Food for Kings!

by Oliver Arlow
Food for Kings!All-you-can-eat buffets of global, organic, and comfort cuisine offer superb value, wide variety and spectacular settings

If you’ve ever glanced at the dishes served up at a neighboring table and regretted your choice, Tokyo’s restaurants have a mouth-watering solution. Buffets may have been around for a while, but a number of restaurants report a newfound enthusiasm for such recession-proof, all-youcan- eat establishments.

“I’m not sure if buffets are more popular here in comparison with other locations in the Far East, but they are surely becoming more and more trendy with the wide variety, freshness and value for money,” said Denis Richter, executive assistant manager for food and beverages at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, in Nihombashi.

Holder of three coveted Michelin stars for three of its restaurants, the hotel’s Ventaglio restaurant has been serving up since 2005 a lunchtime buffet that includes starters, soups, main courses, a carvery and an impressive dessert selection.

Mango Tree“Organic seems to be the buzz word for 2010 and people really seem to be paying attention to where the produce comes from,” said Richter. “Another trend that we are monitoring is that guests are once again looking for their all-time favorites, as well as ‘comfort food’.”

Seasonal and regional cuisines keep regular customers coming back for more but the organic element is also proving popular elsewhere.

“Every day, our most popular dishes are brown rice and traditional miso soup and we believe that is because we always use organic ingredients and natural foods,” says Mari Ishimura, spokesperson for the Kudanshita vegetarian restaurant Naht.

“Our buffet-style meals may not be all that profitable for us, but our customers know they are tasty and safe and they’re comfortable coming to our restaurant.”

Restaurant StockholmMany of the regular customers at the restaurant, located near the Budokan in central Tokyo, are salarymen or middle-aged people living nearby who want to eat healthily, but can also take advantage of fusion-style dishes that meld Japanese tastes with cooking techniques from France and Italy.

Restaurateurs here are inventive in coming up with ways to stand out from the crowd, with some specializing in buffets of only fruit and cakes, or delicious Chinese dim sum, while diners who have found their sea legs can try a buffet on a boat around Tokyo Bay with Vingt et un Cruise in Golden Week (see Giveaway below).

Others, such as Restaurant Stockholm, offer a taste of the cuisine that is unique to their countries.

“I don’t think that Swedish food is all that famous, but I think that anyone who tries it will certainly remember it,” says Hideki Takeuchi, manager of the Akasaka restaurant, which can trace its history back to 1971. “Perhaps Japanese people have heard of smorgasbord and meatballs, which we serve all year round, but we have some excellent winter dishes—such as potato and anchovy gratin—and crayfish is a traditional summer meal.”

A shot of aquavit is something more of an acquired taste, he admits.

The Mango Tree occupies a coveted spot in the Marunouchi Building, with spectacular views across the city, particularly at night. But a restaurant in arguably the most competitive dining-out city in the world doesn’t survive on its views alone.

“I think that Japanese people really are interested in food from abroad and we find that customers like the freedom of being able to try a little bit of a lot of things, which is why they come to buffets,” said Aya Tanaka. “And, of course, it’s good for the restaurant because we can make a lot of food at the same time, so the cost of preparing it is lower.”

Thai food traditionally incorporates a lot of tangy food, with the Mango Tree’s spicy salads always popular, especially versions that include the restaurant’s trademark mango.

“There are a lot of Thai restaurants in Japan, but we’re very lucky because we have a great position, a big space and a really good atmosphere,” said Tanaka.

And to underline just how many tastes there are available in Japan, Isabella Sylvia emphasizes that the all-you-can-eat buffet at Que Bom! is reasonably priced and tastes just like the food back home in Brazil. The restaurant, in Asakusa, has only been open for two years but has already attracted a loyal clientele who go back for the barbecued chicken and black beans with pork and sausage dishes.

“I think our secret is that we do the simple things well and that we’re authentic,” she said. “This is the real thing.”

Mandarin Oriental Tokyo
Tel: 03-3270-8800
Price: ¥3,190 for antipasti and fresh pasta at
lunch; ¥5,500 for full buffet dinner

Restaurant Stockholm
Tel: 03-3509-1677
Price: ¥3,150 for lunch and ¥5,250 for dinner.

Mango Tree
Tel: 03-3524-1500
Price: ¥2,700 for adults and ¥1,600 for children

Tel: 03-3237-0052
Price: ¥1,500

Que Bom!
Tel: 03-5826-1538
Price: ¥1,500 regular buffet, ¥3,000 barbecue