The normally sedate dining room was in uproar.
An American drawl was loudly berating the fact that the steak on his plate was tougher than the leather on his shoes and at the pastries cart a physical fight had broken out between two families over the last of the chocolate éclairs. In the midst of hair pulling and screaming, a woman’s voice was heard to tearfully proclaim ”It’s the only bloody decent food we’ve had all week!”
This was Kenya circa 1990 and the last time I ate dinner in a hotel buffet…until last weekend.
When we first began to travel beyond the Greek Islands it didn’t take us long to realise that hotel food was largely geared to the palates of guests, the vast majority of whom appeared to want to forget the fact that they were anywhere other than home except when it came to sunbathing. We very quickly dumped half board options in favour of room and breakfast and opted instead to explore local eateries.
So it wasn’t without a certain amount of trepidation that, last weekend, we checked into the Hotel Isabel in Costa Adeje on a half board basis because, on an assignment to review the hotel, we knew that food was to be an essential element.
The fact that this was one of the busiest weekends of the year for holidays on Tenerife and the hotel was filled to capacity, did nothing to allay our nerves. As we walked past the hotel dining room at 7pm on our way to the summer carnaval in Playa de Las Américas and saw it was already pretty full, we hoped that by the time we got back at least most of the guests would have eaten, even if we were facing the equivalent of the aftermath of a swarm of locusts with nothing left but cold chips, limp lettuce and metallic-tasting frozen mixed veg’.
We were wrong – on both counts.
When we finally arrived at the dining room it was still packed, but we were immediately shown to a clean table. Heading to the food counters, I couldn’t begin to take in the choice of food available.
At either end of the vast counter there were two cooking stations; one was grilling and roasting chicken and meat and the other was baking fresh pizza and garlic bread and simmering sauces for pasta.
On three large islands in front of the hot plates were salad ingredients like cold chicken, ham and seafood; chopped fresh onions, tomatoes and green peppers; a choice of three different types of washed lettuce; coleslaws, sweetcorn, pastas and shredded carrot; hard boiled eggs…I really can’t remember them all.
Food mountains of fresh rolls lay alongside huge soup tureens which were sending saliva-inducing aromas steaming into the atmosphere.
At this point my decision-making skills had a panic attack so I filled a plate with salad ingredients and headed back to our table. My second assault on the buffet took me along the hotplates which held five different styles of cooked potatoes; lamb, beef, chicken and fish dishes; vegetables; sauces and more pasta dishes. Everything was piping hot and although none of the trays was even close to empty, fresh supplies were being poured in continuously.
This was not what I had expected.
I finally plumped for pork chops from the griddle,which were succulent, smoky and tender. My only disappointment was the mixed vegetables I’d chosen which I’m pretty sure were frozen. Vowing to opt for a single veg’ the following night, I finished up and headed to the sweets section where a chef was busy peeling, chopping and serving an entire plantation’s worth of tropical fruits. Then, trying not to look at the cheesecakes and pastries en route, it was onto the ice cream section where six flavours of ice cream, unknown varieties of yoghurt, sumptuously sinful chocolate decorations and half a dozen bottles of assorted spirits and liqueurs from which to choose ensured that the next two weeks would be spent on rice and salads.
For families, I can see how half or full board must be an extremely attractive option; the children we saw in the dining room over our weekend at the Hotel Isabel had smiles on their faces as wide as the mounds of chips, spaghetti or six kinds of ice cream on their plates.
Hotel buffets have certainly moved on since the War of the Chocolate Éclairs all those years ago, at least, they have in Tenerife. I wonder what the hotel buffets in Kenya are like nowadays…?