Stickman's Weekly Column January 16th, 2005

Buffet Bonanza


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There are many, many excellent restaurants in Bangkok and you can find pretty much anything you like with even some of the more obscure types of cuisine represented. But some of the better restaurants are not cheap, and before you know it, dinner for two can cost a few thousand baht. If you were particularly hungry or didn't order well, you might not even leave full. But one needn't have to stick to a la carte. All over the city are restaurants offering buffets. Some are a little average as buffets tend to be, but some of them are truly superb and the food on offer rivals many of the city's better restaurants. What follows is a summary of some of my favourite buffets in the City Of Angels.

An expat favourite, the Mexican buffet at Bourbon Street is very reasonably priced at only 210 baht ++, meaning a grand total of a mere 245 baht. For this you get a good selection of Mexican food from tacos to burritos to enchiladas to other stuff with unpronounceable Spanish names. It also includes salad, but coffee isn't included. For me, this is a fantastic deal, but I have been known to overdo it. My advice is to stick to about one and a half plates. Two full plates and you can feel quite bloated and three, well it feels like you have a brick in your stomach. Many of my American friends tell me that this is not the best Mexican food they have had but frankly to me, it is pretty damned good. Hey, my country hasn't been invaded by the Mexicans so I can't be expected to know just what good Mexican is supposed to taste like. Note that this buffet is ONLY available on Tuesday and kicks off around 6:30 ish. A warning about the refried beans at Bourbon Street. They taste real good but go easy on them if you have a date later in the night. These surely are the world's most effective fartables. For a long time Bourbon Street's Mexican buffet was my favourite buffet in town. It remains very good food at a very reasonable price.

The Fortune Hotel, located up on Rachadapisek Road, well away from the major tourism enclaves is home to a restaurant that offers what they call in these parts, an "international buffet". For 350 odd baht for the lunch buffet, it represents very good value, and if you're hungry, it is very easy to get your moneys worth. The buffet includes all of the usual from a salad selection, to a good selection of Thai food, to an Indian section, some pasta, at least one roast meat and an eye catching selection of desserts, few of which taste as good as they look – so often the case in Thailand! They have a reasonable selection of cheeses and breads too, which given the cost of cheese in Thailand makes the price very reasonable, if like me you are a cheese fan. A good value buffet.

And where would a review of Bangkok buffets on this site be without a review of the lunch buffet at the most infamous of all hotels, the Nana Hotel. I’ve had the lunch buffet there several times and it should come as no surprise that it is the most average of them all. In all fairness, a lot of the Thai food that comes out of the kitchen at the Nana Hotel is very good but what they serve up at the buffet is a bit average. There is only a small selection of food, it is all Thai and frankly, they seem to use all the cheap cuts of meat. Even Mrs. Stick has been known to dine at the Nana Hotel and she is happy to do so – but not the buffet. At the Nana Hotel, stick to the a la carte – give the yellow chicken curry a go – they do it probably better than anywhere and for only 150 baht. Anyway, the Nana Hotel’s buffet is a place to refuel for the day. It is not really a place to savour the delights of Thai cuisine. It may only be 180 baht, but in many ways it reminds me of the buffet at the Apex Hotel in Pattaya, but truth be told, the buffet at the Apex is FAR superior.

The buffet at the restaurant on the lower ground floor of the Dusit Thani has without a doubt the best salads I have had in Bangkok. Amongst them they have these gorgeous Mediterranean style salads that are so good that they make me wonder if they have a chef from that part of the world there. The buffet is reasonably priced by 5 star hotel standards at 600 baht ++ meaning that dinner for two is a very reasonable 1,400 baht all up. The quality is excellent, the range is good though it has to be said that some nights are better than others. It should also be noted that the last time I was there, just a couple of weeks ago, they still didn't have any chicken dishes out, due to the chicken flu scare. Perhaps it could be attributed to the reasonable price but the Dusit seems to host more than its fair share of local customers who will happily stand at one dish and pick out ALL of the good bits, serving them to the plates of those in their family. With this in mind, for some of the Thai dishes, particularly those with beef or seafood, you have to be quick, because it seems that often they just pick out all of the meat, and leave the vegetables. I have not noticed this to be such an issue at the more expensive buffet dinners.

