There are few things we Brits enjoy more than an all-you-can-eat buffet. Even for those of us born long after the end of World War 2, the spectre of rationing remains as a terrifying vestigial folk memory, and those of us who grew up listening to our grandparents telling frightening tales of queuing up for whale meat & powdered egg go slightly giddy when presented with a groaning counter of meat, seafood & dessert & invited to eat our fill.
If there’s one thing we do enjoy more, it’s freeflow booze. If a buffet makes us giddy, freeflow drink sends us completely hysterical. This may be due to the distant memory of restrictive licensing laws, or it may simply be because we’re a nation of pissheads, but tell a Brit he can drink as much as he wants and he’ll rapidly begin drawing up complex algorithms involving available drinking time, alcohol percentage and stomach capacity in order to calculate the most efficient way of maximizing such an incredible opportunity.
As a skint student in France in the late 80s, myself & a friend happened upon a small restaurant in the Latin Quarter which had a unique, and dangerous, selling point – for 70 francs you got a 3-course meal AND “vin a volonte” (unlimited wine) – still my three favourite words in the French language. That the wine was the kind of gutrot rose that even the tramps in the Metro would haughtily turn their noses up at mattered little to us – it was, effectively, as much free booze as we could drink. Our frequent visits quickly turned into a battle of wills between ourselves & the restaurant management – they would try & serve us our three courses at high speed in order to get us out of there before we depleted their wine stocks; we would try & drag out our meal as long as possible in order to get as drunk as we possibly could. This helps illustrate why the freeflow concept has never been adopted in the UK – any establishment doing so would be inviting structural damage, financial ruin, and possibly the complete breakdown of British society as we know it.
In Asia, however, the all-you-can-eat buffet with added freeflow is wholeheatedly embraced, and as it is generally the preserve of 4 and 5-star hotels, freeloaders such as myself can gorge ourselves whilst maintaining a veneer of respectability and even sophistication. Such is the case with the St Regis Bangkok’s weekend wine buffet, which transforms the free piss-up into a thing of elegance, class and the kind of bohemian drunkenness more associated with the likes of Rimbaud & Richard Harris.
Having recently completed the first phase of a somewhat lengthy and onerous work project, a colleague and I decided that this milestone was worthy of celebration, and the St Regis seemed just the place – 950BHT for all the quality wine you can drink, in a city where just one decent glass of vino will set you back at least 200BHT? Take our money god damn you, take it now!
We arrived at the hotel’s Decanter wine bar and were greeted by a uniformed lackey who guided us silently past dark wood shelves stacked with bottles to a couple of high-backed chairs of the kind normally found in London gentlemen’s clubs. I half expected to be issued with a copy of the Daily Telegraph just to complete the ambiance. The concept was then introduced to us – a selection of 8 quality wines (4 reds, 3 whites, 1 rose) of which we could drink as much as our livers and sense of propriety could handle (the answer was, in both cases, a lot), and a table stacked with bread, canapés, cold cuts and cheeses (not a great selection of the latter but in a city where cheese is as rare and as destructive, in the financial sense, as Kryptonite, a welcome sight nevertheless).
Our waiter constantly hovered just out of sight & earshot, but always close enough to be instantly on hand the moment our glasses needed refilling, which made him a very busy man, and his non-judgmental attitude to our sailors-on-shore-leave consumption of the particularly excellent Chianti was most welcome. Indeed I would have liked at this point to share some names & tasting notes with you, but a) I omitted to write anything down, and b) I got quite spectacularly drunk, so cannot share with you my thoughts on the pepperiness of the Shiraz, the fruitiness of the Merlot, or the crispness of the Pinot Grigio. Suffice to say it was all bloody good stuff and a steal at the price.
Oh yes, the price.
One final delight was in store for us when we were presented with the bill. Apparently the hotel was celebrating its birthday in May by slashing 30% off all F&B prices, and so 950BHT suddenly became an almost guilt-inducing 660BHT. The shock of this sobered us up just enough for us to find our way out of the hotel to the nearest Skytrain, from where we should have proceeded directly home, but from where we foolishly headed to a pub for some totally superfluous pints of Kilkenny, after which point I remember nothing.