Melbourne Restaurant Reviews: The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Paesano International Buffet

820 Ferntree Gully Road
Wheelers Hill VIC 3150
+61 3 9574 7000
http://www.paesanobuffet.com.au

My parents have always been a fan of buffet restaurants. Their favourite thing to do after church on a Sunday afternoon was to round up the kids, another Indonesian-Chinese family and drive down to an all-you-can-eat restaurant. We started off going to Sizzlers in the early 90s because that was pretty much the only buffet restaurant that was around. Then Smorgy’s arrived so we started going there instead because it was cheaper and omg, ‘sif anyone could pass up the donuts. Then Food Star appeared in the scene, first in Reservoir and then in Knox. Food Star remained a family ‘favourite’ for some time because it was ridiculously cheap – in hindsight, so was the food but that sort of stuff didn’t matter to us back then.

After a while, the allure of buffet restaurants disappeared alongside grunge music and all things 90s. We were all pretty much over the bad ‘factory-quality’ food (to quote a family friend) and the nasty bloated feeling that lingered until the very next day. Sure, the food was cheap but low productivity levels and messed up sleeping patterns was not. And as our palates became more refined, as Sunday family lunches became more of a rarity and as Sizzler and Smorgy’s restaurants started shutting down in Victoria, so did our Sunday buffet lunches.

Since then, we’ve only been to a few buffet restaurants: the Chinabar Signature buffet restaurant in Burwood East, Melba at the Langham Hotel and a work favourite, New Quay buffet at Docklands. I even went to a Sizzler restaurant in Gold Coast earlier this year purely for nostalgia’s sake. On average, I was eating at a buffet restaurant once a year which, for someone who hates them, kept me happy. So when my parents announced that they were taking me to a new buffet restaurant, Paesano International Buffet (PIB), in Wheelers Hill for my birthday lunch on Sunday, I groaned to myself. Now, I don’t think that I’m an ingrate but given how I hate buffet restaurants, you can understand why I wasn’t so enthusiastic about this lunch. Still, I decided to keep an open mind as we walked into what used to be Sofia’s restaurant on Ferntree Gully Road.

The name ‘paesano’ sounds, to me, like a made-up Esperanto-like word which would be fitting given that this buffet restaurant samples many cuisines. But in fact, the word actually means ‘mate’ in Italian. The restaurant is owned by the same Italian-Australian dudes who set up Michelangelo in Burwood, before going on to open up a few more Anglo-Italian restaurants around Melbourne’s outer-east. PIB is not only their first buffet venture, but also the first of their restaurants to feature Indian, Chinese and Japanese foods alongside Italian. Although it’s only been a few weeks since PIB has opened, the place has seen a constant stream of happy diners so surely, it can’t be too bad?

So from what I’ve heard, lunches are $25 p/h while dinner costs a bit extra ($39 p/h during the week, and $45 on weekends). I think that prices do go up once the ‘opening special’ promotion is over in a few weeks, but do ring up the restaurant to check. We rocked up in time for our 11:30am sitting and choose our pick of tables by the window. The buffet stations are located smack-bang in the middle of the restaurant and honestly, everything looks impressive. I’m not sure whether it was the pretty red lamps dangling above the buffet stations, or the colourful and fresh food on display or even the smiling buffet attendees who actually went out of their way to greet every diner who wandered curiously to their station. Whatever it was, I suddenly felt a tiny bit excited to be there despite my initial reservations.

I apologise for not taking any photos of the buffet stations. I wanted to, but the lines were so long and dense. Sauntering up to a buffet station with my DSLR would be bad, foodie behaviour on-par with taking dinner photos using flash. You don’t want to be THAT person, don’t you?

So anyway, here’s what I piled on my plates: the first plate consisted of everything ranging from sushi rolls (salmon, tuna and even prosciutto avocado!); the obligatory fried frozen stuff like vegetarian spring rolls and samosas; an okay stir fry; butter chicken, which was surprising good; fried prawns, a favourite with the lunch crowd; and Jamaican jerk chicken, which lacked the requisite heat but was nevertheless tasty.

