Our undercover meal reviewer The Insider takes a tour of the Far East . . . in Wolverhampton.
Our undercover meal reviewer
takes a tour of the Far East . . . in Wolverhampton.
"You'll never get in, you should have booked days ago." "I've never been able to get a table, they're always too busy when I call." Just a few of the things said to me when I told friends where I was planning to dine this week.
The place in question was Cosmo in Wednesfield, a relatively new pan Asian restaurant that has such pulling power it's permanently packed.
What on earth has made an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant on a retail park one of Wolverhampton's most popular places in town?
"The food is AMAZING," my colleague breathlessly told me the morning after her first visit. In minute, mouth-watering detail, she went on to describe her culinary experience. It wasn't like other buffet restaurants she'd frequented "where you wonder how long the stuff's been lying there."
At Cosmo, the food is "fresh, delicious and there's tons of it," she said.
I was practically salivating as she went on describe the many stations on offer all boasting delicious fare from across the Eastern world.
"And there's even a chef who cooks in front of you, but I was too full to try anything from him.
"We couldn't even stay at our table for too long because they were queuing out the door to get in."
Delighted by her visit, her only disappointment, it seemed, was that her stomach was not large enough to cope with all 120 dishes on offer.
That was it – I had to try it for myself.
Cosmo's phone was permanently engaged when I tried to book, and when I finally did get through, sure enough, there were no tables left on the Friday and Saturday night. I ended up going for 8pm on Sunday, the only slot left.
It was wet and freezing when we arrived at the Bentley Bridge Retail Park. Unlike the other restaurants on the complex, Cosmo is hidden away, next to B&M home store and near Sainsbury's. Not exactly a prime spot but that hasn't hampered its popularity.
The door opens into a rather majestic entrance with an elaborate chandelier. A small queue formed at the front desk, where a waitress was busily flicking through a hefty table plan. Around 15 people were sitting on leather sofas, just behind her, and may as well have been wearing T-shirts proclaiming "We haven't booked", as they watched the waitress like hawks, desperate to be the next to be seated.
We were taken to a table right away, much to the annoyance of the hungry masses. We walked to the far end of one of two dining halls, past several stations where diners were spooning curries, noodles, starters and such-like onto their plates. We weaved past hundreds of guests sat on long tables, the loud noise of chatter, laughter and deliberations over choices constantly hanging in the air.
Our table was in a far corner, and it was cosy to say the least – if you like your space, this may not be the place for you, unless you are lucky enough to get one of four booths.
Our drinks order was taken from a waiter who didn't speak great English, but after several attempts took down our order of two cokes and a glass of wine.
Just help yourselves, we were told. And off we went, winding our way through the madness, with people up and down from their tables to the food counters like yo-yos. We honed in on a station of starters, choosing, among many other things, prawn toast, chicken skewers, samosas, oysters, onion bhajis and pakora.
My colleague had been right – it was all fresh, and fairly hot too. It was certainly very hard not to get over-faced on your first plate. Our starters had long gone by the time our drinks arrived, brought to our table by a waiter who was possibly a bit shy. He didn't look up once and placed all the glasses in front of one of my companions.
As we chatted, I remembered I found the buffet experience all a bit strange, and at times, uncomfortable. How long do you leave after finishing one plate before going up next? How many times do you return? How much food is acceptable to put on your plate? And are those people over there counting how many times I go up? I just don't get the etiquette.
But as I watched the seasoned Cosmo diners embracing the experience with gusto, I realised etiquette is not a word bandied around in these parts – you just get stuck in.
I watched a couple go up four times, each returning with humungous platefuls. Another sitting opposite did it a bit more delicately but mixed it up a little, opting for a few Indian starters, sharing shredded duck and plumping for Italian at the end with a few slices of pizza. And there was no messing about with the girl sitting behind us in a short white dress. She'd ditched her high heels and was walking to the counter in her stockinged feet – seemingly stilettos just slow you down when there's food from nine whole countries to tuck into.
The counters were packed with tasty offerings from China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Mongolia, Singapore, Vietnam and India, and I spent a good five minutes wandering from station to station wondering which to sample. Mix it up and taste the world or stick to just one country?
While my friends declared they were visiting Japan, India and Vietnam, I played it safe and wholeheartedly embraced China, filling one plate with shredded duck, a few pancakes and hoisin sauce, and going back for a third with chicken in black bean sauce, pork balls, egg fried rice and noodles.
On my way back from the third trip, I actually did a detour round the room, conscious the diners sat either side of my past route could have been appalled as I returned with my latest feast.
The choices were exhaustive – almost overwhelming. But everything we tasted felt fresh and flavoursome – precisely like it had come straight from the wok or the tandoori oven. The chef manning the teppanyaki bar always had a small queue of people eagerly watching him conjour up fresh dishes, but we simply didn't have the room in our bellies – or the nerve – to sample his delights.
Neither did we try the desserts, an array of mousses, trifles and gateaux that looked a little neglected as the majority of diners ignored them in favour of the savoury stuff.
Our bill came to £42.97 – £11.99 each for the food and three drinks. We staggered out stuffed and satisfied.
The staff were sweet and incredibly hard working but good service wasn't particularly high on the agenda. Nevertheless, Cosmo certainly delivers – and 20,000 people every single week, surely can't be wrong.
Cosmo, Bentley Bridge Retail Park, Wednesfield, Wolverhampton WV11 1BP
Phone: 01902 722233
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