgeoned.
You can still enjoy izakaya fare today as a la carte options. But why do that when a meal for two can cost up to 2,500 baht compared to 998 baht (499 baht per person) dining a la buffet?
Although it's an izakaya restaurant by name and intention, Tan Tan offers a surprisingly broad range of Japanese delicacies. Its 16-page a la carte menu, which also serves as the buffet line's catalogue, features more than 150 items encompassing sushi, shabu shabu, kushikatsu (deep-fried breaded meat on skewers), kushiyaki (grilled meat on skewers, an izakaya trademark), teppanyaki (meat cooked on a griddle) and nabe (hot pot) together with a selection of noodle and rice bowls. Although the buffet is enjoyed mainly from this all-you-can-order menu, the restaurant offers a self-service station with soups, salads and a handful of hot dishes to ensure that the customers' appetites are fulfilled at all times while waiting for their orders to arrive.
On the rainy Friday evening that we visited, the venue, decked out in a rustic style to mimic a traditional Japanese drinking place, was packed with office workers, young families and groups of friends. There are three seating zones to choose from: the bar counter, the air-con dining room and the small open-air section for smokers.
My favourite treats there are the kushiyaki and kushikatsu, which are offered in impressive varieties. Of the first category, I highly recommend you try the firm but succulent grilled pork belly, for which the three choices of seasonings _ wasabi, yuzu zest and kimchi _ were the best. Other options include chicken thigh, minced chicken meat, seafood and vegetables.
For the kushikatsu, which comes in traditional Osaka-style with a large communal pot of Worcestershire sauce-like dip, try the very pleasant and addictive beef tenderloin, pork, salmon, prawn, lotus root and cheese, which come inside the crispy golden bread crust.
The eringi mushroom nabe presents Japanaese mushroom, prawn and vegetables in chilli-infused soup.
The restaurant has a nice selection of entrees that are worth sampling. The ebimayo, or deep-fried battered prawn dressed with spicy mango-mayonnaise sauce, was addictive. The saba teppanyaki proved truly delectable, featuring pan-fried top-quality mackerel with salty sweet teriyaki glaze and sauteed vegetables, while the more photogenic seafood teppanyaki presented New Zealand mussels and fillets of salmon, prawn and squid that were enjoyed with two options of sauce _ the spicy seafood sauce and sweet mayo sauce.
Wonderfully complementing our protein-rich meal was shio-kyabetsu, or cabbage with salt sauce. This very delicious salad, a staple treat of izakaya eateries, featured chilled crisp leaves of raw cabbage served with a very simple but tasty dressing of salt, garlic and sesame oil.
Diners looking for hot pot pleasure can choose from two alternatives _ shabu shabu and nabe. The mild-tasting shabu shabu allows diners to savour hot pot DIY style, with choices of meat ranging from beef sirloin to bacon and seafood, while the nabe presents the ready-to-eat chilli-infused soup. Similar to the shabu shabu, the pungent nabe, which offers a choice of mushrooms, chives and seafood, is served over a flame on a portable stove.
The restaurant has a limited selection of desserts. We skipped the mass market ice cream for a freshly made chocolate banana crepe, which was fair.
If you fancy a drink, paying an extra 149 baht per person for a free flow of Japanese cocktails and beers is a great idea. The fizzy apricot and green apple sake cocktails were refreshingly luscious.
The three-year-old Japanese gastro-bar is decked out in a rustic style to mimic a traditional Japanese drinking spot.