“ Address: 145 Wellingborough Road / Northampton NN1 4DX „
~All you can eat - or all you can face eating~
There's something undeniably down-market about any kind of 'all you can eat' dining concept but there are times when you don't want to have to think too much about where to eat or what to eat and any place that offers something for everyone (but possibly nothing absolutely perfect for anyone) can come in handy. In Northampton we have a couple of such places - Red Hot at Sixfields, Aroma in the city centre and the new kid on the block 'Fusion' on the Wellingborough Road. We are pretty faithful to Red Hot and so I didn't feel particularly interested or excited when I heard it had a new competitor on the other side of town. But then the 'deal' company GroupOn offered a cut price meal at Fusion for just £6 a head and the scent of a bargain pricked up my ears and got me buying two vouchers.
You can tell that even with my bargain voucher printed and on the desk I still wasn't very excited because I didn't get around to booking until the second to last weekend that the offer was valid. To maximise my saving I booked a Saturday night since Friday and Saturday evenings are the most expensive periods in the week. Fusion offers a demand-based pricing as well as a 'time of day' pricing with lunch times cheaper than evenings and the two popular evenings at a premium. The standard price would have been £13.95 per head for a Saturday night but lunch on every day except Sunday will cost you a very reasonable £6.95 per person. Sunday meals are £10.95 all day and evening meals are £11.95 Monday to Thursday and £13.95 on Friday and Saturday. Bearing in mind that you could go to a standard Chinese or Indian restaurant and eat quite well for that sort of price, I was hoping to be impressed. Children are charged at just £3.95 regardless of the time which is the sort of bargain that would almost make having children seem worthwhile.
~Location and First Impressions~
Fusion is at the Northampton end of the Wellingborough Road, not too far from Northampton General Hospital. Personally I dislike the Welly Road because I can never work out where to park and I tend to worry about whether my car will still be there when I return. Fusion should have a customer car park but at the moment it appears to be a building site so that thoroughly confused us. Luckily I spotted an on-road space just down the road and was able to grab it. For me Welly Road is the type of place where I put my sat nav and any valuables out of view because I don't really like to leave any temptation for passing drunks.
Fusion is in a large building on a corner next to what I believe used to be an old hospital building. The main buffet is located on the top floor and there are stairs and a lift available. Entering the restaurant it seems bright and fresh with lots of light wood and strong lighting. The tables are crammed very close together to maximise the number of customers and since there's no delay waiting for food to be available, I would imagine they can turn many of the tables over up to three times in an evening. The rammed together tables did make me wonder if they might be being used as an obstacle course for some of the larger proportioned people who are often drawn to such places. Ever since I knocked a vase over whilst squeezing between two really tightly placed tables in a Dutch hotel, I've been walking 'the long way round' for fear of my butt taking any prisoners along the way.
~Eating and Drinking~
We were given a drinks menu and left to get on with it. There was no explanation offered but it's not exactly rocket science to work out a buffet. The drinks were fairly expensive but I noticed with interest that a lot of the draft soft drinks were available with free refills, shortly before noticing with disappointment that Fusion is a Pepsi establishment and not a Coke place and I can't drink Diet Pepsi even to save money so I ordered a J2O and my husband had a beer.
The 'starters zone' seemed to be very reliant on the use of the deep fat fryer with lots of 'battered or breaded' fried foods including chicken nuggets and breaded mushrooms. This struck me as rather too heavy on 'nursery food' and 'Mum's been to Iceland' type stuff. There were also pizzas and garlic breads - none of which constitute what I fancy for a starter. They had poppadoms but no pickles which seemed weird and a few of the main courses had snuck into the starter zone such as baked potatoes and chilli. The salad bar looked interesting but I couldn't find too many things I wanted to put together so I started with some soup and a few miscellaneous bits and pieces, most of which (in true buffet style) didn't go together at all. Particularly impressive was the ice sculpture of a cornucopia filled with prawns and green lipped mussels.
For main courses the choices for non-meat eaters were fairly limited and there weren't really enough choices from any particular cuisine to make a proper meal. If I didn't eat fish I would have been pretty peeved and unimpressed and as it was I had to mix Indian and Chinese together to find enough to fill a plate and the combination was not a great success. Spice-wise nothing was a challenge and all the food - even the dishes that should have been lively - were quite bland.
The choice of puddings was poor with a fruit salad, some wobbly stuff and a strange deconstructed apple crumble with apple in one bowl and the crumble in another. Is that an opportunity for customisation or just a bit of laziness in the kitchen? The jury's out on that one.
Roughly half way through our mean the noise levels became intrusive. The restaurant has no soft surfaces to deaden the sound and the combination of hard floors, wooden tables, glass windows and inserts in the ceiling soon made the volume almost unbearable. We didn't feel inclined to linger too long - what with having to shout at each other and trying to avoid knocking things over. We asked for the bill which was wrong first time (they'd forgotten the vouchers) and had to be sent back. It would have cost us almost £35 for the two of us and had I been charged that amount I think I'd have been pretty disappointed by the value for money.
The food was of a decent quality though rather uninspired. The range of foods was well suited to a group of different ages and tastes, particularly offering a lot of bland food for small children. Personally there wasn't too much that appealed to me and whilst nothing was awful and little was left on the plates, I wouldn't rush back. My loyalty to Red Hot remains undiminished and Fusion is not likely to challenge for our repeat business.