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Buffet breakfasts should be sent back to the kitchen

As the holiday season enters full-swing, it’s time to reassess the buffet breakfast.

A buffet breakfast isn’t a normal breakfast. People try things they wouldn’t dream of having at home – whether it be coffee and tea or three different types of eggs. It can be seen as a challenge to try as many dishes as possible. But at the end of it, guests are often left feeling lethargic and sluggish.

To begin this unusual meal, we have to be admitted by the breakfast bouncers and shown to our table, passing the food on our way. Which seems rather pointless because as soon as we sit down we immediately get up and head back to the buffet – bums hit chairs for mere moments.

After returning with our food, we attempt to finish the plates of yoghurt, fruit, omelette and pastries that surround us, only to fail and head to the orange juice jar to refill our oddly small glass.

Whilst fiddling with the nozzle handle on the juice jar (is it up or down?), a basket of cake, often a dry attempt at lemon drizzle, catches our eye. The adding of this final plate to our little mound of crockery not only makes us feel bad for the people doing the washing up but tips us over from satisfaction to lethargy.

This staple part of a hotel stay can be as important as the room or the service, often being the last thing guests experience before they leave. And yet, we are frequently left feeling sluggish.

The buffet’s spectacle convinces us that the volume of food compensates for the drop in quality. Two questions then: why do we feel the need to eat in such a voracious manner? And, rather than a buffet, shouldn’t hotels focus on a small selection done well? The former is probably best answered by value for money, curiosity and our lack of self control. The latter, is answered through the remarkable case of Ariyasom Villas in Bangkok, Thailand.

This boutique hotel, which is tucked away at the end of Soi 1 Sukhumvit, holds a modicum of serenity unknown to the rest of the city. Its simplistic décor echoes the tradition of Bangkok’s not too distant past. Thankfully, this simplicity is reflected in its food.

Guests are given a menu from which they can order as much as they like. There are blueberry pancakes, eggs benedict, porridge and a full English.

Despite the richness of such dishes, the kitchen maintains a freshness that doesn’t weigh the stomach down. The pancakes, for example, are darker and more savoury than their American cousins, the sweetness coming from the maple syrup and the fresh berries. The baked beans are a combination of kidney, black and pinto beans in a light tomato sauce, rather than the sugar-coated ones we are used to. The result is a meal that leaves you feeling light.

This isn’t to say that there is no gain from the rich tastes of buffets. We all enjoy the novelty of being able to eat as much as we want. But a quality is lost with a buffet, whether that be the warmth of the food or the freshness of taste.

Now, there are drawbacks of a la carte. For starts, the cost of producing food ad hoc is much higher than mass-producing a buffet. This is in addition to the cost of extra staff needed to serve the food. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the best option from the guests’ point of view.

Having a menu gives guests the time to pick what they actually want. Instead of just seeing something and taking it to their table.

A la carte also means that dishes maintain their proportionality. Rather than drenching our pancakes in maple syrup leaving them sodden, each mouthful can be comprised of the optimal proportions of ingredients. Of course, chefs don’t always get this right, but they are usually better at it than the average person who’s faced with endless choice.

There are, perhaps, more pressing issues for the human race, but if hotels learnt a thing or two from Ariyasom Villas the world might be a more palatable place.

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