The Battle of the Mega-Buffets Part 1: Circle Events Cafe

Pinoys love to eat. Is it any wonder then, that several hotels in Metro Manila will take the ordinary, have-been-around-for-so-long ordinary buffet concept and turn them into mega-buffets? Mega, as defined by my trusty dictionary means "great" or "a million times."

Put in a lot more food than your usual buffet and what do you get? You get the picture.

Over the next few months, my husband and I shall be trying out three mega-buffets and will be sharing with readers our thoughts and comments. You may be heading for Manila during the holidays this December and it is always good to know what new eating places you may want to try out.

We start this three-part series with Circle Events Café at the Shangri-la Hotel in Makati. Two reliable people had raved about this place so we made a mental note to try it first one of these days. First rule: make a reservation (813-88-88). We didn't and ended up being number 18 on their waiting list that Saturday night that we were there. Prior to leaving the house, my mom actually asked me: "Sinong kasama ninyo?" To which I replied: "Kami lang." How wrong I was. From the one hour wait from 7:10pm to 8:10 pm, it felt like the rest of Metro Manila wanted to eat at that place.

Circles is open from 6pm-10:30pm and it has a capacity for 300 people. As you can see, there is some advantage too to not making a reservation as you are able to source more information to keep yourself from getting bored as you wait. So, 300 people capacity and the place is packed. Impressive, right? While waiting to get a table, we heard stories of "no shows" -- people who reserved for 7pm and then arrived at 8pm so their tables were given to other people first. There were those who tried to reserve but were just put on the waiting list instead. That night, only the Japanese restaurant at the hotel had available seats for those with no reservations. What did I tell you? Pinoys do love to eat.

Anyway, we finally got in at 8:10pm and for this and for future write-ups on the mega-buffets, we shall focus on four things: Food Choice, Food Quality, Over-all Feel, and Value for Money. Here goes:

FOOD CHOICE: This lives up to the term mega-buffet. The array of food to choose from is quite extensive: salads and appetizers; Japanese food (where was the tempura or the miso soup?); Italian (with its pizzas, pastas where you can choose the noodles and the sauce and have it cooked right before you); Middle Eastern food (the feature, I think, at the time that we were there - wouldn't know if this is a regular portion); seafood (prawns, crabs, oysters and mussels); Chinese food with its dimsum and hot dishes; and dessert (pastries, crepes, the chocolate fountain, ice cream and sherbets).

There is just far too much food. You'll probably need to skip two meals during the day to try all the stations out.

FOOD QUALITY: We found the Japanese food portion to be the most enjoyable - with its fresh salmon, sashimi, makis and sushis. The seafood items were also fresh but not too visually appealing nor tasty enough. The mussels and the shrimps tasted like they were just blanched with hot water. The Italian portion didn't really stand out (to me, at least) and the Middle Eastern food choices were so-so. The Chinese portion had very little dimsum to choose from and there was no hakaw. The pansit was not too flavorful but the beef with veggies was tender and very tasty. I think that was my favorite!

Dessert was good! They had Light Life sugar-free ice cream and I really enjoyed the dalandan sherbet which I had two servings of. I might have had 3 if I wasn't worried about getting a sore throat. The sherbet had a cool, clean, refreshing taste which was perfect after all the different food that I ate. My husband tried the dates ice cream - much like vanilla but with the subtle taste of dates. Masarap din. =)

I tried out the chocolate fountain but I keep wondering why the chocolate does not really set even after some time that you have coated your fruits or what have you with it. It tasted good but was runny. My favorite was the marshmallows as the fruits like the pineapple and the melon were cut into big pieces (which made them quite difficult to eat) and were not sweet. It was fun watching two kids gleefully preparing their "marshmallow barbecue" by putting about 4 marshmallows on just one stick while declaring "Damihan natin!" On another occasion, my boss ate previously at Circles and he saw this elderly woman eyeing the chocolate fountain. My boss went: "Go ahead, there's no turning back." To which the lady retorted: "Are you a doctor?" Of course, my boss just smiled and shook his head as he wasn't a doctor but when at Circles, let's forget our doctors first, okay?

There was halo-halo too and the glass for it was described by my husband as "nakakatakot" sa sobrang laki ng baso. I retorted by saying that you could just get what you thought you could finish, to which the hubby replied: "Nakakatawa ka naman kung ang konti ng kukunin mo." Makes sense so we ended up not eating any halo-halo.

Generally, we expected more winners and stand-out dishes from the buffet but it was not to be. I was happy though with the Japanese food, dessert, and my Chinese beef and the husband was quite content with the Italian too.

OVER-ALL FEEL: The circles theme is emphasized - from your glass with circular patterns on it to the round orange placemats and coasters with cut-outs. I find the place to busy though, with diners queuing up in certain sections. The space is quite limited, a bit crowded and noisy. The set-up does not make for a relaxed, happy, comfortable dining experience. We expected a better presentation of the food. The utensils were also oddly shaped and balanced - like there was only one best way to hold them and it would take you some time to eat a lot.

There are private rooms/sections too for groups who may want more privacy.

VALUE FOR MONEY: With all charges and taxes, the price comes out to P1,195 per head. As my husband's batchmate said (he was also there that night), "I just got the lamb and the roast beef para sulit."

All in all, it was good to have tried the place once. Stay tuned for the next featured mega-buffet hotel resto.

Note: This article was originally written for Philippine Fiesta, a Fil-Am community newspaper based in Sacramento for their October 7, 2005 issue. Visit them at www.philippinefiesta.net

[By Angelica Viloria | Wednesday, November 16, 2005]


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