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~x~x~x~ Around the World... To Northampton ~x~x~x~
Recently I went down Northampton way to visit my sister who is currently going through a bit of a personal crisis. We didn't quite get to Northampton as my sister was called into work in the morning, phoning me when we were halfway there to say I was to head towards her local branch of Red Hot World Buffet instead where we'd meet up for a spot of lunch rather than the booze up at her place which was originally planned. I've heard all about Red Hot from a friend who is a regular visitor to the Manchester branch, as well as my sister herself filling me in on foodie nights out she's spent with her hubby in this restaurant.
Red Hot World Buffet is, as the name would suggest, a buffet restaurant with a menu encompassing various cuisines from around the world. Chinese, Thai, Mexican, Japanese, Indian and Italian food are all represented in various quantities - this is very much an 'all you can eat' kind of place, starve yourself for at least a few hours before you visit to ensure you a) get the most from your money and b) have enough room to sample a good selection from the interesting menu. From what I saw the bulk of the food was of the Chinese and Indian variety but there was a reasonable selection from the other countries too, including an impressive array of sushi options and a few differently topped pizzas.
I've been before actually, back in February when I had a chest infection combined with the mother of all colds. I must have looked a sorry sight as the manager came over and waived the cost of my meal, I hadn't expected this but was grateful as I'd picked over a couple of plates of food but managed only a couple of mouthfuls before admitting defeat and dosing myself up with medicinal brandies instead! I promised I'd return so was pleased to get the opportunity, and was surprised when the same guy came over and said he was glad I was better - it proved his attention to the customer as considering this place is extremely busy I honestly wasn't expecting him to remember me!
~x~x~x~ Preparing To Be A Piggy! ~x~x~x~
The Northampton branch of Red Hot World Buffet is pretty big, not as spacious as other buffet restaurants I've visited but there's plenty of room inside. We arrived around 30 minutes after the restaurant had opened and was surprised by how busy it was considering this was a weekday lunchtime; our party comprised three adults, a five year old and a toddler so we needed one of the larger tables plus a highchair - a suitable table was found for us straightaway, with kudos to the waiter who noticed my mums breathing difficulties and seated us relatively close to the food area. The highchair was brought over before I'd even taken my coat off, with a dining chair being removed to make way for it. This always gives brownie points for me as I hate seeing highchairs tagged onto the end of tables, especially in this kind of restaurant where people are constantly walking around with plates of hot food - it scares me knowing how fast a toddler can stretch an arm out to grab an interesting looking plate, and as a considerate mum I'm always aware of how irritating it is to have to navigate highchairs (and also pushchairs) which protrude into already pretty narrow aisles.
I found the restaurant to be nicely decorated with a well thought out collection of ethnic ornaments and colours. They use lighting well to draw the eye to certain areas, it all looks very stylish and clean with food being displayed in spotless serveries. I thought it was a shame they didn't put as much consideration into the overhead lighting as they did the pretty neons personally as Red Hot is extremely dull inside, the level of lighting being conductive to an atmosphere of dismalness in some parts of the seating area - including ours as we'd been seated quite a distance away from a window.
This restaurant is completely disabled friendly, some areas of seating are a little cramped but then again other areas have masses of room around them. There are no steps or sharp bends once you're inside so diners with any mobility issues should be easily accommodated unless the restaurant is very busy, wheelchair users won't get their pick of the tables as some will just be too awkward but I saw plenty of table options which could be offered to someone in a wheelchair. At the time of our visit there was a party of obvious carers and their wards, some of whom were using large motorised chairs - they were seated at an extra large table immediately and every effort was made by the staff to ensure they were comfortable throughout their meal. I'd suggest you phone in advance to book a table if you have any special access requirements just in case it's particularly busy and a roomy table isn't immediately available, my mum uses a wheelchair herself sometimes and commented that she'd definitely book if she had been in
Pictures of Red Hot World Buffet and Bar, Northampton
Bland and uninteresting, the best part was the bread roll and even that was a little stale!
her chair that day just to be on the safe side. The above is also true for those of us visiting with pushchairs; David had fallen to sleep in the car as we got to the restaurant so I popped him into his buggy rather than disturbing him, luckily our table had enough room at the edge (wall-side) for me to wheel him in and when he woke up to be transferred to his highchair this was also the perfect place to store the pushchair out of the way of other diners.
