Monday, 17 March 2014

Restaurant Review: Za Za Bazaar, Newcastle upon Tyne

Ah, the all you-can-eat-buffet. Something about the sheer egregiousness of the concept appeals to me on a quite deep level. In a world of scarcity and want, what could be more offensive than the idea of, for a moderate outlay of dollar, unlimited food? Well, a few things probably, but you get the idea. I still haven't completely worked out my grand unifying theory of the unlimited buffet, but I reckon I'm on safe ground in suggesting that something about the idea speaks directly to our inner child, whom, let there be no doubt, is a right greedy bastard. So much for the idea of the thing. What about the actual food? Usually pretty grim, carb-tastic or deep fried to a untasteful shade of beige, there is generally a powerful disconnect between the genius of the concept (Have as much of it as you want!) and the reality (I don't much want any of it) that kicks in strongly somewhere around the second plate. All that said, I have had at least one pretty great AYCE meal, and as with so many things, that one good experience is enough to convince, or at least tempt one to try again.

And so to The Gate on a Sunday afternoon to take on Za Za Bazaar. The Gate is weird. It feels like an un-place, full of lack and sadness. As soon as I walk through the doors I feel like I've been subjected to some mild Harry Potter-style Dementor treatment. Fortunately the restaurant is quite close to the entrance. I vaguely remember reading a John Lanchester review of their original Bristolian outpost which he rated not too badly at all. With 1000 alleged seats, that one is the biggest restaurant in the country. The one recently opened in The Gate has a lot fewer than that, but was pretty damn big, and heaving when we visited, a positive sign for any would be buffet-goer. We went in.

This is what Globalisation looks like
On entering, it feels a bit like four mega-tonne neon blast has gone off in your face. It's bright, and there are lots of lamps hanging everywhere and signs that have the names of foodstuffs adjacent to arrows that, confusingly, point to where that particular food cannot be found. We sat down, gathered ourselves, and then did a full recce of the whole place.

The general idea is that all the major world cuisines are present and correct allowing the consumer to journey around the planet like some latter day sauce-encrusted version of Phileas Fogg. Some of it is under heat lamps or on hot plates, some of it is made to order. The intriguing possibility of a plate containing all of a sunday roast, sushi, pad thai, a rissoto and a bit of naan bread presents itself. They've taken all the complexity and wonder of the globe, flattened it out, Disneyfied it a bit and called it a food. Baudrillard would've bloody loved it. But he wasn't there and I was, so let me tell you a bit about how it actually tasted.

India, mk 1
In the credit column, everything I had of a vaguely South Asian persuasion was really quite nice, the spicing being pleasingly complex. I really enjoyed some Chicken 65 and a wodge of tikka fish had fought bravely against the heatlamps to retain some moisture. Chutneys and pickles had vim and zip, dhal was soothing, curries were pleasant and who doesn't want unlimited popadoms?

India, mk 2.
Japan, I think.
It was on voyaging away from the subcontinent that I hit some worrying turbulence. Deep-fried scallop things were ok, ditto spring rolls, but the sushi were tasteless pucks of bland absence.

A quick jaunt to the Americas resulted in some powerfully average buffalo wings, appalling "guacamole" and some nachos with a cheese sauce the utter weirdness of which I kind of liked in a masochistic sort of way.

I have it on good authority of a tablemate that the (unpictured) sunday roast was poor. Kasia, never one to turn down a Yorkshire pudding declared this one to be a moderate triumph, so there you go.

By now I was stuffed, but also determined to see yet more culture. China provided a really quite nice braised fish thing with szechuan pepper, some ok black bean beef and some canonically rubbish sweet and sour pork. In the interest of science I wanted to try some pizza, risotto and a burger, but I had to admit defeat and turn towards the dessert counter.

I've no idea what country we were in here, as neither cake nor ice cream machines are, as far as I know, indigenous to any particular tribe of man. We were, temporarily and culinarily, de facto stateless persons. How exciting! There's a tonne of not unpleasantly artifical tasting cakes and pastries, jellies, a chocolate fountain and an ice cream machine. Accoutrements pour les glaces included smarties and jelly beans. A nice unlimited touch.

Deserts mk 1
Arty b+w ice cream machine shot
Puddings mk 2
We paid £13 quid a head for the food and £3 each for unlimited soft drinks. It's cheaper during the week and they have deals for kids, depending on their age.

I suspect that whatever crew is behind this gig is of South Indian extraction, as all that stuff tasted really quite decent, some of it actively good. If you've got kids this could, at certain times be an excellent place to take them, especially after a film or whatever. The long and short of it is that, culinarily speaking, Za Za Bazaar wasn't up to much, although perhaps that's missing the point. It's all about the choice! The whole "hey, you, let's go on a global voyage!" schtick was amusing and bewildering in equal parts, but I can get both of those from an episode of Twin Peaks. Plus, watching Twin Peaks doesn't leave you with the distinct and queasy impression that you've just ingested a failed state's GDP-worth of food all in one go.


Za Za Bazaar, Unit 8/9 The Gate, Newgate St, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 5TG


  1. The best thing about The Gate is the taxi rank outside so you can go somewhere else! Having said that, for a 5/10 review I'm strangely tempted to go!

    1. Yeah, I can't stand the gate either.


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