It is hardly deceptive pricing, but at 890 baht ++, don't expect to get any change out of a 1,000 baht note. In fact, that 1,000 baht note won't cover it – you'll have to add in another 50 baht. 1,050 baht for a buffet dinner? While it may seem steep, that is the one and only negative I could find with the buffet at the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit. As you would expect at a 5 star hotel, the buffet is intelligently laid out with the main section of the buffet in the centre of the restaurant, meaning that wherever you are sitting, you are never that far away from the food. This is located at the front of the hotel near the main lobby area, with huge windows which give a good view of the skytrain whizzing past. There is a huge range of food. There is the usual selection of salads, all the hot plate international farang fare, Indian, Thai, Japanese, a pasta station where pasta is cooked to your preference. They have a large selection of seafood which you select and tell the chef how you would like it prepared and they also have beef tenderloin and lamb chops which again, are cooked to your preference. If you've got a sweet tooth, the dessert trolley is actually a huge table covered in all sorts of sweet sickly delights – and the home made ice cream rivals any ice cream you can find anywhere. For a simple lad like me, the buffet at the Sheraton Grande has the best fried rice I have ever had with these big, juicy, perfectly cooked shrimps. They also have truly outstanding Indian food. One bite of the chicken korma was all it took for me to know that this was the best Indian I have had in Bangkok. I might not come from Bradford or Birmingham, but I still know and appreciate a good curry. But it is like that for ALL OF THE FOOD at the Sheraton's buffet. It is all outstanding. As you would expect at such a fine hotel, many of the chefs are "imports". You see a Sikh chef popping out to top up the Indian and a few farang chefs bringing out their creations. They seemed to be forever topping everything up and unlike some buffets where once they have run out of one thing, that is the end of that, it seemed to be different at the Sheraton. This can be especially so with the desserts. Even at the 5 star Dusit Thani it seemed that once the desserts and certain other dishes were gone, that was it. At the Sheraton, they just keep bringing out more and more! Even at over 1,000 baht per head, it really is VERY good value indeed, given the excellent quality and selection of the food, the quantity and the surroundings. This is easily my favourite buffet in Bangkok and don't let the price tag put you off.

The Irish Xchange on Convent Road has two buffets, an Indian buffet and a roast dinner buffet. They always seem to have the Indian buffet on a Friday, the roast on a Sunday – other days I'm not so sure what the story is. Anyway, the Indian buffet is very good value indeed. The buffet includes very good soup, salad, 4 or 5 different curries (a couple of which are vegetarian if that happens to be your persuasion), and both standard jasmine rice as well as my favourite saffron rice. There's plenty of narn bread too. What is even better, is that there is usually a choice of dessert (a choice of 2 and they vary from day to day) – and these are VERY good (mixed berry crumble and custard is just one of the many EXCELLENT desserts) and it also includes VERY good coffee. Value for money wise, this is even better value than Bourbon Street, because you get dessert and coffee too. My only complaint, and it is a small one, is that the curries are not as good as you get in most Indian restaurants. They're good, but not that good. Still, at the price, you cannot complain, just 280 baht, especially when we consider that Indian food in Bangkok can be very expensive. It should be noted that this is a lunch time buffet and as far as I know, is not offered in the evening.

The other buffet at the Irish Xchange is the roast dinner buffet. There are usually three roast meats – chicken, beef and pork, though I do remember on some occasions the availability of lamb. They have very good simmered vegetables, including roast potatoes and even a decent Yorkshire pudding! This buffet is much the same as the Indian buffet in that dessert and coffee is included and this is also a lunch time buffet. 299 baht and this is also EXCELLENT value for money. (Remember some places – and I'm talking British style pubs here – charge over 600 baht for a roast dinner – and you would be close to 1,000 baht if you also had the coffee, soup and dessert.)

