The Life of Wine
There are so many things that worry me about the word ‘buffet’. For one, I’ve always suspected it to be a word we English nicked from the French – and it is unmistakeably French – that the French never actually use. A bit like ‘négligée’ or ‘double entendre’ or ‘Tu parles trés bien français pour un anglais’. I have however done some research and been informed by a real live French person that this is not the case, and that the word buffet is still in regular usage and doing well in its homeland.
Secondly, the French originally meant it to mean a rather posh spread on a rather posh sideboard – both of which were referred to as buffets – from which discerning Gallic diners chose from a sumptuous spread of delicacies. A British buffet however consists of a miserable man on a miserable train serving up soggy polythene wrapped sandwiches and making half-arsed excuses about having run out of beer.
And how the devil is one supposed to pronounce it? Boo-fey in an English accent is too poncey and sounds like a rather flamboyant hairdo. Buh-fey is just a dumb-down attempt to anglicise a word that should sound pretty, but just ends up sounding ugly and wrong, and as with every word from French that has been anglicised – other than ‘Marion Cotillard’ which is just smothered in loveliness however one says it – sounds a bit trite. Buh-fey is also far too reminiscent of a poor excuse for a breakfast in a damp, grey, south-coast Bed & Breakfast I once stayed in with a Brazilian balloon-artiste named Philippe. A stale croissant and a choice of two jams served on a trolley – with doilies! – does not make a continental buffet breakfast.
And what about Buh-fet? Well, that is just wrong when referring to a trestle table laden with damp cucumber sandwiches curling at the corners – who in Christ ever thought cucumber (i.e. water), and bread would be a taste sensation? It’s what ducks eat – a plate of miniature pork-pies, and cheddar-chunks skewered to bits of tinned pineapple with a toothpick. Buh-fet is a very English word and means to smack somebody about repeatedly – something far more likely to happen at the end of a good old British buffet.
For this piece I ask you to interpret buffet as an adjective that implies something convenient and served in an informal manner, for I wish to address the very welcome entrance of the ‘wine buffet’ to the Chiang Mai scene. It’s an extremely simple concept, and anyone who has spent an evening at Fabrique getting toasted on all you can drink Chang, for less than the price of a coffee in London, of a Friday evening already knows the form.
One turns up at a wine buffet, confirms to the patron that one has the requisite 250 baht – which seems to be the going rate – to pay for three hours – which seems to be the allotted time – for free flow plonk. One then takes one’s seat and is required to do little more than make sure the waiter or waitress has access to one’s glass, and perhaps make conversation with the people one came with. I’ve been to two places here that advertise themselves as ‘wine buffets’ and both were pretty good, from what I can dimly recall. I’m sure there are more and I leave it up to you, my dear reader, to hunt them down.
The wine served is not Premier cru, but it is also not Mont Clare, and comes out of a real, normal sized bottle and not a box. The other nice thing about the wine buffets is they tend to provide a very decent selection of tapas style dishes, which is a boon because finger-food takes a bit of the edge off sucking down constantly refilled glasses of headache fuel.
And they are constantly refilled, which is where I introduce a word of caution and a piece of advice. If you are intending to spend three hours at one of these things take a pen and writing pad and note down every time you glass is filled. If, by the end of the buffet, there is a drawing of a willy anywhere on the pad or you have to place a hand over one eye in order to add up the total, you’ve had too much buffet and it is probably time to splash out on a tuk-tuk.
I’d like to leave you with a couple of thoughts from another fabulous Buffet whose friends call him Jimmy, I’m sure: ‘We are the people our parents warned us about’ and ‘If life gives you limes, make margaritas’.
Below are links that give directions and details of two wine buffets here in Chiang Mai: