In birthday celebration number two, wine was poured. A congratulatory utterance and toast to the birthday boy started proceedings. It was very civilized - worlds away from the debauchery of the brauhaus. There was white linen, waiters to pull chairs out, an array of cutlery to negotiate, etiquette to be observed.
I did not want to drink until silly again but instead there was the not much lesser danger of gourmandising myself - like the fellow from that Monty Python film, who ate so much he self-combusted.
For we were dining at the big hotel buffet.
When guests are staying at these kinds of hotels, they sensibly sample from the buffet over a period of days. On Monday night it might be sushi, Tuesday the carvery, Wednesday it's salads, cold cuts and bread...and so on. We were at a significant disadvantage. We were in at 6 and had to be out by 10, thus having only a few hours to do this giant smorgasboard justice. The risk of popping the stud on my trousers was very real.
This experience is a bit like going into battle, a prize-fight in rounds. A true physical challenge.
DING! Round one saw me loitering in the Japan section, amongst the mounds of shaved ice, minimalist plateware with raw fish arranged in perfect symmetry and dainty teapots of soy sauce. An air of restraint pervades this little corner of the buffet and, much as I love sushi, sashimi and the clean flavours that accompany it, I thought it might be somewhat sacreligious to pile my plate high with a cuisine that is subtle and elegant. I win this round, conserving room and not expending too much energy.
DING! Round two was a two-step through the salad station, where I made my own caesar with greedy helpings of bacon, croutons and parmesan. No-one admonished me, no mother, no stick, no stern looks. If I wanted more, I took more. I also contructed a little plateload of gado-gado, with cabbage, green beans, beansprouts, boiled egg, potato and a gorgeous dollop of sate sauce...and got away with it!
DING! In round three, I started lifting up the shiny silver chafing dishes. They revealed main dishes of curry, rice, stir-fries, meat and vegetables. A bouillabaisse and a pea soup comprised the liquid food options. Uninspired, I shuffled across to the grill, located behind a glass pane, which was replete with fresh seafood, cuts of lamb, beef and pork, chicken wings...all ready to be selected by me and cooked to my specifications, even delivered to table by the chef himself. I availed myself of this service more than once!
DING! Round four found me moving up the weight divisions, verging on heavyweight, unable to run my thumb between the waistband of my trousers and my ample belly. If I could not stagger to the dessert stand and at least put something sweet to my lips, I would be beaten in a technical knock-out! Urged on by my mates, all hearty eaters, I stuffed in bits of cake and spoonfuls of both mango and chocolate ice-cream. You know those contestants in eating competitions you see on TV segments about state fairs in the US? I felt like one of them!
DING! Blue cheese, a cracker, a dried apricot, a walnut. I feel sick thinking about it but I survived the birthday festival of excess.
I'm still waiting for the referee to raise my arm up in victory!
West Lake Brasserie
Sofitel Plaza Hotel
1 Thanh Nien Rd
Ba Dinh District