Ocean Buffet, Vidamar Resort Hotel, Algarve, October 2017

The “all in” hotel buffet. This is not our natural environment. When we go on holiday we are either camping or self-catering, generally never staying in an actual hotel for more than a couple of nights, and usually with no more than breakfast included so we can explore local pubs and restaurants.

This week has been different, as we’ve been staying in the same hotel all week, exploring the local coastline on foot, making ham and cheese sandwiches in our room to take out for a picnic lunch, and then coming down for dinner each night as it was included in our package cost.

There are different themes each night, but many of the same dishes appear regularly. You know the format, huge heated trays full of various foods which go cold too quickly in the air conditioned environment of the huge dining room. The international buffet really seems to lack anything particularly Portugese, no porco preto (black pig), no bacalhau (traditional cod dish), no alheira de mirandela (traditional sausage), no posta mirandesa (Portugese roast beef cooked over fire), no arroz de tamboril (kind of a monkfish paella).

There was a cataplana on a few nights (seafood stew), but most of the dishes had more American and other European roots, like hot dog night, burger night and various other things. It just didn’t feel like Portugal.

As well as the usual trays of stuff, there were a couple of “freshly cooked” stations, where fish or meat would be barbecued/grilled fresh in front of you, or fresh pasta dishes created. These all had the longest queues, as people had worked out that this was where the hottest food was coming from, such as these fresh steaks…

There was also the usual selection of cold meats, salads, soup, rolls and the like, and various cold desserts such as ice creams, fruit salads, yoghurt, mousse and even the odd pastel de nata (the Portugese custard tart that everyone now knows because it was on Bake Off).

Drinks are not included in the price, so you can choose from various varieties of Eurolager “Super Bock”, of which the stout variety is probably the best.

After a while, the buffet becomes very underwhelming, but without taking a taxi to a nearby town, there are very few other options in this area, so you dutifully come down for dinner because you have to, rather than because you’re looking forward to it.