There are some concepts I just can’t resist, however much I might want to.
Za Za Bazaar is a prime example: an all-you-can-eat buffet, with 1,000 covers – apparently making it Britain’s largest restaurant.
Before I go on, you should know that I hate crowds. I also hate feeling like I am competing for food – there’s nothing worse than having your eye on a certain Cake or Pastry, only to see it snatched up by the person in front of you.
Nevertheless I was drawn to the place, namely because of the choice: most of the world’s cuisines in just one room – from Sushi to Sausage and Mash – with a dessert list longer than anywhere outside my dreams.
Since we were in Bristol – i.e. home to this particular Bazaar – it seemed like we really should give it a go. The website alone made my eyes spin, but when else would we get the chance?
From the outset it was clear that this wasn’t your usual dining experience. You can’t just book any time you want, but have to go on the hour.
The price also varies depending on when you go (as does the range they offer). Our visiting time being peak (i.e. Saturday night), we supposedly had the whole range of their dishes, for a fairly meaty £15.99 per head.
When we got there almost the first thing they told us was what time we had to leave: it was 8.45 at the latest; little more than ninety minutes after we’d arrived.
Which brings me to another thing I hate: time-limits.
With one-and-a-half hours to sample various cusines, the main temptation was to pile up our plates and start scoffing. But no: the Man and I had been working on a plan.
It ran as follows: do the rounds first to scope out the joint; try tiny samples of everything we fancied; minimise the carbs (too filling and cheap – not easy to get your money’s worth); drink plenty of water; and – most importantly – try to avoid being sick.
I have to say, our main meals went surprisingly well. The food quality wasn’t generally great, but the spectacle was amazing: our first recon took about ten minutes, so vast was the range on offer. Each station was themed by place, and was manned by at least two chefs; some of whom could make things on request.
Enough about savouries, though – this blog post is hardly the place. As I learnt that night, it’s vital to save space for pudding.
So here it is (brace yourself):
In short, there was quite a lot – and my aim, as the Pud-Hog, was to try a little snuffling of each thing.
Alas, however, my ambitions were unfulfilled. Not, I might add, because my stomach was overwhelmed (I’d been sparing with my savouries in preparation for this challenge), but because a great deal of what was on offer was apparently not vegetarian.
In fact, the issue of what was and wasn’t veggie caused myself (and the Chefs) no small amount of headaches, mainly because the labelling was so ambiguous: on the few occasions that it was visible, it was hard to tell exactly what it meant.
Take this label for the Indian-style Rice Pudding, for example:
Where most of the labels wrote ‘Y’ or ‘N’ beside the word ‘Vegetarian’, this one plumped for an ‘X’.
But was that an ‘X’ as in a tick box? Or an ‘X’ as in I’m-crossing-this-bad-boy-off-my-list-and-so-should-you?
Nobody seemed to know. One Chef said it wasn’t veggie, another disagreed. Back at the table, our waiter told us it was gelatin-free…
Who to believe?
Elsewhere, as well as the usual no-nos (the Marshmallows and Jellies) a whole cabinet of cakes was apparently off-limits too. Not that this seemed rational either.
Perhaps someone had made up their mind to bake gelatin into everything like some hog-hungry maniac. Or perhaps the labelling department was being incredibly lax.
As for the contradictory Chefs, I’m not sure what the problem was. A language barrier? Undertrained members of staff? A ruse to prevent the Pud-Hog from gobbling up all the stock?
I have my suspicions…
But, again, let’s bring ourselves back to dessert.
What, after all this confusion, did I eventually choose to eat?
Well, this was my first plate:
Sadly, some of it didn’t get eaten (the Chocolate Square, the Swiss Roll and the Pie), but purely because of my aforementioned bewilderment. As for the rest, I’m surprised to reveal that it wasn’t half bad.
Indeed, as products for what is basically a mega (and generally indiscriminate) feeding frenzy, they could have been a whole lot worse.
The Crème Brûlée tasted nice and fresh, with a thin but crunchy caramel top.
The Chocolate Tart was pleasantly rich and dark (if a little too thick and soft in the Pastry department).
The Carrot Cake was something I’d be happy to pay full price for in a bakery, while the Gulab Jamun wasn’t perfect, but just as syrupy as you’d hope to get.
My next stop was the Chocolate Fountain, where I dosed up on Tinned Peaches and a square of Sponge. Alas, you couldn’t just spoon the Chocolate in (instead you had to spear and dip), but I managed to get a fairly decent covering, topping the lot with a scattering of generic chocolate-filled shells.
Again, it was OK. No Purbeck Chococo wizardry, obviously, but fine as long as you had average expectations. The Chocolate was slightly too thin and oily, but the Peaches were juicy and moreish.
My third bowl quite surpassed them though, with both Kheer and Apple Crumble being pretty gosh darn tasty.
The former (which I’d decided just had to be veggie) was nice and creamy, with a lovely flavour of Cardamom. The latter was very comforting: a stodgy (though only part-baked) Crumble, with plenty of warm, cooked apple.
It was so comforting, in fact, that I went for seconds – this time with some custard.
My thirds came with Melon and Pineapple.
My fourths with another Gulab Jamun and a sliver of Chocolate Fudge Cake (like one of those Betty Crocker ones; sludgy, but not too bad).
Of course, if you think six bowls of pudding sounds rather piggish, you’d be right.
Then again, it could have been worse: I didn‘t have the Cupcakes or the Ice Cream – they just didn’t seem that exciting. By the end I was also feeling slightly full…
…and then we were herded out.
The verdict then? A pretty impressive experience, but not one I’d like to repeat.
One session of scoffing against the clock is more than enough for me.