I remember passing by the still-being-constructed Vikings at the far end of San Miguel by the Bay during the latter part of last year. The floor area that the unfinished strip occupied was undeniably large—dangerously grand for a brand name that’s unheard of, not to mention, one that’s as interesting as a teaspoon. It’s expansive, uninviting, and exceptionally far from the main mall. Uh oh, someone’s about to flush down their millions down the drain, I then thought.
Fast forward to April 2011-- my first time to set foot in the now-finished restaurant. I’ll long remember it as one of the hottest days of this year’s summer. The small altercation our driver had with the parking guard, who for some reason is unfamiliar to the idea of cars dropping people off at a resto's entrance, didn’t help easing up my then heated nerves. I, along with my colleagues, literally ran in-- seeking refuge from the merciless lunchtime heat. What welcomed us was a group of cheerful people at the reception, apparently oblivious to the oven-like temperature outside. A few steps more revealed a surprising sight: people-- lots and lots of them-- walking to and fro, eating, chatting, laughing, and enjoying like they’re from a different time zone where it’s currently happy hour. At exactly 12 noon on a distinctly hot Tuesday, most of the 600-seater place I’ve initially thought of as “uninviting”, is packed. “Try coming here during dinner. This crowd size is so-so compared to what we have at night,” Cyrus Cruz, in-charge of Vikings’ marketing, told our astounded group proudly as he welcomed us to the newest talk of the town.
“Why Vikings?” I asked Cy as soon as I had the chance. Apart from the resto’s logo that features a toque-wearing viking (who I’m guessing won’t land a job in any kitchen with that much hair on his face), nothing in the restaurant echoes the idea of the barbaric Norsemen. In fact, the place was everything but brute. The entire stretch is classy, elegant even, with the yellow- tinged lights, smooth-finish wooden accents, stainless countertops, and heavy cushioned chairs. The open kitchens were roomy and uncluttered. This restaurant could easily pass as a hotel outlet.
To answer my question, Cy graciously lectured us about the history of buffet. If his sources were to be trusted, the eat-all-you-can concept originated in Sweden, not in France as the name would suggest. The vikings there would normally eat in bulk from a smorgasbord table. This style has later on reached other parts of Europe, and then merited a French term. The name “Vikings” though won’t surface until the bounteous dining style reaches the Japanese—who, according to Cy's sources, used “Vikings” because they aren’t able to say “buffet”, let alone “smorgasbord”.
That short anecdote garnered oohs and aahs from our group, but those weren’t as many as what the actual buffet spread got from us. The fact that the chef consultant at helm is no less than Chef Gene Gonzales, got us more excited. If anything, the plentiful options got us overwhelmed. It helped though that the layout was pretty easy to comprehend, kind of like a world map.
Right wing is the western side of the world where the pizza, pasta, grill, and carving section are. Left wing has the sushis, sashimis, shabu-shabus, and dumplings, to name a few. In between the two major open kitchens are two islands where the salads, appetizers, breads, and kids’s section are. On one of the island’s north is the dessert section. And lastly, the southern part has the soda, juice, fruits (that you can have blended) and beer taps all lined-up. Nope. I did not mistype. There’s indeed unlimited beer and soda to chug down in here-- inclusive of the buffet price!
Juice, soda, and beer all you can!
Like a ruthless Viking, I conquered this little “world” one station at a time. I have a knack for starting my buffet meals with gelatinous, fatty salmons, and this lunch was no different. I also picked up a piece of the Jumbo Viking Sushi roll that was situated a few steps from the sashimis. Small portions of ika sashimi, tamago, crabstick, and shrimp sushi hopped on board as well.
The Chawan Mushi is highly recommended!
My first plate did not disappoint. The bright pink salmon slices were glossy, fresh, and moist. No hints of over-storage and funkiness were detected. As always, they were brilliant as palate primer. Next to the salmon, the well-packed, slightly spiced Vikings Sushi also garnered my nod.
I proceeded on my next plate, which all were from the appetizer island. The Salmon and Tuna Carpaccio were both alright-- not memorable, but were in all ways proper. The crostini and dips were enjoyable, it made me go for round two.
For the main entree, I decided to skip on the rice- related offerings in the buffet. I got a slice of the Vikings pizza, which turned out to be fantastic with that much cheese and arugula-- something I did not expect they'd focus on at all in a buffet this huge. I also got a few of the skewered kebabs. The carving section that day featured lechon and roast chicken, both of which failed to entice me. I had baked oysters instead-- lots of them. My group pleasured ourselves with plates upon plates of the coveted mollusk. The memories of being in the middle of the calm sea were brought back every time I slurped a piece. I would say, the oysters were the best part of our meal.
I'm not forgetting about these anytime soon
Frozen yogurt that is properly tangy capped off my meal. I also got a scoop of ice cream and some skewered mangoes which I bathed with chocolate. In my opinion, the dessert section is the least inspired area of the buffet. Apart from the yogurt, I had a hard time choosing other items to take. I hope they focus on this more and come up with more unique meal enders.
Some of the areas they can close for functions
Not long after the meal settled in my stomach, I immediately posted in my Facebook page a brandishing recommendation for Vikings. Food and service of hotel caliber, priced at a much more affordable rate, deserves a spotlight. Maintain the prices, food quality, and prompt service, and I'm sure Vikings will go a long way in the ever-competitive buffet industry.
Now this is me, taking back my initial hesitations of the place, realizing my first impressions were wrong, and sincerely wishing Vikings a long fruitful journey ahead.