I couldn’t help but pile on more prawns. I also went for a second round of sushi, along with some prosciutto (they had an anti-pasto carving section!). I also helped myself to a spinach and ricotta cannelloni, a have-had-better chicken satay stir-fry and some prawn crackers.

They have a pizza chef who makes mini-pizzas, baked to order. The pizzas were a huge hit with the kids and I can see why. My mini-margherita was amazingly chewy and cheesy, and I have no doubt that the other flavours on offer were just as delicious. Oh, I also grabbed some calamari rings, which were actually made in the kitchen rather than store-brought and they tasted as good as the salt and pepper squid pieces which were surprisingly and beautifully tender. I did not remember grabbing that piece of salmon so I’m guessing that one of my parents chucked it on the plate when I wasn’t looking – it was okay.

The pastas here are also made to order. On one hand, this is frustrating as the line for one tiny bowl of pasta is always long; on the other hand, it means that you’re getting quality that one could never get when you’re scooping hour-old pasta from a bain marie. The house special is the gnocchi, made in-house by one of the owners’ mothers. I’m not normally a gnocchi-orderer but if PIB was a pasta restaurant, and not a buffet restaurant, I’d be ordering the creamy chicken and mushroom gnocchi every single time. Tasty, creamy but without being too heavy, it was the perfect winter-warmer. Yums.

The old (well, okay, young) me would not have stopped at this point but unfortunately, the new (okay, fine, OLD  me doesn’t have a super stomach anymore. I wasn’t able to fit a minestrone or pumpkin soup in, nor did I get to try the roasts and cooked-to-order stir fried noodles. I did, however, dabble in a bit of dessert.

I had a delicious mango lassi, a piece of butterscotch cheesecake (I want to replicate this sometime for it is yarms!) and a pineapple and passionfruit fool. Oh, and half a piece of my brother’s sticky date pudding. I would have loved to squeeze in some sorbets, more fruits and some gulab jamun (the round-looking thing below) but I was good and stayed away.

I was surprised to find that this buffet wasn’t too bad, despite my initial expectations. Okay, so obviously you wouldn’t expect the food to be of hatted quality but overall, the food here tastes better than food dished out at other buffet restaurants and $25 p/h for a decent selection at lunch is pretty good value. Whether or not the $39 p/h (or $45 p/h) price tag for dinner is justified is something that I can’t answer at the moment. But given that you’re getting unlimited seafood (prawns, crabs and oysters, oh my!) and roasts, I’d say that it’s definitely worth trying. Obviously, I wouldn’t be rushing to eat at this place every single Sunday but if my parents offer to take me there again for a birthday (or for any occasion, really), I won’t be quick to groan!

Paesano International Buffet on Urbanspoon

15 Comments on Paesano International Buffet

  1. Martypantz
    May 21, 2012 at 21:53 (2 years ago)

    Grunge NEVER lost it’s allure.

    Reply
    • libishski
      May 21, 2012 at 21:59 (2 years ago)

      GOOD GRAMMAR never lost its allure, mate.

      Reply
      • Martypantz
        May 22, 2012 at 16:08 (2 years ago)

        *its – my bad.

        Reply
  2. Neeno
    May 21, 2012 at 23:08 (2 years ago)

    Asian families and buffets… my parents use to take us to Smorgys (Bundoora) and then Foodstar opened up in Sunshine. When I was 10 or 11 I ate so much ice cream at Smorgys I vommed in the basin in the ladies. Embarrassment. Then I walked on outside and devoured more ice cream.

    This place looks like it has decent food, but I dunno, buffets don’t appeal much to me anymore, I think it’s because sometimes the quality lacks.. but like u, if my family took me I’m happy to go!! Better than ordering a-la-carte for a bunch of picky asians.