Other mentions should go to the Sea Pearl river cruise and the Four Seasons Sunday brunch. Truth be told, I have only had the buffet at each of these once and that is not really enough so let me just make the following brief comments. The brunch at the Four Seasons is, as you would expect from a 5 star hotel enormously well known for its culinary reputation, superb, but it is pricy, at around 1,500++ per head. The Sea Pearl river cruise buffet is a pleasant way to spend two hours, but if we are just considering the food, at 1,200 baht, it is nothing special. The food was in my opinion, no better than say what is offered at the Emerald Hotel for less than a third of the price, and thus the effective price of 800+ baht for a two hour river cruise is pricy. But thinking about the food only, above average quality but very limited range would be about as complimentary as I could be.

I have seen the buffet at the Oriental Hotel but the price is just a little bit too steep for me. From memory, it was 1,650 baht ++ meaning that dinner for two, presumably with no drinks included, would be around 4,000 baht. I have no doubt that the quality would be absolutely top draw – and its riverside setting is superb, but that is getting quite dear indeed for a buffet dinner. Still, I'll give it a go one day.

So if you are feeling really hungry, these are just a few of the many choices of buffets available. And do consider giving the buffet at the Sheraton Grande a try. No, I don't have shares there. It just simply is that good.

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE?

It was Victory Monument, of course.

Anyone for a massage?

Last week's pic was too easy and heaps of people got it right. It was of course the famous Canon sign that can be seen just north of Victory Monument. The photo was taken from the Victory Monument skytrain station. Each week the first reader to correctly state where the pic is by email to me wins a 500 baht credit from Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy. Please note that the credit MUST be claimed within two weeks. So, to claim that prize, you must be in Bangkok at some time in the next two weeks.

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

The girlfriend experience +.

It is true, you really can get a 'GE' in Thailand, for relatively small cost you get the demands, arguments, sulks and tantrums, just like home. For a little extra you can upgrade to the 'WE' (wife experience) then you get to have really serious rows, sleep on the floor with your hands clasped round your goolies, and / or, permanent cold shoulder, mother-in-law problems etc. If you are a serious reality seeker Thailand will even provide you with the 'DE' (divorce experience), but this is only recommended for the really well-heeled tourist / expat.

Are you a member of the IFAK Club?

My pal was in Thermae about 4 AM (this goes back to the old days) and a gorgeous girl walks in. Well-dressed, classy, much better looking than any of the "T-Room" regulars. Already shit-faced, he brought her back to his room. After the deed he begins to sober up, then begins to have doubts if she is truly of the female persuasion. She then admits to having been born a male. We asked if he vomited or kicked her ass, and he said "nah, the service was so good, I went back and got her the next night". We made him president of the IFAK (I F—-d A Katoey) Club on the spot.

Bar violence.

A small bar in Pattaya, a girl refused to go with a fat drunken Farang, and was giving him a bit of lip. The mamasan came over and punched her in the side of the face, and it was on. Another girl got involved, and chairs and punches were flying. Tuff mothers these mamasans. She still didn't go with the farang. I don't think they can be forced to, but she got hit because she started abusing him. I find a lot of Thais have a short fuse.

30 to the dollar…

The Thai baht has been undervalued for a long time (some say by 30%) and it is generally expected in global financial markets today that as soon as China unpegs its Yuan (widely expected to take place in 2005), then all the Asian currencies will follow suit, the baht included. Now, when I last visited LOS in September 2004 the rate stood at 41.50 to the dollar. Today it is 39.15 – i.e., a revaluation of 6%. Should the above scenario materialize (with China) then the baht may well run north to the extent of 30% hence reaching perhaps 30 to the dollar. Just imagine what this will do to prices.

