Saturday, June 15, 2019

Eating up the Hill: The Buffet is back, but no, not really at all, actually

Like most Hill dwellers, I was a big fan of the semi-weekly Friday buffets at the old Parliamentary Dining Room in Centre Block. A long table filled with sumptuous salads, meaty entrees, and sinfully sweet deserts, all for an affordable $20 or so. So I was sad to break the news some months back that, due to space constraints in the new location in West Block, the buffet would be no more

So it was with some joy that I greeted the adverts that began appearing on the Hill a few months back heralding the return of the Friday buffet -- with a decidedly egg-heavy brunchy menu -- but a buffet nonetheless. My dining companions couldn't synch our calendars until yesterday, the last brunch of the 42nd Parliament -- but with excitement we journeyed to West Block to participate in the return of the infamous buffet.

Settled into our seats, we surveyed the dining room and saw one small circular table containing several bowls of salad, a fruit tray, and a selection of cheeses and crackers. "It's that it?" we wondered. "Where's the beef." At our place settings we found a menu that described the salads, and listed several entrees and deserts, which we couldn't find on any nearby tables.

After beginning with a salad round (plated below) I enquired with one of the servers what the dealio was. He explained that the salad was help yourself, and the you could select and order one entree and one desert. "Only one?" I asked forlornly. "Yes, just one," he confirmed.

As I swallowed my disappointment, we proceeded to discuss buffet logistics. He noted a large buffet table in the small restaurant would cost a third of their already limited seating capacity. I asked if they had considered booking one of the committee rooms across the hall -- unused on Fridays, or the foyer in front of the rooms to place buffet stations. I was told they were looking into those options, but as it would involve diners crossing a sometimes high-traffic hallway, security was raising concerns and would, in the end, have the final say. I would say the chances of it happening are faint.

So, not being a big egg guy, and, while I would have liked the beans as a side, I opted for the short rib poutine. I'm not a big fry person, but it was really the only feasible non-egg option. 

It was OK. The gravy was rich, the beef was rather clumped together, the cheese curds excellent, the fries uninspired. I left some fries uneaten not because I was full, but just because they were meh.

My colleagues all had the crab cakes eggs benedict and pronounced it excellent. In a buffet scenario I would have had a few of the crab cakes as well, leaving the extra eggs for egg lovers that followed in the buffet line. Sadly, that was not to be.

On to desert, which sounded delicious based on the description. Sadly, it disappointed as well. I should have gone with the crepes. I expected it to be served hot, but it was cold to lukewarm. The pastry or whatever you was to call it was spongy, the cream filling bland, and it was swimming in not particularly tasty chocolate sauce. I ate one of the three before deciding this wasn't a good use of the calories I was surely expending here, and I stopped.

So, sadly, no, this was not the heralded return of the famed Parliamentary Buffet. Baring an unlikely change of heart by security, that will need to wait 10-15 years for the re-opening of Centre Block. At best, this is a prix fixe with a small salad bar. Which can be OK in it's own right, but is not the buffet I was expecting. I may return with the correct mindset, but I would like meatier, more substantive entree options to make it worthwhile.

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