Furniture is comfortable and of a good sturdy quality, with plates and cutlery being clean and plentiful. My daughter commented that the plain white plates were 'boring' as another buffet restaurant we visit sometimes has gorgeously decorative Chinese style plates - this doesn't bother me in the slightest of course, it's what's on the (boring) plate which is important after all!
~x~x~x~ Food, Glorious Food ~x~x~x~
I was surprised and impressed by the range of dishes available for lunchtime customers, the food service area didn't have many visible gaps and glancing at the Red Hot website I can see that the majority of the options were available at the time of our visit. I say I was surprised as in other buffet restaurants the lunchtime selection is usually vastly reduced, obviously I haven't eaten in Red Hot in the evening so can't categorically compare what is and isn't available but I was certainly happy with the choices on offer.
The food is arranged extremely well so you can head to a specific section if you want to eat from a certain cuisine, or spend time browsing the various counters if (like me) you couldn't give two hoots about having pizza, spring rolls and samosa all on one plate! I must admit there's no rhyme nor reason for me when I'm in this kind of restaurant, and while I might enter with the intention of having Chinese then Indian then Italian it never quite works out like that and I tend to just grab what I fancy as I'm mooching amongst the various foodstuffs on offer. I couldn't possibly give you the full run down on everything offered by Red Hot so I'll give you an idea of what I ate myself, and that was far more than I thought I would so my list will probably be pretty comprehensive!
I was pleased to see they offered a small selection of soups as I like to start a meal with soup, especially when I know it's going to be a rich main meal as I knew this one was shaping up to be! I ladled myself a small bowl of chicken and sweetcorn, and helped myself to a poppy seeded bread roll for dipping - this was my first impression of the food in Red Hot, and I was disappointed. There was no flavour to the soup, the chicken was stringy and tasteless and I'm sure the sweetcorn kernels were the cheapest of supermarket basics as they tasted of nothing and were more or less all flakey shell rather than juicy hot corn. Even with a very generous sprinkle of black pepper I couldn't get it to taste of anything other than a sweet chicken stock, I gave up halfway through my bowl - so it must have been bad as this is one of my favourite soup varieties ever! A sinking feeling came over me and I wondered if Red Hot was going to be as impressive as I've been led to believe...
My favourite section was the space reserved for nibbly starters, as is the case whenever I visit any buffet restaurant. I'm not a fan of stodgy curries or noodle dishes (unless I cook them myself) so tend to drift to the 'picky' selection of foods, most of which are starters but some would probably be considered accompaniments I suppose. Most of what I ate was of high quality but there were a few disappointments along the way - fatty spare ribs, dry spring rolls with nowhere enough filling and stone cold (but perfectly seasoned!) potato wedges are the ones I experienced personally but I know my mum and sister had a few dodgy bits too. I'd just got my bottle up to have a small plate of Thai green curry when my sister spoiled it by gulping a glass of water to soothe the fire after her first mouthful - she can stand far hotter curries than me so I knew I had no chance, I was a bit irked however that it had been labelled as mild-medium as it blatantly wasn't! The closest I got to a plated meal was a naan bread topped with succulent chicken tikka pieces and mint dressing - this was absolutely delicious; perfectly griddled chicken, pleasantly blackened at the edges but tender and juicy inside and perfectly spiced. Mum didn't like it as she likes her chicken very well done and this was a little 'damp' for her, this is an incredibly filling dish with just the small naan and half dozen chunks of chicken keeping me away from the buffet for a good fifteen minutes after I'd eaten it!