Patpong of the past.

Live sex acts on stage were more than rumour in the late '80s. A bar in Patpong 1, about three or four doors up from the old Queens Castle had a show at midnight every night where a motorbike was lowered from the ceiling with a man and woman on it who then proceeded to entertain us with a display of all the various positions you can use to bonk on the back of a Harley Davidson. This was in 87 & 88 and was not the only bar in Patpong that had live sex acts on stage. I think the name of the place was Supergirl but I can't be sure after all these years. Beer & bourbon were 55 baht, girls were 500 baht short time and the bars didn't shut till 3AM, them was the days. I hope this helps dispel some of the "rumours" of what Patpong was like in the good old days.

The perils of bike ownership part 1.

I for one am totally sick of the Thai police. While I’d like to believe there are good cops about, I am finding it more difficult to believe by the day. Having a bike in Bangkok I occasionally get pulled over for really innocent stuff, rarely have I done anything wrong. However, the police scum make something up and extort money from me.

The perils of bike ownership part 2.

With bikes you can only go over certain bridges at ad hoc times and it seems like it’s really a lottery when that is. One time I was riding on a road between Ploenchit and Rama 4, the road was practically empty but for a small bus in front of me. In Thailand you’re meant to keep to the left when riding on a bike, but I moved over to the outside lane to get a view for overtaking, undertaking is dangerous. I happened to be nearing some police at the time who beckoned me to stop. I would have just sped through except for the fact that the policeman was about to hit me with a flashy red beacon stick, which I am sure would have knocked me off my bike. When I got off the bike, it was the usual bullshit. And I notice they really don’t give a shit about road safety or their job. It's all about cash. Another time I went over a crossing that is normally fine to cross. I didn’t see the movable sign with wheels on, saying I couldn’t go my usual way, the only other escape would have been the expressway station which bikes aren’t allowed through. The police stopped me again, and when I tried to explain what happened it was the usual ‘you go station’ bullshit. For what I asked? I said why don’t you stop people who are riding the wrong way down a road? Why don’t you stop taking bribes from drunks? I said why do you want a bribe from me, are you a beggar? By which time I was really laying into him in Thai. Normally I would just pay, but this time I said okay let's go the station. He said never mind, ‘You go now’ dismissing me like a piece of shit. What recourse does a foreigner have here? I am getting totally sick of it.

Anyone for banana?

On one occasion I was in a Queens Castle upstairs bar and things were fairly quiet on the night, but the girls were still doing their special shows. During the "banana spit" show, there was this drunk middle age farang sitting on a stool next to the stage. As the girl was getting ready to spit the 1/2 banana out of her pussy, this guy opened his mouth, signaling her to bulls eye the back of his throat….which she did! And he ended up eating, yes ate the banana.

Another problem for the Bangkok governor to solve?

Would it be possible for the Bangkok Authorities to put notices up on the pavements at Sukhumvit Road telling fat assed farang couples that they must not walk side by side? I'm a relatively fit and slim farang lad in his early forties, and my dark skinned Isaan beauty has the most cute ass that you've ever seen. We are both completely fed up of being stuck behind fat assed farang couples with pavement blocking asses as they waddle down Sukhumvit Road! You just can't get past them! Even worse, they often just stop to look at some tourist junk and the whole pavement comes to a complete, chaotic standstill! Something has got to be done about this problem!

Last week I mentioned that the bar areas were doing a booming business and I attributed it to the tourism high season. It would therefore be fair to expect that trade would have been much the same this past week. WRONG! Cowboy seemed to be quiet this week with numbers way down, both punters and girls. From Nana it has been much the same, although this weekend has been busy. Basically there is a much smaller window of opportunity to do decent bar trade and this is hurting the bars of Bangkok. Customers by habit hit the bars fairly late and are then sent home earlier than many would like. Both Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy seemed to be somewhat slow this week. A couple of years ago the bars would do several hours of very busy trade, now it is just one mad rush for what can be only a very few hours. This is the difference.

