820 Ferntree Gully Road
Wheelers Hill VIC 3150
+61 3 9574 7000
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!