The New Zealand Buffet

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Last Sunday, we hit the smorgasbord sensation called Valentines.

It was my daughter’s 7th birthday and I wanted her to have the experience of plenty.

We arrived at 12pm.

A cursory look around the joint revealed they’d removed the giant margarine sculptures of yore. Nothing neo-Platonic about those structures, although some of the subjects were often classical; a Poseidon, a centaur. Sadly, no Zeus though.

Once the dinner horn had sounded (actually a small waiter, summonsing patrons to attend to the stainless-steel tureens) we took the children up one by one, to sample the wares of the dessert trolley.

And then it was my turn, and I was struck by the colours and the lights. Bright heat lamps bore down on glistening meats and salamis; salads came slathered with what looked like peach-coloured dressing, and there were metal jugs of the same sauce with mini-ladles everywhere.

The Mexican section was confounded by bad chilli con carne and nacho chips. Garlic bread lay in lazy strips next to every hot tureen and small bowls of sprinkles with a teaspoon scoop offered crushed nuts, bacon bits or dried pumpkin seeds. For what reason, I wasn’t really sure, and I was not about to ask Chef, because I’d heard a rumour that the food was prepared in Palmerston North and then trucked to the various franchises, and that would make the people in white hats ‘reheaters’ rather than actual cooks. And at the end of the day, I really liked this urban myth about the food being cooked at a distance; it had a scary and repellant edge to it.

I heaped my plate with anything I could find, even butter chicken, which in reality was chicken in a an orange-coloured sauce. Facial expression: neutral.

I knew I was risking my life eating some of this stuff and I didn’t care. I could have sat there until 7pm just grazing, assessing the condition of the rubber plants that were still there from 1987, the leaves nibbled by god-knows what, and a glance over to the games room which doubled as a place to store baby high chairs, and the drinks station, which served Pepsi (unthinkable), red and white wine and Steinlager.

If that wasn’t enough for you, you could hit the dessert area hard-out, and smash a few New Zealand favourites onto your refreshed plate; a chocolate log absolutely addled in strong liqueur essence, some kind of trifle or a mousse of chocolate and by this stage I’d started to break out into a sweat until I saw the coffee percolator (the glass fish-bowl type) and all was well again in my world.

By 1pm great extended families trailed into the building, fresh from church, leaving their sliding doored mini-vans in the car park overlooking the exclusive school of that area.

We left, filled with proteins not normally sampled in our day-to-day life, nicely ‘full’ and the children happily skipping to the car feeling they’d attended a mythical feast.

A lone pink balloon floated onto the highway as we pulled out into the Autumn afternoon.

 

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