There is something about a buffet table that brings out the inner glutton: all that food and nothing to rein in the temptation. In fact, a number of studies have shown that we eat more when presented with a big spread, or the option of a supersized meal. A friend once admitted that he ate an entire pig at a buffet.
The hotel buffet is in its own class. Once there, some breakfast patrons hardly bother with order. Everything — meat, fish, cheese and dessert — is piled on one plate.
Having eaten my way through three hotel breakfasts recently, it appears that although some places spoil you for choice, others take a more minimal approach and keep most of the food in the kitchen. It is a little like a menu dégustation compared with the Spur.
A very large buffet was laid out around the 160-seat Aurelia’s Restaurant at Emperors Palace, which has a pleasant view of sloping lawns, sculpted trees and a fountain with impossibly blue water.
Chefs in tall hats served businesspeople and their companions, punters and, inexplicably, a team in medical scrubs, all milling around the hot buffet.
On offer were four kinds of sausages (chicken, pork, lamb, chicken), back as well as streaky bacon and a chef’s special, which was a choice of chicken livers, beef olives or a chicken casserole. There was also a hot fish special — a choice of deep-fried hake, haddock poached in milk or grilled kingklip with a coconut-cream sauce. As usual there were grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, hash browns or roast potatoes and a dish of steamed vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower. The list goes on: there were four types of sliced cold fish and cold meats, sushi, oysters …
Ironically, at a hotel with a casino, Aurelia’s Restaurant now offers an ascetic Jain menu. Devotees of the Indian religion eat no onion, garlic or root vegetables. When I visited there was a plain but nevertheless delicious mung dhal, braised pumpkin and braised okra. It also served green beans or cabbage braised with coriander seeds, cumin, black pepper and tomato rotis, poppadoms and tomato chutney. It has no menu, only the breakfast buffet, which will cost you R150.
There is a sense of theatre at the breakfast buffet table of Sandton’s Michelangelo hotel — the lighting is low — and the small plates of food look as though they have been arranged for the stage. During my visit there were slabs of perfectly cut fruit, including prickly pear, purple dragon fruit and pawpaw. Astonishingly, there was also honeycomb propped up on the table.
The restaurant, Piccolo Mondo, flows off from the cavernous lobby, but still feels as though it is a separate room. Mario Merola, the guest relations manager, said the restaurant tried to ensure that there is enough choice to keep diners busy “if they’re having a leisurely breakfast of two hours”, which would perhaps be possible if you started on the pastries and breads, then moved on to the fruit and cereal, cheeses, morsels of cold fish and charcuterie.
Andrew Atkinson, recently a judge on the South African version of MasterChef, designed the hot breakfast menu, which includes an aromatic poached haddock, as well as “steak and eggs” — grilled sirloin, sautéed onion and tomato concasse with a Béarnaise sauce.
I ordered the scrambled eggs with salmon and caviar, which arrived five minutes later under a silver server. It was half a sphere of deliciously moist eggs with strips of salmon, a minute dusting of caviar and a lemon-butter sauce, the effect of which was slightly spoilt by a piece of garnish that looked as though it had seen better days. The continental breakfast costs R125 and the hot breakfast is R165.
The old Grace hotel at the top of Tyrwhitt Avenue in Rosebank has just reopened as 54 on Bath and you can have breakfast at the restaurant, Level Four. It is a lovely, airy room with oil paintings and a tiled floor. It has what it calls a “harvest table” decorated with orchids inside large cloche vases and tiny plates of fruit, cold meats, cheese and mustards.
You do not even have to carry the plate: you tell the waiters what you want and they bring it over.
First you get a basket of pastries, including croissants and pain au chocolat, followed swiftly by a plate of sliced strawberries, spanspek, pineapple, granadilla and gooseberries with yoghurt and a berry compote. I ordered an egg-white omelette with sliced green chillies and tomato, which turned out to be light and fluffy. Order the cheese — the Welsh cheddar and Wensleydale are excellent.
A welcome sight was an elderly couple at a table next to the window. She was busying herself with a plate of eggs; he sat back nursing a glass of Veuve Clicquot, all before nine in the morning.
The continental breakfast costs R135 and the full breakfast is R185.