WHEN in early 2021 I stayed at the historic Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle, I was surprised to find it offered a breakfast buffet. When the pandemic hit in 2020, such buffets quickly disappeared from view and many assumed they'd never return.
After all, many hotel breakfast buffets are disappointing. The best of them present delightful cold buffet items alongside hot dishes cooked to order; but the worst have steaming bains-marie of soggy hash browns, sweaty bacon and lumpy scrambled eggs. Perhaps we wouldn't miss them once they were gone?
Wrong. As time progressed and lockdown restrictions eased, travellers pestered Australian hotels to bring back their buffets; and many have now obliged.
Given the unexpected durability of this hotel institution, I've devised some rules to get the best from the all-you-can-eat experience:
1. Forget the cereal. Are you going to pay good money for a big cooked buffet spread, then eat something that came out of a box? The carbs will make you too full to fully enjoy the hot dishes anyway. Face it, you can eat cereal anytime at home.
2. Ask for an omelette. Even if there's no omelette station or any sign saying "Ask us to make your eggs the way you like them", if you ask for an omelette the hotel kitchen will often make one. I suspect the cooks get bored and welcome the change of routine. It has to better than rubbery bain-marie eggs, right?
3. Start toasting immediately. There's nothing worse than gathering up a hot plateful of foodstuffs, only to realise you don't have any toast to go with them. Always place two slices in the communal toaster the moment you arrive, so it'll be ready when you are (and turn the heat dial up, it's always set too low).
4. Don't get excited about the coffee. The brewed coffee that's inevitably included with a buffet breakfast won't be great. Mind you, some upmarket hotels will include a proper barista-poured espresso with the buffet nowadays, so it doesn't hurt to ask.
5. Look for local specialties. It's easy to default to bacon and eggs but it's worth seeing if the hotel has added anything more interesting to the buffet. When I stayed at the Cape Grace Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2018, I made a beeline for items such as South African cheeses, and the zucchini and sweet potato hash browns with smoortjie (a thick tomato and onion sauce, a local favourite).
6. Take a few items for later. I've occasionally wondered if it's OK to abstract a few items from the breakfast buffet to eat later in the day. Talking to other travellers, the consensus is that easily portable items such as fruit or a pot of yoghurt are fine; sausages and beans, not so much.
I've occasionally made stealthy sandwiches from breakfast buffet items with the intention of having them later for lunch, particularly in Central Europe, where hotels lay out an impressive spread of breads, cold cuts and cheeses.
I remember one day in particular, travelling from eastern Germany to Poland. As it was a complicated trip involving three trains and I had no idea of the availability of food along the way, I quietly created some breakfast buffet sandwiches at my Leipzig hotel and packed them into my luggage.
Two train trips later, I was sitting on the platform at the obscure Polish town of ary. It was a sunny day, my next train was due shortly, and I had sandwiches to enjoy as I waited for it to arrive.
Thanks hotel buffet, your loss was my gain.
Tim Richards writes about travel at patreon.com/timrichards.