The Punch & Judy Pub offers a remarkable range of tasty dishes on its buffet table, from old favourites to new surprises.
by Ben Reeves
A buffet, despite being a French invention, is somehow reminiscent of summer fêtes in rural England. Imagine a handful of rickety trestle tables on the village green, loaded with sausage rolls, scotch eggs and egg mayonnaise sandwiches cut into triangles. Add a maypole, a rustic stone church and a babbling brook and you have the sort of imagery episodes of Midsomer Murders are made of.
The Punch & Judy Pub on Thepprasit Soi 8 – itself an excellent recreation of the sort of establishment still to be found in England’s green and pleasant land – is certainly the closest you are ever likely to get to the traditional spread in Pattaya. It does, however, make one key and basic error: The sandwiches are rectangular.
The buffet, which is spread over several rather sturdy tables, pushes the definition of “finger food” to its limits. The egg mayonnaise sandwiches are not only four-sided in shape, they are large enough to be called a handsome snack in their own right. The sausage rolls and scotch eggs, too, are not the minuscule versions bought by the hundred in “party packs”, but the full-sized big brothers usually sold in pairs.
The pub celebrated its second year in business on 3 November with a well-attended party, featuring the buffet. The buffet is not a particularly new feature on the list of available cuisine and this test audience of valued patrons were certainly keen to dive in. Within moments of the buffet being declared open, the queue stretched right around the bar and was nearly at the door – an impressive feat, when the buffet is positioned as far from the door as it is possible to get.
The sign of a truly successful buffet, though, is not the length of the queue. The British will queue for anything and the length is no indicator of the quality of whatever is at the other end. What is a good indicator is when people go away with loaded plates and then come back for seconds. At Punch & Judy, some came back for thirds.
The range of food available and the quality of each dish was exceptional, for a buffet. It is extremely rare to find both quality and quantity in one place, but Punch & Judy managed it. Dishes ranged from the buffet staples listed above to a home-made spaghetti bolognese, spicy chicken, pork ribs, hamburgers, salad, a collection of Thai dishes and the obligatory quiche – because it wouldn’t be a buffet without one. For the most part, the food had a British or Western slant.
Despite being served on large platters, most were picked clean in a short time. The food quality was the real surprise of the evening. The food was served at 8pm, but the kitchen had been closed since 5pm to prepare it. The fact that much of the food was prepared on site by the pub’s excellent chefs was evident from the look and taste of it.
Take the burgers as an example. Aside from the fact that you would generally be quite surprised to see a cheeseburger on a buffet table, you would then expect to find that it is made from flavourless patties and cheese slices which are the same colour as radiation warning signs and tastes even worse than one. This is inevitable because they are being made in bulk and, to keep the cost down, the quality must also drop.
Punch & Judy buck this trend my using home-made beef patties, each expertly prepared and properly cooked. The cheese is real cheddar, fresh from the block and the whole mouth-watering meal is served in a soft bread bun with some crunchy salad leaves. While the burgers are miniature, the taste is not.
The same could be said of almost any of the dishes available. Rather than resorting to low-cost, shop-bought, mass-produced food substitutes, Punch & Judy prepare a varied spread using quality ingredients, experienced professional chefs and a lot of time and effort. The result is a wonderful reminder of those glorious summer days on the village green, only with proper portions. It is, effectively, the culinary equivalent of the Thai maxim – same same, but different.
“The buffet at the Punch & Judy tastes good and can beat a lot of others in town, even some of the big hotels. The Thai food on offer has been changed to suit Western tastes and is a little too sweet to be the real stuff. Thai food should not be sweet.” 7/10