The Pork Yuk Sung here is fabulous, this is my favourite Chinese dish of them all and Red Hot do a delicious one. Meaty and rich with tiny vegetables which crunch delicately with every bite, this is offered with the traditional lettuce leaf which I ignored (for the simple reason of not liking lettuce much) and proceeded to fill a crunchy taco shell with the mixture instead - drizzled with sweet and sour sauce this is the way to eat Pork Yuk Sung, a little messy maybe but otherwise heavenly. Crab claws are also a particular favourite of mine so I was thrilled to find them available, I only know of one other buffet restaurant which regularly offers these (although more often recently they switch to scampi bites once the first lot of crab has gone) and these at Red Hot are far superior with a meaty ball of crab and the thinnest breadcrumb coating - I think I ate around ten during my meal, usually adding two to my plate each time I passed!
Another menu item of note for me were the pizzas. I only ate a couple of slices as I'm not a huge pizza lover, but both were absolutely delicious. Fresh, piping hot and made with obviously high quality ingredients - they tasted really authentic with a crisp bubbly base and flavoursome toppings. The ham and pineapple was the nicest, this isn't a variety I'm usually too keen on but it looked really tasty in the pizza pan - honestly one of the nicest pizzas I've ever eaten, and the simple pepperoni option was just as good. Hollie had a couple of slices of plain cheese and tomato, finishing the crusts off with a generous serving of mayo from the salad bar. My sister, aka the woman who would live on delivered Pizza Hut, ate what equated to a full pizza in wedges taken from the individual pizzas - she said the chicken pizza was good, an opinion seconded by my mum and ultimately two year old David when they shared the final slice that proved too much for my sis!
The salad bar is very good for sauces even if you're not in the mood for anything low calorie and healthy. Here I did notice several gaps of items which are presumably only available in the evening; the potato salad was missing but still labelled up, and I remember seeing the sign for a non-existent prawn salad dish too. What was there, however, was reasonably inventive - I sprinkled a few sundried tomatoes over my pizza and had a few spoonfuls of a pretty uninspired (and very oily) pasta salad, but only picked at a few bits my sister threw onto a plate for us all to share. There didn't seem to be much there in the way of actual salad items, the glimpse of broccoli and cauliflower soaked in some kind of mayo dressing made me realise this salad bar was created for people with more refined palates than mine - so I wandered back over and had another slice of pizza instead...
I didn't use the live counters myself, but mum and my sister both had a made to order stir fry which looked and smelled delicious. Here you can have a bespoke meal made in front of you; you pick out the ingredients and request the level of seasoning/heat, five minutes (or less) later you'll be strolling back to your table with the freshest meal possible short of cooking it yourself. Hollie surprised me by asking to go to the counter which was chargrilling fillets of meat - she chose two pieces of chicken and this was a good decision as they arrived beautifully grilled and perfect for dipping into her beloved mayo. She loved the fact that she could see 'her' chicken being cooked and told me and the rather bemused African guy doing the cooking about something she'd learned at school regarding grilled chicken, I think.
The last section to discuss will be the section which interests some of you the most - the puddings! By this time I was absolutely stuffed so knew I wasn't going to be able to manage anything too heavy, I ended up with a scoop of delicious bubblegum flavoured ice cream and a plate of fresh fruit as despite feeling like I couldn't eat another mouthful I didn't want to walk away from the colourful display of desserts without something. I think between us we probably sampled most of the dessert menu, Hollie and David being typical kids and eating more of this sweet stuff than they had the main courses! They shared a couple of platefuls of bite sized cakes, jelly cut into cute little squares, mousses and goodness knows what else - one item of note being the delicious little vanilla cream slices which were light but rich at the same time, incredibly sweet and the perfect way to round off a spicy and varied meal. Mum had her usual apple pie and custard, and my sister opted for the same (for her first dessert...) - Mum had nothing but good words to say about her dessert, my sister fared less well and found just two minuscule pieces of apple in her pie which didn't impress her at all!
