Burwood East, VIC
I’ll probably be stripped of my foodie status for saying this but, I Love Buffets. To me, the sheer variety and quantity of food available excuses any corners cut in terms of quality (unless if you’re at Smorgy’s; nothing excuses food that bad). Because let’s face it – no one goes to buffets for fine dining; it’s the promise of All You Can Eat that’s luring all the people in.
|Exterior (yes that is unfortunately my finger in the corner)|
However, at China Bar Signature, you can have your cake and eat it too. Not only is there a mind-boggling variety of food on offer but, the quality is far superior to what you’d find at most buffets. That said though, a meal at China Bar doesn’t come cheap. Starting at 29 dollars for a weekday lunch, it can go as high as 59 dollars for a weekend dinner that comes with the whole shebang, including all the Peking duck and seafood you could eat .The other times I’ve been here with family for dinner, I’ve found the seafood selection to be quite impressive. There are three types of sashimi sliced to order, and the seafood on offer includes oysters, mussels, scallops, prawns, smoked salmon, and crab. The Peking duck is also halfway decent. This is the first time I’ve been here for lunch, but it’s good to see that aside from the duck and seafood, nothing seems to be missing.
During the day, the spacious room is already lovely, but at night-time it’s borderline opulent with its high ceilings, wall to wall windows, and plush couches. Service is polite (I actually had my chair pulled out for me by a waist-coated waiter) and efficient (too efficient – several times we had hawk-eyed waitresses whip our plates from under us the moment we picked up the last morsel).
When I said the food selection was enormous, I wasn’t kidding. So I went around (clockwise) and took photos of everything. And this is where this blog post stops being a blog post, and turns into a photo album with extensive captions.
The sushi station, located right next to the fresh fruits. There isn’t a huge selection of sushi available because it’s lunch time, just your generic salmon rolls and a couple more. At dinner this area becomes much more exciting, because not only do things like scallop sushi get added to the selection, but this is also where they slice up the fresh sashimi. The fruits are seasonal, with apples, watermelon, oranges, and nectarines on offer.
Dim-Sims and Malaysian Dishes. You actually can’t see the Malaysian dishes, they’re a bit further off to the left. There are a couple curries available, some roti, and nasi lemak. The dim-sims are in cute little baskets that unfortunately only hold one dumpling at a time (to prevent wastage). There are also other treats such as fluffy pork buns, egg tarts, and the obligatory spring rolls.
This is the Cook To Order Station, where they whip up stir-fried vegetables and noodle dishes any way you like – just pick your ingredients and they’ll get it ready for you in a matter of minutes. We didn’t have any this time, as a whole dish would take up way too much stomach room, but I know from past experience that their stir fried vegetables and fried kwei teow are worth getting.
My favourite savoury section is probably the Meats Section. Here, you’ll find everything from roast pork to roast duck to Hainan chicken. And just a little bit around the corner, where the waitress is standing, they also have century egg congee and several soups in small clay pots.
Facing the entrance directly is the section I’ve dubbed as the Westernised Dishes. The dishes here however are a little more high-class than what you’d expect, including things like steamed prawns, calamari in sauce-that-I’ve-forgotten-the-type-of. Of course there’s also your typical sweet and sour pork and honey chicken.
The last of the savouries come in the form of a Salad Bar. Not only does it have raw salad ingredients and a plethora of dressings, but it also has 5-ish pre-made salads, such as turkey wardolf salad, and smoked salmon salad. Predictably, the salad bar was left mostly untouched by the patrons, who like us preferred to fill up on roast piggie and juicy duck.
DESSERTS DESSERTS DESSERTS. Every kind of cake and tart and mousse you can imagine, and a freezer filled with those one dollar Asian ice creams a bit further along! I was surprised to discover that they’ve upped the ante on their desserts; they were a bit disappointing when I was last here two years ago, but now they’re actually rather pleasant.
Now. Onto what we ate. Funnily enough I actually ate more than Chris, but at the same time, I’ve had heaps of experience with buffets (and Asian parents intent on getting our money’s worth) whilst he’s all but a buffet virgin. The following is what went into our collective stomachs, though the last few plates were mostly me.
Shark Fin Dumpling: pretty unmemorable but it was at least tasty.
Steamed Pork Bun: this was actually pretty good! A bit on the sweet side but hot and fluffy
Fried Chicken Bun: more seared than fried with a sweet mince. It wasn’t too bad
Sushi: about the same as you’d find in food courts. Rice was nicely vinegared but a bit gluggy from sitting around
Dumplings: I don’t quite remember what type these were, but one had prawn and fish roe in it? Once again, palatable yet unmemorable
Sweet and Sour Pork Rib: pretty standard with a sticky sweet glaze. Good for the sweet and sour fans
Stuffed Olives: the kind you get in jars, or from the deli at supermarkets. What else is there to say?
