I have a love/hate relationship with buffets. When I was a kid living in Hong Kong, a family dinner at the buffet was a huge deal. More likely than not, the restaurant is located at a fancy hotel and there would be starring features like oyster bar, lobsters prepared in multiple ways, prime rib carving stations, and of course dreamy dessert table that seems to go on forever. It’s quite possible that my memory is skewed by a child’s inexperienced palate or just glorified over years of longing. The trend of quantity over quality of buffets in Toronto leaves me disappointed too many times and I avoid such establishment at all cost now.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure to test the validity of my positive impression of buffets in Hong Kong. Is it really an abundance of elegance as I remember? Tiffin’s dessert buffet is one of the granddaddy of dessert buffets in the city and I went one evening by myself to try everything. Yes, every single item of the spread. The presentation certainly fit the bill with delicate and intricate details on every serving of sweets. Tubs of ice-cream nestled inside frosted silver urns waiting to be transformed into a towering sundae. Taste-wise, I have certainly experienced much better dessert but I would not call the offerings pedestrian either. It was a dining experience that I would not hesitate to repeat.
I deliberately did not make any plans for last weekend’s trip to Honolulu. Relaxing is not something that comes naturally to me so I figured if I had no plans, I had less chance to cram my supposedly leisurely schedule. I would let the day unfold by following my instincts and my instincts suddenly told me I crave an over-the-top fancy buffet. A quick internet search led me to Orchids’ famed Sunday Brunch Buffet at Halekulani Hotel.
I can try to describe in a million words how the buffet was a feast to the eyes and the stomach but it would be easier to take you on a tour from salad to carving station to dessert. This is a video as I toured around the brunch buffet from station to station.
I am quite happy to report that the quality of food did not disappoint. The service was impeccable and I enjoyed fresh guava juice and coffee in the elegant sun-filled dining room the minute I sat down. The music you heard in the background was courtesy of the harp and flute ensemble a few steps from my table. I am particularly impressed by the various salads, cold appetizers, and poke. I prefer logical progression of my meal so naturally I returned from my first trip to the buffet with a colourful platter of cold appetizers.
Clockwise from top are: assorted mushroom in Japanese-style marinade, green papaya salad, beef salad, lox, tuna poke, tako (octopus) poke, lomi-lomi salmon, seared sashimi, and a avocado crab sushi roll in the centre. The seafood was most excellent with their freshness and simple preparation. I was so pleased that the dressing for the poke did not overwhelm but rather highlighted the sweetness of the fish. I wish I went for seconds but the main courses awaited.
For my main courses, I chose a mix of brunch staples including cheese-filled crepe in orange strawberry sauce, chicken apple sausage, natural bacon, roasted suckling pig with apple sauce, French toast with coconut syrup and lychee butter, and the piece de resistance, eggs Benedict with fresh crab meat (!!!). I thoroughly enjoyed every single dish I chose but the crepe and eggs Benedict were the highlights. The sweet tart orange sauce was delicious against the smooth cheese filling and eggy crepe. The eggs Benedict was truly scrumptious with medium poached eggs and lots of sweet crab meat. Again, I wanted seconds but had to exercise restraint.
I attacked the tiered display of viennoiserie next. The miniature pain au chocolat, cream cheese danish, and popover were well-made but the star of the show was macadamia sticky bun. Replacing the typical pecan with macadamia nuts totally put this rich breakfast treat over the top. The small size was just right.
Dessert was taken very seriously at Orchid with significant amount of real estate devoted to cakes, tarts, pastries, puddings, fresh tropical fruit, and a separate ice-cream sundae bar with every topping imaginable. I wanted to try a bit of everything but I was quickly running out of stomach space. On my first plate, you would find coconut layer cake, macadamia tart, chestnut crepe, chocolate éclair, chocolate fudge cake, brownie, mochi cake, and baked citrus tart. The coconut layer cake almost tasted ethereal with its lightness No wonder it is their signature dessert! The macadamia tart was also very nicely done with buttery flakey pastry.
I had to return for a second trip to the dessert table because the tropical fruit beckoned. I’m still dreaming about the tree-ripen local papaya and pineapple. Such sweetness! Tropical paradise is not an overstatement if you can grow fruit as delicious as those. The guava mousse and vanilla bavarois were pretty but pale in comparison to the papaya and pineapple. Try as I might but it was just too much to conquer one of everything. I heard great things about the ice-cream sundae bar but alas it was not meant to be.
Buffet brunch is definitely an indulgence in my books. When the experience lives up to expectation, it is an indulgence well-deserved. I am very glad that I listened to my cravings and enjoyed a lovely morning at Orchids. Would I return again? Probably though not just by myself. This is a memorable meal experience that I would rather share with loved ones.