    Your blog is like porn to me. I sometimes browse it before dinner time lol.

    I agree with your comment re GG, it’s been going downhill since season 3-4… but now it’s getting it’s spunk back! and Serena is such a ho-bag.

    Reply
  3. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella
    May 22, 2012 at 03:57 (2 years ago)

    Hehe I used to love buffets as a child but now I just don’t like them at all. The food is never quite as nice as a la carte. The only exception is a breakfast buffet when travelling and I’ve run out of time and need to grab something quick! :)

    Reply
  4. Maureen (@OrgasmicChef)
    May 22, 2012 at 07:45 (2 years ago)

    Happy Birthday! I have always disliked buffet restaurants. My idea of this sort of eating is like pigs at the trough. You can’t get in when you want to, the food’s been sitting out for quite a while with heaps of people breathing on it – even if they have one of those breath barriers. Germs know how to get around it. :)

    That said, if the food’s good, I’d be willing to give it a try! heh

    Reply
  5. Paula
    May 22, 2012 at 13:13 (2 years ago)

    beats Morwell RSL buffet on Mothers Day for sure!! Would much rather have had this LOL

    Reply
  6. machisan
    May 22, 2012 at 16:21 (2 years ago)

    Looks delicious! I wouldn’t mind trying some. I reckon it would taste awesome.

    Reply
  7. winstonthehungryexcavator
    May 22, 2012 at 22:44 (2 years ago)

    Hey! You’re absolutely right, it does look like a VERY good selection of food, esp from the East and West. I’d go nuts here. Don’t know when I’ll happen to “be in the neighbourhood” of this restaurant but I’ll definitely remember this place when I think of buffets in Melbourne and hope someone would be nice enough to take me there for my bday too. Happy belated to you, Libby!! Am sure you had a blast on your bday weekend =D

    Reply
  8. IVOR BENNET
    May 23, 2012 at 07:26 (2 years ago)

    Happy Birthday!

    *might* try it out for lunch

    Reply
  9. hotlyspiced
    May 23, 2012 at 14:24 (2 years ago)

    Happy Birthday! I think when you’re a child you love buffet restaurants because it’s so exciting to be able to eat as much as you want and what you want. But as you become older you realise eating should not be about how much you can eat but what it is you’re eating. I’m glad you found your birthday lunch to be quite good. It’s lovely that your family likes to get together for family meals and celebrations – great tradition xx

    Reply
  10. Ames
    May 24, 2012 at 22:00 (2 years ago)

    Happy belated birthday, Libby! For $25 per head, the food looks pretty reasonable! We went to a buffet in QLD called Food Fantasy that did unlimited seafood (prawns mainly) for dinner and my parents (mainly my dad) went crazy!! lol

    Reply
  11. Nemesis
    August 28, 2012 at 12:48 (2 years ago)

    My girlfriends parents were in town for the weekend and they took us out for dinner at Paesano International. The seafood was fresh and I kinda went crazy on the oysters and moreton bay bugs (yum!). They also had blue swimmer crab, prawns and mussels on offer. I enjoyed the eye fillet made to order at the teppanyaki bar and agree with you on the pizzas – wish I had room for more!

    It was nice to see that there was still some degree of table service despite it being a buffet restaurant – the nice waitress came by to check if we would like drinks, brought us garlic bread and again checked if we would like coffee at the end of the dinner.

    Its definitely one of the better buffets I’ve been to and while its range isn’t as large as some of the others, the quality more than makes up for it. Will definitely be back again with a group of friends.

    Reply
    • libishski
      August 28, 2012 at 23:06 (2 years ago)

      Oh wow, I don’t think we had such an array of seafood when we went for lunch. I think I will need to go there for dinner (yum, Moreton bay bugs!). And yep, I agree with you – quality over quantity, for sure!

      Reply

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