“ Cheshire Oaks, Coliseum Leisure Park, Coliseum Way, Ellesmere Port Cheshire, CH65 9HD. Tel: 0151 357 2888 „
Last month Sabine - one of my favourite colleagues from Germany - appeared in the office having forgotten to let me know that she was coming. As we both work for the same boss we generally like to get together and gossip unkindly about him whenever we get the chance. As I'd not been expecting to see her I'd not made any arrangements but we still wanted to try and get dinner together. On her last visit we'd found a place that she liked and she asked to return again since she'd enjoyed it so much before. As a good hostess, I wanted to give her what she wanted. Fuxion is located in the Coliseum Leisure Park (yes, it really is spelled that way and not Colosseum as you'd expect - maybe you can trademark a name if you spell it badly, who knows). I don't know what fool ever came up with the idea that a set of shops and a bunch of chain restaurants could be called a 'leisure park' but I guess that sticking a cinema and a bowling alley in the middle swung the decision not to call it a retail park. Either way it's not the sort of place I like to hang out. That perhaps tells you that the food is good enough to drag me to such a place. The Coliseum is just behind Ellesmere Port's more famous shopping attraction - Cheshire Oaks, the biggest outlet centre in the UK. On our last visit we'd rolled up in the car and parked right outside the restaurant. This time things were a bit different. It was the school half-term holidays and the car park was packed. Sabine commented that it didn't look like the British economy had much to worry about if a place was so full at 7 pm on a Wednesday night. Due to a very large number of oddly dressed young girls we came to the conclusion that some kind of event was going on in one of the 'leisure' venues - I really did have to swear that it's not normal for girls to dress quite that badly unless there's something special going on. We parked up quite a long way from the restaurant in an overflow car park and wandered through the crowds of girls in tutus and neon leggings, tutting like old ladies but looking forward to our meal. Fuxion is an all you can eat oriental buffet restaurant - classy eh? I'm ashamed to say that my love of a good bargain sometimes overcomes my sense of taste and style. Since I was hoping to be able to expense our dinner I didn't want to push the boat out too far, just in case my claim was queried. It's not only politicians who come under scrutiny you know. We know that in Fuxion we'll have plenty of choice - even me with my refusal to eat meat - and that we'll not have to wait forever to get served. As we attempted to enter by a door that should have been there but wasn't, we recalled that we'd made the same mistake last time and walked round to what instinctively feels like the 'wrong side' and in through the door where we were immediately met by a young man who showed us to a table close to the buffet. We ordered drinks - two large diet cokes - and set off to walk around the buffet tables and work out a strategy for the evening. There's nothing very glamorous about Fuxion - it's really a very functional sort of place and the function it serves is to fill diners up with lots of different food in an atmosphere that's not unlike a cafeteria. The floors are pink granite which is pretty enough but makes the place rather noisy. The walls are plain, the tables have wipe-clean surfaces and there's no sign of a tablecloth around. There are a small number of Chinese-y nick nacks in some glass cabinets on one wall and there's a rather attractive glass panel with exotic fish on it but other than that, there's not much to give you an impression of the Orient. The restaurant is enormous although I've never seen it more than about one quarter full. I hate to think how noisy it could get if it were packed to the rafters. With the buffet tables and the 'cook to order' station at one end of the restaurant, I think you'd have quite a trek if you'd been allocated a table at the far end of the room. Sabine rather likes the sushi though I find that the stuff at Fuxion is a bit over-reliant on crab-sticks for my liking. She piled her plate with sushi rolls and oriental salads whilst I grabbed a bowl of Hot and Sour soup and a couple of prawn toasts. Compared with some other all you can eat buffets I've been to, I do like that Fuxion has soup available as it's often one of my favourite parts of a Chinese meal. There was one meat and one veg soup so I was happy with the choice. Sabine hadn't had prawn toasts before so after she'd finished her starters she popped back to try some. That of course is the joy of buffets like this - you can try lots of things you wouldn't order if you had to choose from a menu since most people tend to stick to what they know and trust when dining out for fear of getting it wrong and getting something inedible. With our first trip to the buffet over, Sabine cheerfully predicted she'd be going back several more times. She's blessed by an amazing metabolism and can really eat absolutely anything without it seeming to stick to her hips. Sadly I'm not so fortunate. On my second trip I took some of the salads which were really tasty - oriental fruit and vegetable salads with glass noodles and some rather more conventional cucumber-tomato-etc mixes. On our third visit we hit the hot food. I should point out for anyone wondering how we got out the door after so many trips to the buffet, the plates are very small. Honest! There's a whole section of the buffet that's totally vegetarian and the choice is quite nice - broccoli, green beans, mushrooms, and even (forgive me culinary goods) chips. There are two large rice steamers, one with plain rice and the other with fried rice so I took a dollop of the plain before adding a small scoop of several of the vegetables, then I scuttled off to the non-veg dishes to get a prawn dish that seemed to be 'prawn with yesterday's left-over fruit salad' and a piece of steamed fish. Everything was, to be fair, a bit on the bland side although for the meat eaters there seemed to be some spicier dishes so I had to resort to the chili sauce to zap things up a bit. They have a cook-to-order wok-station where you can choose the ingredients you like and they will cook them for you whilst you wait. However, I've never struggled to find enough choice and needed to go for a bespoke dish. We'd already checked out the pudding counter and Sabine had her eye on a toffee cheesecake which was fortunately cut into quite small pieces. I had a piece too and loaded up my bowl with the fruit salad whilst she popped off to the ice-cream fridge for a scoop of vanilla. At my favourite 'all you can eat' place in Northampton, the all you can eat premise is controlled by the staff whisking your cutlery away after you finish each plate. At this place you really could - if you so desired - eat until you burst. After all, the flooring and furniture are all wipe-clean (sorry, I'm trying not to think of Monty Python's creation Mr Creosote who burst after eating a 'waffer thin mint'). Luckily I soon reached the point where I'd had enough to feel I'd got my money's worth without having so much that I'd feel ill all evening. We asked for the bill, paid up and left. The cost for two evening buffets and two large cokes was £30. If I ever remembered to keep the receipt for my next visit, I would be able to claim a 10% discount but of course I never have remembered. With full tummies and a sense that we'd not gone too over the top, we waddled back to the car and I took Sabine back to her hotel, both of us still wondering about the girls in the tutus and what they'd been up to. Last week my friend who lives in Sweden called to tell me that her ex-husband in Cheshire had gone off to Hungary and left her sons 'home alone' and asked if I would go round and check they were OK. The boys are great - quite definintely my favourite under-18s of all time - so I called up and asked if they'd like to have dinner with me. I went to pick them up and we started the painful process of getting the children of divorced parents to make a decision. "Do you want pizza, Chinese, Indian, pub food or what" I asked. Predictably I got "I don't mind, whatever. Anything is fine. Whatever you like is OK with us". I pushed again and at the 12th time of asking the elder said "OK, Chinese". I could see that taking them to any restaurant with a menu was likely to take 3 days to get a choice of dishes sorted out so I threw them in the back of the car and took them off to Fuxion where they stuffed themselves silly, ate exactly what they liked (masses of duck) and ignored what they didn't (anything green) and compensated for a week of teenage cooking. That's the great thing about other people's kids - you don't have to worry if they choose all the wrong things. The boys loved Fuxion and we had a lovely time - I didn't have to worry about them being scruffy, I didn't have to worry that I'd order something they didn't like, I didn't have to worry that they wouldn't order what they really wanted because I was paying and I certainly didn't have to worry that they'd go home hungry. It's not fine dining I'd agree but as dining goes, it's fine for me!