DIY dining

Self-service Japanese buffet hits the spot

There's a good reason why Thais love buffets so much. It's not about the unlimited amount of food diners can consume, but the boundless opportunity to sample different kinds of delicacies while keeping their budget under control.

The buffet station features sushi rolls, tempura, okonomiyaki and salads, to name a few.

So, as soon as the clock strikes 12, diners, ranging from office workers to university students and families, start packing the 114-seat establishment on the second floor of Siam Square's shop-house row for one of the city's best-bargain shabu shabu buffets. Priced at 299 baht per person, the buffet features Osaka-style shabu shabu hotpot dining, plus an all-you-can-eat line of hot and cold starters to be enjoyed in a 90-minute time frame. What makes Ryu different from other shabu shabu joints is that it's a self-service restaurant, meaning everything from the hot-pot ingredients, drinks, side items and desserts are to be fetched from the stations by diners.

Each customer is offered a personal pot so they don't have to share utensils with others.

As soon as we were seated, the service staff asked if we'd like, for our choice of broth in which the meat will be cooked, the katsuo bushi dashi soup made with dried fish, or the combu dashi soup made with seaweed and chicken stock. Two of us went for the first option while the other settled on the latter. Both proved delectable though, to me, the dried fish one provided a more addictive taste. The timing starts as soon as the soup is filled into the pot installed in a tabletop hole in front of each diner. Just like how you operate a sukiyaki pot, the level of heat can be adjusted.

The extensive display fridge features as many as 50 choices of ‘‘all-you-can-grab’’ meat, seafood and vegetables.

While letting the broth boil, diners head to the buffet station in the middle of the dining room. That's where they can grab the likes of sushi rolls, tempura, okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza), takoyaki (squid balls), salads, shawan muchi (steamed egg custard) and odeng (fish cake stewed in a light, soy-flavoured broth). The selections are rotated daily.

At the extensive 3m2 display fridge, labelled in Thai and Japanese, small plates of raw ingredients to be cooked at the dining table are displayed neatly according to their categories (beef, pork, chicken and seafood). The reason why the restaurant doesn't do the usual conveyor-belt buffet is because management wants to keep the ingredients in temperature-controlled protection. Meanwhile, different coloured plates also help diners tell each category apart even at the table, in case it's significant to their diet.

We sampled pork loin, marinated pork fillets and bacon (skipping the insipid-looking ham). Flash-boiled for about 10 seconds in the bubbling broth until it turned pinkish-white in colour, the pork proved succulent and flavourful.

Our party of three beef lovers commented that the rib-eye beef, sliced thinly with a tiny line of fat and cooked for five seconds, was truly enjoyable, but not as outstanding as the pork.

The chicken, clams, sea bass, dory, squid and prawns proved of fair quality. Vegetables were offered in a nice variety including mushrooms (golden needles, straw, Jew's ear and oyster), napa cabbage, carrot, leek, onion and baby corn.

The shabu shabu was enjoyed with three types of dipping sauce. Though I found my all-time favourite ponsu sauce, which tastes sour and salty with a nice citrusy touch, complemented all types of meat and seafood perfectly, I was told that the beef would be a good match with the creamy and nutty white sesame seed dip, while the sweet and spicy sukiyaki-style red sauce would mix well with pork and vegetables.

For desserts, homemade green tea ice cream and dango (sweet glutonious dumpling made with rice flour) with hot red bean paste proved delightful.

Ryu highlights its DIY shabu shabu enjoyed from a personal pot.

At noon on a weekday, customers range from young office workers to university students and faculty staff.

About the author

Writer: Vanniya Sriangura
Position: News Reporter