It seems quite apt that of the three historical origins of the word ‘buffet’, the earliest was the thirteenth century French word bufet, “to strike, slap, punch”. At the seafood counter in an elegant hotel brunch last summer, a diner in front of me took twenty three crab legs – every one on the platter, I counted – and put them on their plate. I saw him later, sweating furiously from a food coma, all but three of the legs left uneaten in front of him.
While I would dearly have loved to slap him ’bout the face with a wedge of ruby red tuna belly from the sashimi counter, I thought better of it. The experience did, however, put me off buffets for a while. Nine months later and I return to the fold, this time in the swish surroundings of Shanghai’s Pudong Shangri-La Hotel, a property which boasts the most glorious views of the Huangpu River and The Bund. The sunset we caught was not, I’m told, typical of Shanghai skies, but made it all the sweeter:
In common with most five star hotels, the selection of global cuisines at Yi Café is, frankly, ridiculous. Chinese, Malay, Indian, Japanese, Seafood, Vegetarian, Western, Middle Eastern, Thai, a huge salad bar, juice station and dessert counter. The sweet and succulent Alaskan crab legs come in an a bucket which even the aforementioned arse would have trouble polishing off:
Elsewhere steaks from down under are cooked à la minute, while a whole steamed baby turbot is on offer in one of the numerous Chinese kitchens. The lure of roast meats is always the strongest and once again I couldn’t resist their call:
Did someone in Shanghai say Peking duck? And lap cheong sausage?
I can happily report that a deep dish of Moussaka was brimming with umami, a full-on fish curry came with excellent roti fresh from the tandoor and a token small bowl of salad was largely ignored in favour of a cracking slice of glazed roast ham. Most of all however it was the delights of the Middle East which hooked me back to the world of the buffet, their culinary flag flown by Lebanon.
Chef Fadi Elsayed is a Beirut boy and the flavours his station delivers are the real deal. Despite its simplicity, Hummus can so often disappoint, but not in his hands, a smooth and multi-layered delight that scalding-hot pita bread was made for. Likewise the dainty individual dishes of baba ganoush, tabouleh and fattoush salad liberally dusted with sumac. In the name of research I also tried his shawarma sandwich and the pièce de resistance, a magnificent copper dome hiding an enormous mound of fragrant and aromatic mujadara – a rice pilaf with lentils, cumin, caramelized onions and pine nuts. Perfect on its own, with a spoonful of yoghurt or as the base for skewered lamb fresh from the charcoal grill.
Yi Café, Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai, 33 Fucheng Rd, Pudong, Shanghai, China Tel:+86 21 6882 8888 http://www.shangri-la.com/shanghai/pudongshangrila/dining/restaurants/yi-cafe/