But down in Pattaya, all of the popular venues are doing a roaring trade. Always a favourite, Ken at Living Doll Showgirls says business is up and it is no surprise with all of the lovelies he has there. Another gogo bar which is worthy of a visit is Misty's. The atmosphere is good, there are plenty of pretty girls but most importantly, this is the first gogo bar to erect posters of Mr Leather's soon to be released "Private Dancer".

And the rumour mill has it that there may be some changes in Walking Street in Pattaya. No, I am not talking about the destruction of everything on the seaward side as has been mooted for many, many years, but changes due to the intense competition amongst the gogo bars down there. Competition is so intense that on one hand you have gogo bars charging give away prices for draught beer, you know, prices in the 30 – 45 baht range, and then you have some gogo bars paying up to 15,000 baht a month to the most attractive girls to attract them to dance in their bars! Competition is fierce, and something is about to give…

If you find yourself in Spice Girls in Soi Cowboy, make sure you check your change come checkbin time. I was NOT impressed with that bar when I visited this week and frankly, the attitude of the staff stunk. It was without a doubt the most clumsy effort to rip me off in my entire time in Thailand.

I notice that the Took Lae Dee diner in the front of the Foodland branch at Ramkhaemhaeng has been renovated and is a whole lot nicer than it was. I wonder if they have plans to renovate the super popular branch in Sukhumvit soi 5? Such renovations and improvement are surely overdue?

I don't know how long it has been running, but I notice that Gulliver's is offering the pride of Ireland, Guinness, at 165 baht a pint, a pretty good deal. I also noticed when driving past the Witch's Tavern that they had a sign outside offering free Guinness on Saturday nights. I didn't actually catch the fine print and obviously there must be some sort of conditions but it may be worth checking out for Guinness drinkers.

In a previous column I mentioned how groups of Westerners, predominately females, had been led through Nana Plaza on what appears to be part of a tour of the nightlife areas. Well, it is not quite the same but I notice tour groups of Asian tourists (Chinese at a guess) pouring into Spasso's last night. While it is obviously good money for the establishment, what seemed like a hundred odd camera wielding Asian tourists changed the entire atmosphere of Spasso's last night and while the Mrs. and I were just there for a quiet drink, those around us didn't like it – and many voted with their feet, and left.

I took a cab last night and it was the first one I have seen that had an LCD screen installed in place of the visor in the passenger seat. The LCD screen which looked to be about an 8 or 9 inch model was running a VCD with various advertising material, and there was horrible tinny sound coming out of it. The driver had just had it installed this week. I asked him how much he was paid to have this installed and he didn't reply, which made me think that perhaps he is somehow not being paid for it. He told me that it would attract more people to use his cab. I don't think so! When I told him that it was purely advertising with seemingly no useful info, he was surprised. The sound from it was annoying and I found the picture distracting and asked him to turn it off, but he said it was hooked up to the meter, and he couldn't! The only way to turn it off was to turn the meter off, which he demonstrated to me. I REALLY hope that these do not get installed in too many taxis.

Flowers Thailand would like to thank everyone who has helped their fundraising efforts for those effected by the devastating tsunami last month. 50% of the sales of all orders received between 4th – 11th January was donated to the Thai Red Cross last Friday 14th January to help in the worst affected areas in Thailand. If anyone needs assistance to get essentials through to those in the affected areas, they may be able to help. They have a network of shops across Thailand and can utilise them to distribute essentials. Of course they will not profit from this and will provide all donators an email of a scanned receipt.

The Flowers Thailand cheque being presented at the Red Cross.

I have never looked forward to the hot season, except for one thing, mangoes! The arrival of the hot season has traditionally been the time of year when mangoes hit the shelves. But times are changing and you can now get mangoes just about anywhere, at any time of year. Durian too, but that doesn't excite me quite so much. I can't wait until lychees become available year round.

