* Prices may differ from that shown
Water Margin is a chain of Chinese restaurants offering fixed prices for "all-you-can-eat" buffet-style food.
The Water Margin in Portsmouth is situated right in the centre of the spectacular Gunwharf Quays, the modern heart of Portsmouth's nightlife, surrounded by fashionable shops, clubs, bars and restaurants and dominated by the imposing Spinnaker Tower. It is easily accessible by train or bus and there is a 1500 space car-park where it is always easy to find a place to park thanks to an innovative bay indicator system.
Car Park prices are as follows:
Up to 2 hours, £2.80
2 - 3 hours, £3.90
3 - 4 hours, £5
4 - 5 hours, £6
5 - 6 hours, £7
6 - 7 hours, £8
7 - 10 hours, £10
10 - 24 hours, £20
I have visited the restaurant on a few occasions, although I am not normally a fan of buffet-style cuisine. The restaurant itself offers spacious, modern dining and, although always fairly busy, booking is rarely necessary. As with many other buffet restaurants, the atmosphere is slightly lacking, resembling more a school canteen than a restaurant. It is modern, clean and clinical but lacking in any personality and certainly without any authentic Chinese culture.
The food is of a considerably higher standard than similar restaurants I have visited, in which the selection can all too often be bland and lacking any individuality. Also, freshness can be compromised with buffet restaurants and the food can often be luke warm. At Water Margin, however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that, although not piping hot, the food is warm enough and of a decent quality, although some dishes are slightly stodgy and greasy.
On the plus side, there is no denying the variety here. There are a huge range of offerings (at least 60 for dinner and 30 for lunch) including all the usual suspects you would find in a typical Chinese restaurant. It really gives you the welcome chance to experiment with new dishes and, as such, is ideal for children to encourage them to venture into the unknown.
The starters table includes sesame prawn toast, various deep-fried meat, seaweed and spring rolls. There are a choice of soups, a noodle bar and a teppenyaki where you choose your meat and vegetables and have it personally cooked by the chef. This is a nice touch and adds a certain amount of individuality to the restaurant.
The seafood is typically squid or king prawn with a variety of sauces, although there are some other options like mussels and salmon.
The main courses consist mainly of various meat dishes with sauces (Capital Sauce, Black Bean Sauce, Plum Sauce etc). You often have to add the sauce yourself which is a good idea because it means you can add according to your tastes.
Vegetarian options are limited and don't look particularly appetizing. This isn't really a restaurant which caters for vegetarian tastes.
There are a limited choice of desserts (basically average-standard ice-cream and some rubbery jelly).
Water Margin is not the ideal restaurant to visit if you're looking for a healthy choice due to the cooking methods. There are a wide variety of tastes to suit everyone's palette however, and you will probably find yourself going up more than once.
I generally like to try different and unusual meals at restaurants so here I like to stack my plate up with tiny amounts of many different dishes. I can recommend the sweet and sour chicken and the bbq ribs, but the squid is a bit rubbery and best avoided and some of the deep-fried meat is slightly greasy. The good thing though, if you don't like it you can just move onto something else!
The staff generally seat you quite quickly and are always polite and efficient. The service is very "hands-off" which many would consider a positive; after serving your first round of drinks, you are generally left to your own devices. There is a bar to purchase further drinks as required. There is no explanation of what is on offer, nor is there any indication of prices. Dishes are taken away promptly, but not before you've finished eating. I have never been asked if I'm satisfied with my meal but overall I can have few complaints.
Value For Money
Lunch: £6.90 adults, £3.50 children (Mon to Fri)
£8.50 adults, £4.30 children (weekends & Bank Hols)
Dinner: £12.80 adults, £6.50 children (Sun to Thu)
£13.80 adults, £7.0 children (Fri & Sat)
This includes as many dishes as you want (and dessert) and represents excellent value for money. Expect to pay around £3 for a pint of lager or £11 for a bottle of wine, which are pretty standard Gunwharf prices.
Water Margin is a reasonably priced, modern restaurant with a good selection of Chinese dishes. The food is of a reasonable standard, and is replaced regularly to ensure as much freshness in a buffet style restaurant.
You're never going to get the quality of food you get in a traditional restaurant, and therefore it's not one I'd recommend for a romantic evening or special occasion. Personally, however, I have always enjoyed my visits as I enjoy trying different varieties. It's an ideal place to visit for families or as part of a night out.
There is something really irresistible about all you can eat Chines buffets. I know that the ingredients are cheap and occasionally not too cheerful and its not the best and certainly not the most authentic Chinese around but I occasionally like one. I think its the thought of being an absolute glutton and going back for fourth or fifth helpings that appeals to me just once in a while. They differ in standard but one of the better ones I have been to is Water Margin at the 02.
