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Address: Regents Park / Albany Street / London NW1 3UP / 0808 101 4566

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      15.08.2011 17:11
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      A very tasty option for a buffet lunch

      The Meliá White House is located on Albany Street, across Marylebone Road from Great Portland Street station. The hotel is run by the Spanish company Sol Meliá, and is one of the preferred hotels used by my work when we have people coming to visit our London office. As part of my job is booking travel, I have worked a lot with the Meliá White House, and have eaten in the hotel's The Place restaurant on a few occasions now - once when I went with my fellow travel bookers to meet our new account manager, and more recently twice during the course of meetings we held at the hotel.

      The Place is beside the main entrance of the hotel, to the right of the spacious foyer as you enter. It is quite large, and is I believe where hotel guests have breakfast. It is tastefully decorated, with a hint of Spanish design in the tiles, although I do always find that the low ceiling gives it a bit of a canteen feel, despite the smartly laid tables.

      The Place offers a la carte and buffet meals. I have never eaten a la carte there, however looking at the menu available on the website (www.melia-whitehouse.com) I have seen quite a lot of the dishes on the three occasions I have had a buffet lunch there. The prices on the a la carte menu are quite surprising - for a smart hotel in central London they are not as high as I would expect (£11-£15 for most main dishes, and up to £20 for dishes from the grill).

      Each time I have had the buffet lunch at The Place I have found the selection to be excellent. There is a salad bar, with various items such as leaves and tomatoes, as well as prepared salad items; there is soup; the main dishes include several options, always with one vegetarian and one fish, along with a choice of side dishes - vegetables, potatoes, rice/pasta; finally, at the end of the buffet bar is one single large Spanish dish. On two occasions this has been vegetarian paella, and on my last visit to The Place it was a grilled meat dish which I didn't pay a great deal of attention to. Set off to the side, separate from the main meals, are the desserts.

      I have never eaten anything at The Place which I have not thoroughly enjoyed. I tend to sample a bit of everything (or everything veggie and fish) - instead of having a larger helping of one dish, I have a smaller amount of everything. The pasta is beautifully creamy; the potatoes are cooked to perfection; the salmon is melt-in-the-mouth. The vegetarian paella is wonderful - on my first visit I didn't spot it until I had a full plate, so had to go back for another plateful! My only complaint would be that because it is a buffet, the dishes aren't piping hot. They are never cold, but are a good temperature for eating - if you weren't eating with colleagues who insist on having lengthy work chats while you're thinking your lunch is getting cold. I do notice however that the dishes are checked and refreshed regularly by the staff, so you can always be sure your food is fresh.

      Each item on the main buffet bar is labelled, with notes as to whether it is suitable for vegetarians or contains nuts. There are always very accurate and easy to follow. The desserts are a different matter however. I'm not sure what goes wrong there, but on every occasion I've been, my colleagues and I have had to figure out which label applies to which dessert. As a result I'm never entirely sure what I'm having for dessert!

      The desserts are presented in individual portions on plates ready to pick up. There are usually four or five to choose from. Perhaps as a result of the mixed-up labels, I have found the desserts rather average on every occasion, except the most recent when I had something which resembled a slice of Swiss roll but infinitely tastier. I have found the desserts which are in pastry cases quite hard to eat - I always think of my mum when eating with colleagues, and try to have impeccable manners, so when faced with a very hard pastry case around a fruit tart, I can't do what I would at home and pick it up. Instead I try to break it gently with my cutlery, in fear of a bit going flying and landing in a VP's water glass. The point I'm making is, the pastry at The Place can be a bit on the solid side.

      Service at The Place is very discreet. There have been times when I have realised my empty plate has disappeared from in front of me without me noticing. The staff are generally quite quick at clearing away plates, but sometimes they are bit slow, although this may have been because there was a group of 30-40 of us on my last visit there. I did once sit waiting for my plate to be taken before I went to get some dessert, then gave up and got my dessert, with my plate still waiting for me when I got back to the table.

      I have never actually paid for my lunches at The Place - the first was complimentary, and the recent occasions were included in our meeting package and not priced individually. The website gives the price for a four course buffet as being £24, which is reasonable given the quality of the food, but could be poor value if you don't get your money's worth, say you only have soup, some salad and side dishes and a dessert.

      I have enjoyed all my lunches at The Place, and look forward to the next opportunity I have to visit. It is not somewhere I would choose if I was paying myself (I prefer cheaper options!), but it is very good quality and somewhere I would recommend.

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