What springs to mind when someone suggests going to an ‘eat all you want buffet’? If you’re like me (and I’m a bit of a food snob) you might shiver at the thought of a grimy cafeteria with hoards of tourists piling their plates high with cheap greasy food. At least that’s my nightmare memory of the buffet served at a budget motel I stayed in when visiting Las Vegas some 20 years ago.
So you can understand my hesitation when The Lively Crew invited me to a food writers evening at the new Cosmo Restaurant in Norwich. Thankfully the world of buffets has moved on a long way since the 1990s and Cosmo quickly dispelled all sense of trepidation. My first words, on entering the brightly lit restaurant, with its gleaming tiles, chrome and glass food stations and steel serving dishes, were: “Wow, this is smart.”
The other thing I quickly noticed was that, despite being early on a Monday evening, the place was busy. Not packed but there was a definite buzz with cheerful families and groups of friends enjoying an amazing choice of food. By the time I left at 7:30 it was three-quarters full and there were 15 people in the lobby downstairs waiting to be seated.
If popularity is any guide, Cosmo are definitely doing something (many things) right. As a result, they have expanded rapidly since launching in Eastbourne in 2003. The idea is simple to explain but is difficult to do well: You pay a flat fee for your meal (drinks are extra but reasonably priced) and then you choose whatever you want from somewhere between 60 and 80 freshly cooked main dishes.
The food is inspired by cuisine from China, India, Japan, the Americas and Europe. You can return for more as often as you like – and you get a clean plate every time (which impressed me) so you don’t have to mix too many flavours. This is great place to take young people if you want to encourage them to be more adventurous in what they eat, without risking too much waste if they decide they don’t like something.
It’s also ideal if you are going out with a large group of friends who all like different food and can never quite decide on where to eat. There is pretty much something for everyone, from simple roasts and fresh sea food and salads, to spicy curries and aromatic noodles. The food certainly seems as good as anything you’ll get at Pizza Express, Wagamamas, Giraffe, or Yo Sushi (to name just a few popular chains).
Each chef specialises in their particular cuisine. You can even watch some of them (such as the Teppanyaki chef) doing live cooking demonstrations. All the food is cooked in small batches so it is always fresh – and the team works hard to keep all the counters and serving utensils spotless even when it gets busy.
Over the course of the evening, I enjoyed sushi rolls, fresh prawns and seaweed complete with wasabi paste, soy sauce and thin slices of ginger – all fresh and delicious. I then had a small helping of Piri-Piri chicken and a selection of Mediterranean vegetables (grilled artichokes, peppers and aubergine with sun-blush tomatoes) on a bed of crisp, peppery rocket leaves. Finally I tucked into some spicy Hong Kong noodles and beef in black-bean sauce.
Unfortunately I was driving so could only try a few sips of the house wine. But both the white and the red were definitely drinkable: the Pinot Grigio was crisp and refreshing and the Merlot was smooth and fruity. For those of you looking to round off your feast with something sweet, there’s a tantalising array of delicate desserts…
Did I enjoy my meal? Yes (and, if I’d been paying, I would say it was good value for money).
Would I go back? Yes – although not for an intimate meal or for a light snack but certainly if I wanted a fun evening out and plenty of choice.
Any tips? Yes – book if you are going as a large group, particularly if you don’t want a long wait for a table at the weekend (including Friday night).
Thank you to Valerie and Mike from The Lively Crew for inviting me – and to Johnathan Wong (Cosmo’s Training and Auditing Officer) for being our host for the evening.
PS: All the pictures above are ones I took on the night as I went round (they weren’t staged and are not stock shots).
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