The Water Margin can be found with all the other restaurant in the O2. Its easy enough to get to via the Jubilee Line and various local buses. Its on the left hand side just past the cinema. There's a Chinese downstairs that sells ala catre food but you want to go upstairs for the buffet. Its the type of restaurant I would go to impulsively if I've been to see a film or fancy some Chinese and near by. Its certainly not a restaurant I would book specifically for and certainly not a special occasion restaurant.
My last visit was midweek early evening and the restaurant was fairly quiet but I noticed it got busier during our visit. Its quite a large restaurant with plenty of seating space. We were immediately seated and our drinks orders were taken. A variety of wines, beers and spirits are available but we stuck to soft drinks. Our pineapple juices were £2 and were a decent enough sized drink.
Omce settled it was time to check the buffet out. Its not the most advanced or culinary exciting Chinese buffet you are going to get. Starters consisted of mostly deep dried or bread crumbed covered nibbly bits from crab claws to mushrooms and prawns alongside the usual; prawn crackers and various spring rolls served with watery but viscous sweet and sour or curry sauce. Its not a menu for those watching their weight due to the high fat content and the sheer greasiness of the food.I managed to drown my plate in the sweet and sour sauce by accident making my prawn crackers go very soggy.I was not too happy with the sesame prawn toasts as they seemed all toast and very little prawn filling if at all. My first plateful was very tasty in a guilty pleasure type of way.
There was also a choice of two or three soups by the starters but none of these were vegetarian. Luckily there was a special of freshly made Malaysian latke as part of the specials. I chose to have this vegetarian and this with its spiciness and nuttiness was very tasty indeed. At this point my companion seemed to go missing for about 15 minutes. I was wondering if he had gone to collect some authentic food from China or was just taking an extremely long time choosing his main course! In fact he was waiting for his food to get cooked at the teppanyaki hot plate.
This is what really sets Water Margin apart from other Chinese buffet restaurants. You select the raw ingredients you want from a section of the buffet then you queue up to wait to have them cooked. There was a nice selection of different ingredients from noodles and vegetables to the more expensive ingredients such as prawns, mussels, salmon and steak. You hand your plat to the chef who cooks them in batches of six by tossing them over a hot grill and adding oil and soy sauce. Its nice to choose exactly what you want and it is fun to watch your food get cooked in front of you. However I do have reservations about this style of cooking for those am not sure I can recommend this style of cooking to those who have an allergy, are vegetarian or kosher or any other dietary requirement as I noticed the odd bit of food from other people's plates mixed in together.
After the teppenyaki it was time for another exploration of the buffet to refuel on main courses. There seems a reasonable amount of choice for all but the very most picky eaters, as there are various meat dishes such as curry and beef in black bean sauce and I had at least two seafood style dishes alongside vegetables and bean curd. It mights be a bit limiting for a vegetarian though. I also think it depends on the day and time you are there to what dishes there are. The food was not too bad but not the best Chinese I have had but as said its the sheer novelty of Chinese buffet food I enjoy.
The plates themselves are on the small side so one cannot get too much at once but even so after starters, soup, and two main courses I was starting to get a bit full and time was moving on and I did not want to miss he star of the film. The desserts were typical Chinese restaurant desserts so not th most exciting or original but still good. There was a an ice cream freezer with a choice of two or three flvours. I did not try the ice cream but it looked like your bog standard stuff you get in Iceland two litres for a pound. There was also the normal fruit salad and gateau and things. These were displayed on doll sized square plats with doll sized portions of gateau and cheese cake and individual profiteroles. I saw me manage about six plates of these diminutive portions alongside lychee in hot crispy batter and lovely sticky syrup. It was not a great meal but I really enjoyed it an saved me spending £10 on a popcorn and cola in the cinema.
The service throughout was pleasant, competent and quick with plates being taken away swiftly but never before we had finished eating. I did notice hat some of the staff's English was not great as I had a bit of trouble when asking about the lake and what it had in it.
Pricing is perhaps one of the more complex aspects of the Water Margin experience , as it depends on the time of day and what day it is. On a Thursday evening we paid £13.80 whilst on a weekend this would be a pound or and on a weekday lunchtime its the bargain price of £7.50 for adults. There are two rates for children depending on how tall (or small) they are!
Water Margin does its job.The buffet on its own would not be worth £13.80 but with the teppenyak it is. Its not the greatest food you are ever going to eat but fills a hole quite nicely if you just happen to be at the O2!