I love a good buffet. I feel excited by a sense of endless possibilities, of wonder at the beautifully presented piles of fresh food, and longing to sample an array of different cuisines. But some buffets can be a bit, well, pedestrian: good at first glance but quickly disappointing once you realise they largely contain mounds of cheap processed foods. But not this buffet — Eat Together is a tasteful, fresh and good value Asian-style buffet experience. The only downside that it is incredibly popular on public holidays.
Eat Together (饗食天堂) is a buffet chain of six restaurants throughout Taiwan. We dined at their large and spacious venue in ATT4Fun. I had never heard of Eat Together, but it seemed that many people in Taiwan had. Although the roomy venue was well-proportioned, it was doing brisk business when we visited over Chinese New Year. Yet while we all ate elegant sufficiency, the dining experience was still stylish and (relatively) gentrified. And there was thankfully little grabbing indiscriminately by patrons.
The main buffet area was laid out as a series of marble bench top rectangles, with chefs standing behind to constantly replenish the abundance of food and to create select dishes to order. The effect was homely; I almost felt like I was in someone’s kitchen, except for the trojans of hardworking, face-masked chefs anxious to please.
There is a certain art to the buffet meal. Most people progress in the usual order: sashimi/appetizers first, then onto roasted meats, specialty items that you have seen other people having, ice-cream then dessert and coffee. It is probably smarter to do it in reverse to avoid the (thankfully not too pushy) queues. I know friends who start their buffet meals with fruit, which they claim aids digestion. This is probably a good strategy to avoid the crowds (and avoid filling up with unhealthy things first). And gives you the opportunity to first view what everyone else is having; those hidden delights you discover only after you are already uncomfortably full.
So what were the stand-out dishes? Well, the beauty of a buffet is that everyone can choose whatever they like to eat. Which is why our friends recommended this restaurant, as they are also parents of a fussy toddler (although she is actually quite an adventurous eater compared with our little boy). But as soon as I started on the buffet circuit, my eyes were immediately drawn to a series of delicate Asian-style seafood entrees. I especially liked the orange juice marinated scallops.
The entrée selection of tuna with salmon roe was also lovely, and set the right note for the rest of the buffet experience. But I regretted not lining up for a generous plate of fresh sashimi, something that I quickly rectified. One chef created fresh seaweed sushi cones on demand; I lined up for a while, but lost patience. My friend who had more determination than me (or perhaps chose a more strategically advantageous time) and managed to get several, which her toddler gobbled up (mine crinkled up his face in disgust — at least we tried).
Three quarters of the way through our buffet, I noticed a large line beginning to form at one of the stations. A team of chefs was skilfully preparing plate after plate of a modern sushi trifecta consisting of grilled beef, prawn and some type of yellow fish roe. Then a staff member appeared at our table asking us to pay our meal charge in advance. I was somewhat surprised that they would not wait until we finished, but I guess with a full restaurant of 344 people there would be a stampede if everyone hit the cashier at once. Once we paid (in cash), he gave us coupons that we could use to redeem for this modern sushi dish. And of course, because you get the voucher that only allows you a limit of one serve, everyone wants one.
In a feeble attempt to be healthy, I avoided these crispy jumbo tempura prawns. But I noticed many people walking around with heaped plates (and I mean heaped up to the point of ridiculousness — the only seeming exception to people totally pigging out). So I assume they must be really, truly good.
Instead I made an attempt to sample some Western-style dishes that I don’t always come across so often in Taiwan. This paella was good, but not brilliant. There was plenty of fresh seafood, but the rice was overcooked (as per the more usual Taiwan preference for soft rice). As far as I could see I was the only ‘lao wai’ Westerner in the restaurant, so I guess they could be forgiven for catering to local tastes.
I didn’t actually eat one of these puff-pastry covered soups, but they intrigued. It took me a while to find them, and when I did I realised why — they were baked in batches, and demand quickly exceeded supply. Thankfully they baked lots and lots.
I don’t usually like pumpkin, but this baked pumpkin with cranberry dish was colourful and a nice contrast to some of the other Western style dishes.
Desserts — ahhhh, I could write a whole section on this. I was surprised when I went home and downloaded what was on my camera that there were no cake photos. How could I have missed the immaculately presented glass display case filled with a tempting array of chocolate, cheese and sponge/fruit cakes? Or the interesting apricot and carrot cake with lemon icing? Or the fresh-baked biscuits next to the coffee machine? The help-yourself ice-cream and the cold-stone style freshly mixed ice-cream teppanyaki? The chefs slicing through box after box of fresh tropical fruits to ensure there was always something on offer?
I can only assume that it was because I was too busy indulging. And accompanying my toddler to choose some ice-cream, a special treat allowed in moderation, then helping him to eat it. Well, overseeing while he made a mess anyway.
Eat Together Xinyi is at Level 6, ATT4Fun, Songshou Road, Xinyi (台北市信義區松壽路12號6樓). It is imperative to ring ahead and book as they are popular, especially on weekends and holidays (phone 02-7737-5889).
Their lunch session runs from 11.30 to 3.00pm weekdays, and 11.30am to 2.00pm weekends (my friend booked for 12.00 noon and they were incredulous that we would not want to take advantage of the extra thirty minutes). When we left at 2.15pm, staff practically pushed us out the door — we soon realised why when we saw hundreds of people lining up for the 2.20pm afternoon tea session.
Pricing is a little confusing, so I have included a table with a translation of details from their website:
|Mon – Fri||11.30am to 3.00pm
|temporarily unavailable||17.30pm to 21.30pm
|Sat, holidays||11.30am to 2.00pm
|14.20pm to 16.20pm
|17.30pm to 21.30pm
Children under 90cm – free
Children 90cm to 110cm – NT$100
Children 110cm to 140cm, half price
Children 140cm and higher, full price
Plus 10 per cent value added tax