This latest Lunchquest with Blythe was evidence that he will leave no stone unturned when it comes to giving the restaurants and cafes of Edinburgh a fair crack of the whip before reaching his verdict.
I, on the other hand, was a bit nervous heading in to the “Hot Flame World Banquet Dining” – I was pretty sure I knew what to expect from this “all you can eat” experience and was not hopeful that my stomach could hack it, particularly with a seasoned professional quester to keep up with.
Round 1I tried. I really did. A full plate with one of each of the following: Chicken pakora (dry), chicken wing (drier), spare rib (fatty), a limp bit of sushi (non-descript filling), spring roll (might as well just have been empty pastry), crab claw (not crab surely – more a kind of white fishy paste but it was OKish), and a prawn cracker (deep fried in I’m not sure what but it was the worst thing I ate).
Using a boxing analogy, if Blythe was in the red corner and I was in the blue, then the blue took an absolute pasting. Whilst he ploughed through a similar set of starters to the above, I could only nibble at mine. My appetite had deserted me. But I had to press on…
I tried. I really did. Maybe not as hard as in Round 1 which itself was a feeble effort but I gave it a go.
A not very full plate this time with a little bit of the following: lamb rogan josh (meat a bit tough but ok), chicken tikka (reasonable take away quality), some Singapore noodles (pot noodle – esque), a slice of pizza (do you know the packs of 5 small round ones you get in the freezer department with a biscuit like base – yes like that) and rice (rice). Plus I had another crab claw.
Again it was a pathetic effort in the face of the red corner where various assortments of curry, Chinese, pizza etc were hoovered up.
I tried. Just not very hard. I didn’t really want to go up to the headlamps again but I felt I was in the ring with the master and I stood witness whilst he loaded his plate with curried lentils, naan bread and creamed brussel sprouts. Wow. I managed a bit more of the lamb rogan josh and rice. And I added another crab claw because I didn’t know how long it would be until I ate another (hopefully several years at least).
Another round to the man in the red corner.
Ding Ding – Final RoundPuddings. Usually my area of expertise and I was still in the fight. Surely I could muster a final blow and walk away with my honour intact. But my bowl of red flavourless jelly, jellied sweets and marshmallow pieces was a failure in the face of Blythe’s bright blue bubblegum flavour ice-cream and odd looking cake combo. I know when I am beaten and waved the white flag. Mind you, neither of us were prepared to take on the chocolate fountain…
Post Match Analysis
I know the above probably sounds like the Hot Flame was a pretty gruelling experience, but to be fair there is a target market that is well served and looking around the restaurant that was pretty full by the time we left our lunchtime slot, there were many happier faces than mine. The staff members were friendly, although the choice of heavy metal music on the speakers was a bit odd.
All you can eat bland food for under a tenner? If that floats your boat then Hot Flame is the place to be. Alternatively you could stock up at a local frozen goods store and pretty much have the same meal (perhaps without the crab claws).
I knew the day would come where, once again, I’d need to cross the threshold of an all-you-can-eat buffet style restaurant. The last time had been at Ashoka on Hanover Street and it still sticks out as one of the worst dining experiences in the city. This time, it was to recently opened Hot Flame in the Quartermile that we headed.Nanyang and Enzo, to make one of the more unusual little parades of restaurants in the city, Hot Flame is a big barn of a place and we found it very busily populated on our Friday visit.
Although it’s not at all well indicated, on Friday and Saturday lunchtime, for £9.99 you get free and unfettered access to their “world banquet”, which is a large area of pre-prepared dishes matched with an open fresh preparation kitchen populated by a number of chefs.
Once the waiter had run us through how things operated and taken our drinks order, we took our first trip to the buffet area. We resolved to try some starter type items, to begin.
The world banquet essentially comprises Indian and Chinese dishes, with tips of the hat to Italian, Thai, Japanese and some sort of American/British thing. So, to start with I had a plate of morsels that comprised: sushi, crab, dumplings, pakora, chicken nuggets, breaded mushrooms, hash browns, poppadoms and a potato croquette. Diverse.
Of those items, I think the chicken nugget was the best. Many items were ordinary and an awful lot of them tasted very similar. The dumplings were poor and Dan proclaimed his prawn cracker the worst he’d ever tried.
Then it was back to the troughs for main course dishes. With continued haphazardness, I assembled a plate including pizza, chick pea curry, Thai red curry, another poppadom, beef in black bean sauce, meatballs and some fried rice.
There was nothing really terrible, this time, and the chick pea curry felt like very comfortable territory for them and was probably the standout dish of the day. The pizza was decidedly average, though.
Dan had been just about stunned into submission, so his “second main” plate was just a little selection of lamb. I gave it another good go, although it took longer and longer to find dishes with any visual appeal at all. I had a plate comprising daal, chicken noodles, a hearty portion of creamed sprouts (especially for Elaine at Union of Genius, who I know is a massive fan), roast potatoes, pickled beetroot and a naan.
I quite enjoyed the sprouts, although they’d definitely been sitting out not getting much love from other diners. The naan was pretty good, too. The rest was more routine.
I felt it my duty to try the dessert. To a piece of poor cream sponge I added blue ice cream. It was apparently bubble gum flavour.
We were left to reflect upon a lot of food, none of which delivered a compelling case for itself, featured the odd moment of real disaster, but was generally sort of somewhere in a barely satisfactory middle ground.
So overall, I don’t think we can really give Hot Flame a score. The upsides are a bright, clean and well-run restaurant. But the downsides are that places like this are a terrible idea, some of the food is pretty terrible, their best dishes are just good and nowhere near very good, and many of the dishes look horrid and don’t entice.
We took the approach of attempting to try as broad a range of what was on offer as we could, in the interests of research. From the look of fellow diners’ plates, this is the prevailing approach. If you were able to discipline things and simply come in and treat it as, for example, somewhat like the all-you-can-eat deal at the Mosque Kitchen (and Indian is definitely the best thing they do), you might be able to find a formula that ensures you get the best of the place. But then, why not just go to the Mosque Kitchen or you preferred Indian, where you’ll get much better fare.
In a day that was perhaps not my finest in terms of culinary endeavours, I then spent the evening drinking Blue WKD – blue ice cream on to blue drinks. The following days featured a diet of thin gruel to attempt to right my dietary ship.
Today’s questers were: Dan, Blythe
We ate: world banquet
We drank: water
We wore: looks of bemusement
Total bill: £19.98