There are some elements to dining out that are make or break.
Great food but poor service, and you’re unlikely to go back. Reasonable service and reasonable food, yeah, you’ll probably go back, but it’ll be one of those places you won’t actively seek to visit; if your mates want to though, you’re not going to grumble too hard. Add in a unique selling point, and it muddies the waters a bit. A gimmick is great, but if it’s not backed up by good food, and good service, it’s going to leave you feeling a bit… Meh.
Which is why The Chinese Buffet (aka TCB) leaves me in a bit of a dilemma.
Let us being at the beginning.
The Chinese Buffet (TCB Dining) in Bolton is one of a chain of buffet places across the country (other sites include Liverpool, Wigan, and St Helens).
Before COVID, it was Chinese food, buffet style, you helped yourself to as many or as few dishes as you liked, you settled up, you left. Following COVID, they introduced Bella. Here’s Bella:
Cute, right? You download the TCB Dining app, you use a QR code to access the menu for the site you’re visiting, and when you order, Bella brings your food. This limits person to person contact (though your drinks are still brought by a person, and your empties are also collected by staff too, which seems to defeat the object a bit).
It’s easy to use, and I’m going to say before we move on any further, that the staff are bloody lovely. So we’ve got a cute gimmick and great services. Two ticks.
Then comes the food.
It comes in small portions, so you can order as many or as few as you want, go back to ones you enjoyed, try new, whatever, it’s up to you. The only limit is that it’s 6 items per table at one time, so the kitchen staff can provide a quicker service (around 12 minutes).
There are fewer dishes than there were pre COVID, but still a good amount of choice, with some veggie options alongside the meat and fish dishes.
And that’s as about enthused as I can get about it. The food is just OK. Some was overseasoned and salty (definitely better eaten with a side of rice). Flat rice noodles were stuck together in chewy bundles. The mixed starter was distinctly beige, with meatballs that, well I couldn’t tell you what meat it was if I tried. One of the pancakes in the duck dish was completely stuck to the container we gave up, and my duck was pancake less.
There were highlights. The peanut sauce had a good amount of heat and flavour, and two two vegetarian dishes stood out, one featuring aubergine, and one featuring tofu (looked somewhat unappetising, tasted good).
So I return to my dilemma.
Does OK food, plus a gimmick and lovely service mean it’s overall good, overall bad, or just OK? Does the price point make a difference in that it’s £22.99 for evenings and effectively all you can eat? Am I expecting too much from a buffet?
I fear this visit has left me with more questions than answers.