And speaking of food, now is not the time to be investing in a seafood restaurant. My boss said that she won't touch it for the time being after what has happened in the south and when I suggested to the Mrs. that we go to a local seafood restaurant she shrieked at the suggestion. Actually, I was quietly happy – I don't really care for seafood myself, give me red meat any day. But this clearly represents just another of the consequences of the disaster down south, at least as far as the locals are concerned. Most will not venture down there due to the fear of ghosts and now seafood is off the menu for fear that creatures of the sea have been snacking on remains and that the food chain has become contaminated.

There is a certain recently opened restaurant in the JW Marriott on Sukhumvit with what may be considered a rather unfortunate name. I wonder if they plan to change the name, given recent events?

In these days of the busy modern lifestyle, it seems that all and sundry have a maid in Thailand. Hell, even some English teachers have a maid! People have been asking me about prices for hired help so I asked around to find out what people I know pay. To have someone pop in for a couple of hours per day, Monday to Friday, and do all of the usual from tidying up the apartment to the dishes to the ironing, the going rate seems to be around 2,000 baht per month. A real bargain really. In fact it seems that many people pay their maid 2,000 baht per month irrespective of how many hours they do, and all that varies is how often she comes in and what she does.

Ask the Sticks

Mrs. Stick is here to answer questions surrounding anything that confuses you in Thailand, particularly issues of the heart. Please note that for general bargirl related questions, Mr. Stick might answer them. It has to be said that Mrs. Stick is not your stereotypical Thai woman. She is not Buddhist and she is not shy to criticise things about her own country and culture, although she remains proud to be Thai. Mr. Stick will try and answer the questions which Mrs. Stick is not so sure about.

Question 1: Why do Thai girls need to support Thai parents? If the parents can work and make money, why do the Thai girls live cheaply and send large portions of their wages to their parents? In the West the parents give presents to the children, and they do not normally make more money than their educated and hard-working children.

Mr. Stick says: The whole way Thais are raised and their attitude towards family is completely different to the Western way. Whereas most Westerners leave the family home some time around their late teens or early 20s – and independence is encouraged, Thais will forever see themselves as part of the family unit, and much less an individual as say a Westerner is. There is a concept in Thai culture known as "bum khun" which could be translated to mean the debt and responsibility that children have to their parents to look after them, especially in their old age, jut as their parents looked after them when they were young. However, let me clearly state that there is something seriously wrong when parents demand huge sums of money from their children. (Read the book "My Name Lon You Like Me?" and you'll now what I mean.) But not all Thai parents are like this at all. Mrs. Stick's mother, for example, doesn't like the idea that parents take from their children and potentially compromise their own future, and will not accept a single baht from any of her children.

Question 2: I have come across a few Thais who use their name instead of saying 'I'. For example when I asked my friend Lek what she did today, she replied: "Lek went shopping today for a new dress. Now Lek is hungry so can we go somewhere to eat?" Her English is pretty good apart from this. Is this common / regional / strange?

Mrs. Stick says: This is completely normal for Thai people to use the language like this where in English you would use "I". It can be considered a little cute too. It also shows familiarity with the person whom the conversation is taking place with. When the people are unfamiliar, a pronoun would more like be used.

As a closing note, I guess that the going rate for Kiwi passports isn't very good. A month ago while I was out and about I accidentally forgot my passport but at the time didn't realise it. This past week, I needed it and couldn't find it at home. After turning the apartment upside down, I thought back to when I last had it and remembered I had had to make a copy of it at this place. So, I went back to there to see if I had inadvertently left it there. Yep, there it was, sitting out on one of the staff member's desks. "We thought you'd come back for it." Cripes, if my head wasn't firmly attached to the rest of my body I'd probably forget that too…

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave. Special thanks go out to Bkk Grasshopper.