Address: Langham Hotel, Grafton
Phone: (09) 300 2924
We spent: $198 for two.
Rating out of 10: Food: 8 Service: 8.5 Value: 7 Ambience: 8

"Check out that woman's plate," said my dining companion. "Prawns AND creme brulee - who does that?"

Oh, how I laughed.

And then I came back to our table with four steamed clams, a chunk of grilled eggplant, a slice fried halloumi, a coriander and prawn dumpling and a spoonful of butter chicken. Who does THAT?

I used to work with a photographer who rated out-of-town assignments on the quality of the hotel buffet. By day, he would nibble apples and nuts. By night, he would ceaselessly forage the seafood and salad bars and make multiple circuits of the carvery. His legs were hollow, his pants elastic. At breakfast he would do it all again - with eggs. He would have loved Eight.


The buffet may have originated in France (where it refers to a sideboard from which guests help themselves) but over the years it is a dining style that has become distinctly declasse. Indecent and immodest, dissolute and debauched, it is synonymous with all-you-can-eat pancake stacks, chocolate fountains and buckets of wings. The buffet is that moment when love tips to lust and keeps going until someone says, "Thanks - and could I also have another 14 pieces of crackling?"

At Eight, avarice is not so overtly encouraged. There might be a chocolate fountain, but you've only got a two-hour window to stick your head under it.

Adults pay between $99 and $119 (before drinks) for an evening sitting. Value for money? At one table I watched a family of four spend 90 minutes consuming their combined body weights in plates of prawns, oysters, crab and sashimi before finishing with a single dish of icecream.

They seemed very happy, but they had also missed this buffet's major point of difference. Named for the eight cuisines on offer at different "kitchens" stationed throughout the serving area, much of the food is cooked to order - which means much of it is considerably more delicious than your regular stomach-stretching smorgasbord. (Also, while the concept of unlimited prawns is excellent, you have to peel them yourself, which eats into your, um, eating time).

This week's Canvas is devoted to all things sex and sexy, so I was bound to start with that well-known aphrodisiac of approximately 50 oysters. Pro-tip: take a spare plate to your table and fill another with the shellfish, so you've got somewhere discreet to put your empties. Those of a more elegant persuasion might consider the salmon, tuna, trevally, snapper, tarakihi and octopus sashimi. Or just the trevally.

In this era of environmentally aware eating, the buffet is as on-trend as a blue satin bridesmaid's dress. Food waste costs money and hurts the planet. Eight is, by nature, about excess but its "cooked to order" approach does help minimise ethical concerns.

Select your raw red meat from a butchery cabinet at the New York grill station. It ranges from the exotic - ostrich and alpaca - to lamb skewers, pork chops, veal loins and eye fillets. A variety of fish fillets and shellfish get the same bespoke treatment at the next counter down. I am afraid I couldn't bring myself to try the chicken with white chocolate and coffee sausage, even if it was the ultimate embodiment of this eatery's something-for-everyone ethos.

You're in a luxury hotel and the waitstaff behave accordingly. They bring finger bowls and greet you by name between courses, even as you yourself are losing the power of speech to a minor food coma. At the halfway mark a mushroom risotto (very good) and a potato gratin (even gooder) forced me to bypass the pasta station. Twirls of fresh tagliatelle waiting to be slipped into a cauldron of boiling water and dressed with a sauce of my choice, were a carb too far.

There is no limit to the number of times you can fill your plate, but if the two steps back to your table are becoming an effort, I'd skip the cheese board. At the dessert bar, the icecream was Kapiti, the cakes were made of chocolate mousse and the panna cotta was vanilla. You could order fresh waffles while you waved fruit under the chocolate fountain, but our time was up. My friend dropped me home and I told her I was too full to lean over for a hug. "Perhaps," she said, "We could stomach-bump."