Deep Fried Cuttlefish: this actually turned out to be a deep fried fish ball, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Winter Melon and Pork Soup: this is definitely worth having. The little clay pot contained a light but fragrant pork soup, and chunks of pork, soft winter melon, and a couple of dates.
And a side serve of hairy arms.
Smoked Salmon Salad: not the best. The smoked salmon wasn’t as fresh as it could be, and the whole thing was just too salty.
Deep Fried Crab: and by crab they mean the fake red and white kind, covered in batter and deep fried.
Roast Duck: now we’re talking. Juicy and tender, we (along with most of the patrons) went back for thirds. And thanks to the fast turnover, the duck was always nice and fresh.
Calamari In Sauce-I-Can’t-Remember: nice tender calamari in a sauce that’s reminiscent of black bean sauce.
Grilled Eggplant: this tasted funny and slimy, so we left half of it untouched.
Roast Pork: here piggy piggy piggy! Well roasted with juicy flesh, crunchy crackling, and just that tiny layer of fat, this just melted in our mouths.
Roast Duck: about 4 pieces of it.
Soy Chicken: this was pretty boring, being a bit bland and not all that tender, but at least the chicken was lean.
Deep Fried Chicken Wings:they're um, fried, and um, chicken?
Century Egg Congee: there was a huge vat of plain congee which we were free to ladle out and top with whatever ingredients we wanted. I topped this with century egg, pork, shallots, and fried wonton bits. It’s a bit thicker and less flavoursome than what I’d like but it was nice all the same, considering I don’t get to have it too often.
Hainanese Chicken: little dishes of poached chicken sat there ready to be topped with ginger sauce, chilli sauce, and shallots. This was actually really good, flavourful and tender.
Olives: more olives! Because Chris loves his sodium.
Tomatoes and Cucumber: because we’re good kids that eat our vegetables.
Chocolate Cream Cake: this tasted a lot like Coles mudcake, but lighter and less rich.Orange Fruit Jelly: this was unfortunately a tad watered down, so you don’t get the intense burst of fruity flavour you’d usually expect with jelly.
Beef Curry: tender flaky beef swimming in a sauce that was strongly flavoured with coconut milk and lemongrass
Roti: probably not made the traditional way, but it was good to mop up the excess curry sauce with.
Spring Roll: Chris ate half of this before I could get a picture, and at the rest before I could taste it. It looked pretty unremarkable though.
Chicken Feet in White Vinegar: more sweet than sour, this was good to slowly gnaw on, though Chris didn’t quite agree.
Mussels in XO Sauce: the mussels were tender, but overall the flavours were a bit bland.
Prawn Dumplings: skin a bit gluggy, but good quantity of bouncy prawns inside.
And yes, More Duck.
Jellyfish: bland and rubbery, nothing too special
Salt Water Duck: thin and salty, it’s probably half decent if you like your duck cooked this way. I (clearly) prefer my duck to be roasted
Black Glutinous Rice Soup: same as the one we had at China Bar Shabu Shabu, it’s absolutely delicious with its sweet kernels of glutinous rice, soft red beans, and an undertone of coconut.
Crème Brulee: not so much a brulee as a custard, there was nevertheless still a hint of burnt sugar to it. The custard itself was thick, creamy, and delicious.
Chocolate Mousse: we all know what chocolate mousse tastes like, and this one is completely unremarkable
Raspberry Mousse: this was actually airier than the chocolate mousse, and it was topped with a refreshing layer of red jelly.
Mini Éclair: a small puff pastry piped with cream. It unfortunately didn’t taste nearly as good as it looked.
Pistachio Mousse Tart: the pistachio mousse tasted funny, and the tart pastry tasted a bit stale. Next.
Chocolate Praline Cake: this was yummy, but didn’t taste too different from the other chocolate-based cakes. Which is a shame because this piece of cake looked quite lovely.
Red Bean and Green Tea Mousse: the mousse tasted strongly of green tea, but the red bean was tasteless and made the mousse a bit watery.
Water Chestnut Cake: this was a bit different. The cake itself was sweet with the texture of firm jelly, but the crunchy shards of water chestnut in it made it very moreish.
Tiramisu Tart: the tart shell once again tasted a bit stale and crumbly, but the filling had a strong taste of coffee to it, which was nice.
Mini Mud Muffin: possibly the richest chocolate dessert on offer, this was really good, but a bit too rich at this stage of the meal.
Layered Grass Jelly Pudding: I honestly don’t remember much about this one. It was sweet? And nice? And had a layer of coconut jelly at the bottom?
Watermelon and Orange: kids, don’t be like us, eat your 5 serves of fruit and 7 serves of veggies a day.
Two and a half hours later, we rolled out of the door, filled to bursting. But watch out – if you visit on weekends and Friday night, you’ll only have one hour and a half hours to have all you can eat. And given the variety of food on offer, that’s probably nowhere near enough time. Would I visit again? Yes, but not for a while, and only if I wasn’t the one paying.
Rating: 13.5/20 – decent all you can eat