A friend had read a rave review about Plaza Parkroyal's Annual Crab Buffet ($58 per adult for weekend dinners) and jio-ed us to partake in the crustacean devastation. While we had a great time with our friends, this buffet is exactly what I hate about buffets. You pay for the variety and not one iota of quality. While you do get 8 varieties of crabs in one sitting, I didn't think it was worth the money at all. Or the calories. I would have gotten more bang for my buck at any of the notable seafood chains like No Signboard or Long Beach or Jumbo. Just one crab from any of these seafood joints would have made for a much better dinner than all the 8 varieties of crabs at Plaza Brasserie. I wouldn't have walked away from dinner feeling completely unsatisfied. And I wouldn't have felt so cheated by the rave reviews of the bloggers who'd waxed lyrical about the "amazing" crabs here.
That's the problem with heeding the recommendation of a review done solely on the basis of an invited tasting. I've said this before, that the food served at any invited tasting is bound to be of a different standard from what the man-on-the-street will experience.The chefs will, naturally, pull out all the stops to ensure that your dining experience at an invited tasting is top-notch. Or, they'll give you more "liao". Because they know they're being reviewed. That's why I only trust reviews whereby the reviewers have gone back, incognito, a second, or third time if the reviewer is diligent (or loves the food very much), on their own dime, to review the food. Some traditional media critics conduct such return visits to lend credibility to their reviews. And that's why I give due weight to their reviews. I haven't read of any bloggers doing that.
No doubt invited tastings are part and parcel of many a blogger's or food critic's life, and as I've said before, I don't have an issue per se with invited tastings. If not for invited tastings, I wouldn't have stepped out of my comfort zone to try certain restaurants or dishes. But, to lend credibility to a review based on an invited tasting, another review based on a subsequent revisit should, ideally, be done to compare against the food served at the invited tasting. That's why I always make it a point to return for a second visit, unannounced and incognito, to review the same dishes that were previously eaten at an invited tasting, on my own dime, before I blog about an invited tasting. That way, I and my readers can know the difference, if any, between the food served at the invited tasting and the revisit. I will also know if the food at an invited tasting had more "liao". Besides, the review based on my return visit, that's both uninvited and paid out of my own pocket (or usually, from the Hubs' wallet), makes it no different from my typical not-invited-tasting blog posts.
If any of the dozen or so bloggers had bothered to return to Plaza Brasserie's crab buffet to try the dishes, I don't think there would have been as many rave reviews as there are now. It's been a long time since I last had such awful food, and I've got these invited-tasting reviews to thank for it. I was half tempted to turn bulimic after dining here. Unless stated otherwise, I felt that the buffet was awful. The only upside about dining here was the company of our fabulous friends, and its proximity to the Golden Mile Food Center, where we promptly went to after the terribly abysmal dinner to stuff our faces with fried kway teow and claypot rice.
We'll start off with the crabs, which was the primary reason for us dining here in the first place. These were, by and large, puny, lacking in natural sweetness, far from fresh, and exacerbated by the fact that whatever little sweetness was completely overwhelmed by the horrendous gravies of the respective cooking styles. Of them all, the salted egg yolk one was considered the best of the lot, and yet, this still fell far short of Long Beach's standards.
The Chilli Crab was insipid, gooey (not in a good way!), more tomatoey than spicy, and well, put it this way, any of the supermarket instant packet chilli crab mixes would have done a way more decent job.
The Black Pepper Crab was just as bad. There was no subtle sweetness nor mild peppery heat present in Long Beach's or Jumbo's versions. Rather, this was a watered down coarse pepper coating that was just so off-putting. Both the chilli and black pepper flavours are staples in the Singapore seafood repertoire so it's really quite unforgivable that such standard staples have been so badly mangled.
The Salted Egg Yolk Crab was, I suppose, if I'd to pick, the "best" of the lot but still not even in the league of Long Beach's stellar rendition, which I find to have the best salted egg yolk crabs around.
The Butter Crab was so bad. The butter was cloying and sickeningly rich. I took one bite and spit it out.
The Steamed Crab would have been passable if the crabs were super fresh and sweet. But they weren't. With the base ingredients less than great, steaming only brings to light how lacking they are.
The herbal overtones of the Steamed Crab with Tang Kwei completely overpowered the crab. The strong scent of this gave me a headache after a while.
The Curry Crab was insipid and watery.
Tempura Soft Shell Crab
The Assorted Tempura was clumsy and batter so thick you could peel it off in one fell swop. Plus, these have got to be the skinniest prawns I've encountered in my life.
The range of chilled seafood is very limited, and a bit of a hit and miss. The Oysters were fresh enough but missing in action for most of the evening. You'll have to ask for them from the counter chefs to get them.
Chilled Prawns: looked better than they tasted
Although they have quite a wide range of salads here, they aren't quite worth eating. Salad Bar: some of the greens and toppings looked a week old
Tuna Salad: too fishy
Beef Salad: gamey and dry
Potato Salad: the mayonnaise smelled off
Tung Hoon and Prawn Salad: the vermicelli was surprisingly decent, with a clean and clear taste. I didn't care so much for the mushy prawns though.
Chicken and Cabbage Salad: chicken too dry and tough and cabbage was sour, which I think was unintended
Tomato Salad with feta cheese, olives and zucchini
Salmon Terrine: smelled off
The Parma Ham with Melon should have been a no-brainer appetizer. Get some Parma ham, cut up some melons and wrap them up with the silky ham and presto, you've got a beautiful, looks-complicated-and-atas-but-not-really starter dish. Thing was, the Parma ham was so stale it'd developed an unappetizingly, dull grey hue. I didn't dare touch this.
Emmental and Gouda and Parmesan Cheeses: these were already fermented so I figured, how much more bad can they go, right? Wrong! These were a lot dryer than I'd expected
Bread: so not fresh, dry and rock hard
Pumpkin and Carrot Soup
The Chinese food here was disappointing, to say the least. Seafood Soup: the prawns and crab in this tasted mushy and off
Prawn Dumpling: tasted like reheated frozen food
Roasted Meats: far from fresh, gamey and dry and tough and chewy
I thought mushrooms in the Braised Sea Cucumber with Mushrooms would be a safe bet but boy was I wrong. The mushrooms were waterlogged and the gravy was fishy
The mushrooms in the Xiao Bai Chye with Prawns were similarly waterlogged and worse still, had gone sour.
Steamed Fish with Soya Sauce: way dry and far from fresh
Chicken Rice: dry and tough meat with bloody insides. best part of this was the dark soya sauce
The Laksa was actually pretty decent. Thick and rich and creamy gravy. We didn't dare try the cockles though.
Desserts here were the highlight, considering how bad the rest of the buffet was. Most of the sweets ranged between slightly below average and decent. Chocolate Fountain: saccharine chocolate but the marshmellows were alright
Ice-Cream with toppings: okay but the handprint-smudged fridge was more than a little off-putting
Chocolate Mousse Cake: decent, creamy, balanced and light
Cheesecake: too dry
Cakes: mostly unimpressive
Mango Pudding: decent, smooth and balanced
Grass Jelly: pretty decent, refreshing and light
Almond Jelly with Fruit Cocktail: another decent dessert, clean and light tasting
Parkroyal on Beach Road 1st level
7500 Beach Road
Tel: 6505 5710
Open daily from 6am to 12midnight