An international buffet par excellence
By Milan Lu
Ceylon Today Features
Graze Kitchen at the Hilton Colombo is no stranger to folk who enjoy a good meal. Established in September 2016, Graze Kitchen has served guests a wonderful selection of multinational cuisine under one roof. Six months later, Graze Kitchen is ready to serve guests a whole new menu to choose from.
Graze Kitchen is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day. While its main focus is on an intercontinental buffet, you also have the option to ordera la carte. But if you were to opt for the latter, the ability to truly savour the different flavours Graze has to offer would be lost.
With a total seating capacity of approximately 240, Graze has two private rooms (which can also be combined to seat 50 guests).
It also features many booths, an alfresco seating area right next to the iconic Hilton Colombo pond among other seating options.
The restaurant is spacious and utilizes a lot of natural light during the day.
The action stations are placed close to the entrance. Graze mainly offers a selection of cuisine from China, Japan, Thailand, India, Italy, as well as a section of Sri Lankan cuisine. Although the number of cuisines on offer is astonishingly high, none of the dishes are presented in chafing dishes commonly seen at a buffet. Instead they are displayed in smaller pots and bowls for guests to serve from. With action stations right behind most of the busier sections, the chefs are able to make sure the food on offer is freshly prepared at all times.
Skilled team of international chefs
Executive Chef of Graze Kitchen Kazi Hussan brings in his expertise from Australia and explained that although the vision and style may be mainly his, he has a skilled team of chefs who overlook the many different sections that make up Graze Kitchen.
"It's not just one guy who is in charge here. We are really lucky to have a General Manager and work for a company that believes in multiculturalism and in giving a multinational cuisine, which was the original concept of Graze Kitchen. So we have brought in international chefs" explained Chef Hussan.
Chinese Chef Yu Min, Thai Chef Treeapong, Japanese Chef Hikaru, Italian Chef Massimo, Indian Chef Chandan and Assistant Indian Chef Anil make up the international team of chefs serving up a storm at Graze Kitchen. 12 other chefs heading each section are all skilled Sri Lankan chefs with years of experience abroad. "Sri Lankan chefs are special to the world chef community. They have very fine hands, are very eager and very skilful. So together this is the team that produces the beautiful product here" Chef Hussan said. "Our goal was to get people who were internationally exposed and wanted to come back home and settle here with their knowledge" he further explained. In addition to the main team of chefs heading each section are younger chefs manning the action stations.
"We are a bunch of international people here who try to deliver tasty, good, modern contemporary food. That is another thing that we try to strive to do. I always tell these guys and the youngsters that what I have learnt as a chef during all my years, those things have expired. Yes the basics exist still but the trend of the modern culinary world is very different. It's all about modern produce, product and presentation; tasty clean food with very little complications. People don't have as much time as they used to have to come in and have a fine dining experience with six course meals. Eating fresh and being healthy is another thing that people are considering again and that is our focus as Graze" Chef Hussan explained.
A change in the menu
The original sections have not changed except for the salads given more prominence in the centre and the food on offer being changed completely. The focus this time around is to be rustic and simpler. "Last time when we opened we all tried to do our best dish. We tried to be very fluffy and very modern. This time we decided to go back to the basics. The focus is to be rustic home cooking. We want people to taste our food and say the food was good" Chef Hussan explained.
A major change would be that the Sri Lankan section will not be available in the night as the Curry Leaf restaurant would be providing guests with a splendid fare. Instead the Sri Lankan section would be replaced by a more international section.
Gathering the collective expertise and experience each of the chefs have, the section would feature some basic dishes from a different country each night.
Greater focus was given to the salads and cold section this time. Chef Hussan deconstructed the salad bar explaining that "People these days are very health conscious and they eat a lot of salads. The salad section is placed centrally and is a composition of simple ingredients, dips, cold cuts and cheese. The guest is given the freedom to mix and match to suit their palate and construct their own salad. On the other side, those who do not like the composition concept are allowed to choose from a selection of compound salads which are ready to eat. Next to it you can make your own salads in a bowl and dress it and toss it up. We also have a selection of very traditional Thai salads."
Explaining the reason for the change in menu Chef Hussan explained it in detail. "We were satisfied with the feedback when we opened but if we think that we have done a great job and just sit there and think that we are good, I don't think that's good as a business or for the motivation of the team. For the youngsters, they need to learn various things as well. We want to think of a different menu continuously. We would like to keep the community excited because we are a very small nation and not many go to five-star hotels." Changes will be constantly made to the menu in the future as well.
Another point of focus Chef Hussan pointed out was the use of local produce. Apart from a few cold cuts, Italian cheese and meats from Australia, all fruits and vegetables used are locally sourced. Even the mozzarella cheese used is locally sourced.
True to its vision
I tasted some of the fare offered at the Japanese, Chinese and Sri Lankan sections as well as the desserts. Overall the presentation of the food, the freshness and taste were quite good.
I tried out a few things the Japanese section had to offer first. Located closer to the salads, the Japanese cuisine too had a selection of sauces and dips on offer to mix and match with tuna sashimi, nigiri and sushi. I tried out the Egg Nigiri, Cucumber and Pickle Roll, and some of the Tuna Shashimi. The Tuna Sashimi melts in your mouth. The Egg Nigiri was soft and flavourful.
The Cucumber and Pickle Roll was decently sized and in general the Japanese sections flavours were great for a starter or for the health conscious.
Next I tried a little bit from the Chinese section. I tried Steamed Chicken Dumplings, the Steamed Fish Dumpling with oyster sauce, Pineapple Fried Rice, Shanghai Style Stir Fried Egg Noodles with Chicken, Deep Fried Seafood Wanton and a Fried Crisp Tofu. The dumplings were soft and of the two, the Steamed Fish Dumpling stood out in terms of flavour. The Stir Fried Noodles were a burst of flavour as well while the Pineapple Fried Rice was on the milder side. Both the wanton and the tofu were crisp on the outside and melted in your mouth when you bit into the inner fillings.
Based on the recommendations of the chefs at the Sri Lankan section I tried out the Vegetarian Cutlet, a Chicken Roti and some of the Black Pork Curry with a bit of Steamed Rice. The Black Pork Curry was succulent and packed with flavour. The Chicken Roti was bite sized but that didn't take away from its taste at all.
The Vegetable Cutlets, made with the chef's own special recipe was a real treat. It was crisp and when you bit into it, the flavour and spice exploded in your mouth.
For dessert I tried out a bit of the Blueberry Opera and the Raspberry Lava. The presentation of the desserts was amazing. The vibrant colours and number of different little desserts on offer would surely please any sweet tooth out there.
"Our choice isn't a two mile long buffet or the biggest buffet in town. Our goal was quality, freshness and we didn't want people to judge us as just a regular buffet. We do not want to say that we are the best. We want to be in the international market with our standard and quality" Chef Hussan said.
If you enjoy experimenting with or crave cuisines from different countries, Graze Kitchen is definitely a good choice. Walk around, try the different cuisines on offer and check out the special dishes the chefs recommend.
Pix by Amitha Thennakoon
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