“ 14 Percy Street, London, W1T 1DR. Tel:020 7323 0981 „
It was getting dark on Halloween in Soho, the last straggling shoppers were mixing with the early ghouls and goblins and Mr Z and I had walked from Marylebone. It had been a while since we'd seen each other and we needed food and somewhere to sit and have a chat. This place is well located, close to Tottenham Court Road tube and near the shops of Oxford Street and the neon sign towards the end of Percy St caught my eye with it's glowing "£3.50 all you can eat Thai Buffet."
It was a warm night outside, surprising for October, and inside the tiny restaurant was even hotter. Two oriental ladies waved us through to a table at the back and we sat down. The service was immediate, with our drinks order taken straight away and even though it was half past three in the afternoon there were plenty of other customers. I flicked through the menu on the table and warned Mr Z that the price inside that was £5.50 a head, an increase of £2 on the sign outside.
We ordered some Chinese Beer (that was all it was described as, no name) and admired the cutlery which was a cross between a fork and a spoon. Sadly the beer was not 'all-you-can-drink.' The two waitresses were flapping round us a bit and the only way to get rid of them seemed to be to head for the buffet, so we did. It was all a bit of a mish-mash, with salad and soup down one end, hot dishes under lamps and garish sauces spilling out of bowls. We were both surprised to learn it was all vegetarian, I was pleased and Mr Z thoroughly disgusted and unable to leave.
I took a bit of everything, worried that if I took too much of something and didn't like it, it would go to waste. Nothing was labelled and I ended up choosing half things I thought I'd like and half stuff that looked foul for the novelty value. The dishes were a mixture of the obviously vegetarian and the soy-type meat substitutes. As a veggie, it's rare that you can go somewhere and try everything and I struggled to shake the suspicion that what looked like meat might actually be meat.
Sitting back down at the table, we picked through our choices and picked on each other; after all our friendship has always been partly based on pinpointing each other's faults and psychoanalysing them. This line of enquiry went on a while, Mr Z eventually winning outright when he said, "...of course, you've always been terribly mean with money, that's why we're sat in here eating shit".
Of the food I'd chosen, the best was a kind of curry. As mentioned, I'd only taken a spoonful and when it ran out, to my disappointment they topped it up with a watery yellow mess. After a moment, I realised that what I'd eaten was simply a more congealed version of the yellow slop. This led to some further disturbing thoughts such as 'the food must have been out for a while, it's quite cold' and 'there are no sneeze guards'. Still, I've never been one to over analyse food hygiene and on round two I topped my plate up with everything I hadn't tried the first time. Some was good, some was chewy. None of it was actually what I'd call bad; though the claims of it being good for you written inside the menu were scotched by the obviously high levels of salt.
The waitress came round offering rolled pancakes (trying to clear the leftovers instead of throwing them out). I politely but repeatedly refused and Mr Z enthusiastically accepted. When I turned my head to comment on some spectacular plastic orchids, I turned back to find he'd eaten a bite and then sneaked them on to my plate. I ate them (more unidentified chewy stuff) and went up for a third lot of food, an action that was called into question. I rightly pointed out that if I was going to pay a fiver then we weren't going to leave until I'd eaten five quid's worth of food and that he should fill up if he was going to this party later.
We finished up with the single dessert choice of fruit salad, which was okay. I didn't feel particularly full, but I couldn't be bothered to eat anymore. On the plus side, I didn't feel bloated or sick either. The atmosphere in the restaurant had been nice and even though other customers had come and gone, we'd felt no pressure for our table. This would be a pleasant and inexpensive place to meet less fussy friends if you could handle the rubbish food.
We paid up and were charged just over £7.00 each for the meal, a further increase on the stated price. Still, it was a nice evening and there was no point challenging it. I grandly said I would treat Mr Z for the dinner and then had to borrow the total of £17.50 from him to do so; they only accept cash. Realistically, the rum I drank at the bar round the corner probably cost him far more than dinner cost me.
****** Footnote ******
It's maybe not the place for those with sensitive digestion; Mr Z spent the rest of the evening complaining bitterly that the food had gone right through him and I think it was actually the rice. I learnt my lesson about buffet rice in Cuba and hadn't touched the stuff. It seems a shame that you might eat here and actually, well, leave your dinner behind at the restaurant, so I'd advise sticking to the noodles.
Interestingly, I later discovered that this place featured on Rogue Restaurants, which found that it was staffed by illegal immigrants who put any old food out, regardless of how old it was and that the kitchen was somewhat unhygienic. I've put this as a footnote as I don't think it particularly colours my view of the restaurant; whenever you eat out, you always take that chance.