Aji WOW: all-you-can-eat KFC
Aji WOW is my series of unusual Japanese food/drink reviews. 'Aji' (味) means 'flavour', and the name's also a pun on 'ajiwau' (味わう) - 'to enjoy the taste of'.
This time: the world's first all-you-can-eat branch of KFC.
All-you-can-eat in Japan - tabehoudai (食べ放題) - is not the opportunity it could (or should) be. There's always a time limit - typically 90 minutes, but sometimes as little as 60 or 70 in busier restaurants.
Eat as much as you can... in an hour. Challenge accepted. My parents brought me up to make the most of these times. I'm used to buffets back home where they let you stuff your face for ages. To me, a time limit sounds like a quick route to indigestion.
The branch of KFC at Lalaport Expo City in Osaka is billed as the first globally to offer an all-you-can-eat menu. As you can see, this is a premium KFC. Even the Colonel's dressed differently.
Lunch in Japan is when restaurants offer competitive set deals. Dinner is a whole different ball game. Oh, you just missed out on lunch? Dinner is exactly the same menu and food, but it's going to cost you double.
KFC charges different amounts depending on which day of the week - and time of day - you go. I made a serious mistake going on a Thursday evening. Look at this!
That's 2,480 yen PLUS TAX, coming to 2,678 yen. Which, now that the pound's value is in freefall, is £20.50 (July 2016). I don't think I've ever paid that much for an all-you-can-eat before. So I went in determined to get my money's worth.
Alongside the recognisable fried chicken, the buffet options include roast chicken, bread, pasta, salad, and 14 desserts.
I headed straight for that KFC chicken on my first plate - why not? When I got to the counter, I was annoyed to discover there were no drumsticks on offer. Not one. Instead, there were 'biscuits' available, which looked suspiciously like scones and came with maple syrup. Gravy nowhere in sight. Oh well. Should've saved that for dessert...
I also picked up a portion of fries and a piece of garlic bread. Both were cold, dry and stale. Thinking about how long some of that food had been out makes me uncomfortable.
After that, it was time to try some things you wouldn't typically find at KFC. I spotted 'prawn gratin', and went in with a spoon. The cheese on top was completely solid. I put the spoon back. Damn it.
There were other chicken options: plain roast chicken, and drumsticks (yay!) in some kind of soup. Both were nice, juicy bits of chicken, but with no real flavour to them. At least the fried chicken coating has those herbs and spices nobody can name.
To go with the chicken, I picked out onion soup and some kind of tomato-y thing. The soup had maybe had an onion waved at it while it was boiling, no more than that. The other was a medley of soggy pepper and aubergine, drowning in a tin of chopped tomatoes. Yum.
Half an hour in, I was 2 plates down and unsatisfied with my choices. Time to start selectively eliminating things I didn't want to eat. Pepperoncino? No. Sausage sautee? No. Chicken nuggets? This isn't McDonalds, hell no. Bacon and tomato focaccia bread? No. Garlic rice? No.
I've never eaten jambalaya before. And after this experience, I reckon I still haven't. It was dry rice with one piece of chorizo in it. No seafood, no spices, no veggies, no taste. I had to put KETCHUP on the rice to be able to eat it. JambaLIARs.
I needed to reassess, and fast. What wouldn't have dried up? Maybe some salad?
The salad bar included coleslaw, something I did recognise from home. Well, I say that. It definitely tasted like KFC coleslaw. But it had been blended to within an inch of its life. The bits of onion and carrot in the coleslaw were so small that I could probably have eaten it through a straw.
That was my 4th plate. The regret at not just loading up with fried chicken was starting to sink in. But I was getting full by this point, so it was time for dessert. A chance for KFC to redeem itself, because I love me some sweet sweets.
I got to try bread pudding, mango mousse, strawberry cake, and some kind of sweet tofu pudding. They were delicious - just very small. What we'd call hitokuchi over here, literally bite-sized.
I left feeling super disappointed. Sure, I reckon I got close to my money's worth with how much I ate. And 6 plates of food and out in an hour isn't bad going. But so much of the food on offer was just not good. The quality was questionable, and most dishes had gone cold long before I arrived.
Verdict: 2/10, one point for the fried chicken and one for desserts. Stick to what you're good at, Colonel.