~x~x~x~ Special Requests ~x~x~x~
I'd say the live counters are probably the best option for vegetarian diners as the variety of vegetable options for adding to the pasta, stir fry and noodle dishes is impressive and will arrive beautifully cooked. Mum had a vegetable stir fry as the only meat option was a very fatty mince, despite having a very small portion of noodles she said the stir fry satisfied the last hole of appetite as she'd selected loads of vegetables to go into the wok - her meal looked fantastic actually and was a riot of colour with red pepper, carrot, baby born, mange tout and loads of other 'bits' which I can't remember. Along the curry section are a few (two that I remember) dishes which were obviously vegetarian - an insipid looking vegetable Dahl and some kind of mushy looking lentil and potato 'thing' which was probably the most unappetising thing in the restaurant that day. Some of the starters would presumably be vegetarian friendly, although many were meat or chicken based so I wouldn't have thought our herbivore friends would have too much choice in here - I sampled some of the vegetable Yuk Sung and it was nowhere near as nice as the pork variation, likewise mum had a serving of vegetable balti and said it was tasteless and overcooked before leaving the majority of it on her plate. I don't feel that much care has been taken to keep the vegetarian contingent happy, other than the live counters and sushi bar there's little there of interest for anyone who doesn't eat meat - thinking back to my own play at vegetarianism I would have been vocally unimpressed at the lack of choice, although I imagine you long-term veggies are pretty savvy at spotting bits and pieces to snack on that suit your eating habits. Just don't come here expecting to be particularly well catered for, that's the bottom line.
The only food concern we had was for mum who is supposed to steer clear of anything 'nutty', it's not an allergy but an intolerance so she's not too strict with herself - she did ask advice on a couple of dishes and managed to avoid finding a rogue peanut or almond inside anything, but in all honesty this whole place smells of peanut and sesame oil so I doubt there's any surefast way of avoiding nuts. Again, I'm assuming those of you with a nut allergy will have experience of eating in this type of restaurant so will know what you can and can't safely eat.
~x~x~x~ Service With A Smile ~x~x~x~
I was more than happy with the service we received throughout our two hour visit to Red Hot World Buffet. Staff are attentive but not overly so, plates are collected quickly (you get a clean one each time) and we were offered drinks at reasonable intervals - the guy who showed us to our table explained that my son, when he woke up, would dine for free as he was under three years old, something I inwardly smirked at as David can out-eat me at times!
As well as table staff there are uniformed members of staff around the food area, all of whom are happy to assist with any questions about the various menu options. I had a couple of enquiries myself and was impressed by the level of knowledge displayed on the whole, one young staff member took a bit of a shine to Hollie and guided her around the entire food area pointing out non-spicy options she thought she'd enjoy - her suggestions were spot on actually, and Hollie enjoyed having a friend to wave to whenever she was near our table.
~x~x~x~ Red Hot? ~x~x~x~
I'll definitely visit this branch of Red Hot World Buffet again as on the whole I was impressed both the selection and quality of the food. Of course there were a few items which didn't get the thumbs up from me, but then again you have to remember that this restaurant is catering for a huge amount of diners and they're constantly having to replenish supplies of one menu option or another - you can't really expect perfection for the price you're paying, and in my opinion the standards were surprisingly high anyway. One thing they maybe should address is the labelling of the curries as across the board they seem to be hotter than indicated, not an issue for everyone but personally it put me off even attempting curry after seeing my sister eating her Thai green and complaining about the level of spice!
Our lunchtime buffets cost £7.99 each for the adults, with Hollie dining for £3.99 under their 'under 10's eat for half price' permanent promotion. Our total bill including a couple of soft drinks each was a shade over £40, which I thought was excellent value considering our meal was so filling that none of us needed to eat again that day. Meal prices are significantly more expensive in the evening, with an adult paying £11.99 - still representing superb value in my opinion, although I always wonder whether I'd get my moneys worth paying evening prices considering how crazily filling I find the reduced lunchtime menu! It was a little too early for alcohol when we visited (plus I was driving) but I had a look at the bar and can see this would be a great place to visit for an evening occasion as drinks prices weren't much more expensive than in the pub, with a large selection being available including a pretty extensive wine list and some unusual spirits that you don't see in many other restaurants.
Red Hot World Buffet Sixfields Leisure Park Weedon Road Northampton NN5 5QJ