If you’re a lifelong Soton resident like me, you’ll know that any changes on the horizons of the city are usually useless and underwhelming. In a place that is attracting and accommodating more and more people, changes are inevitable. Promises of an ice rink disappear like smoke, cries of ‘do we really need a new cinema?!’ are everywhere. The new Westquay complex has accompanied a rebrand of not only the city’s primary shopping centre, but of the city itself. As younger, cooler crowds are infiltrating the city, Southampton has taken notice, and in the past 3 years or so, the face of the city has become far different from the dated, run-down seaside (solentside?) town that I grew up in.
Cosmo is the third restaurant I’ve visited in the new complex, and appropriately, the third international buffet I’ve visited in my life, so going in I felt like a seasoned expert. I had not been impressed on either count – the food in Cabana and All Bar One had been unexciting, and my experiences at The Food Factory and Global Buffet were distinctly average. However, it’s always important to go into these things with an open mind, so I went along with no opinions, actually quite excited because I’d heard quite good things about it!
Upon arriving, you’re greeted in a foyer laden with decorations of plastic fruit, which kind of gave the impression of a juice-cleanse-themed hotel entrance. After this, you’re seated by one of the staff, all of whom are wearing bodyguard-style earpieces. The restaurant was busy – completely full I would even guess, which isn’t bad at all for such a large venue on a Monday night in Southampton. However, this contributed to an atmosphere of chaos, and alongside the unfriendly staff with their secret-service thing going on, it felt like they were more like human traffic controllers – directing us here or there, monotonously delivering instructions and then departing into a sea of hungry customers, never to be seen again. I’ve been a waitress in two independent businesses, and I have to say that (maybe because of the way I was taught to waitress), I really dislike this impersonal form of service. It’s industrious, unfriendly, and made me feel a bit uncomfortable. But then again, it’s not the kind of place you leave a tip – you’re paying for food rather than service here. It cost us £14.99 each without student discount (10%) and then £2.85 for a bottomless fizzy drink – definitely better than Global Buffet in pricing, as they don’t offer refillable drinks and their prices are higher.
Now, the food. The thing is, when trying to evaluate the quality of food, you can’t compare it to your standard a la carte restaurant. This is catering en masse, and the quality is going to suffer because of it. That said, the only criteria I have for food to impress me is that it has to be better than something I could have made at home for less. I think that’s fair. And on some counts, Cosmo did well. They have segmented plates, so you can have a bit of something from everywhere and don’t have to mix all your cuisines together, which I’ve never seen before but think is a great idea. I stayed mainly on the Asian side of the restaurant, filling my place with Mongolian lamb, Thai fried rice, prawns in a spicy sauce, dumplings, sushi, kimchi seafood and curries. There was a grilling station where you could choose two items to be cooked to order, but I avoided this because of the huge queue. Of what I tried, the kimchi seafood (cold calamari and mussels in a kimchi sauce) and the Mongolian lamb were standout, alongside a lovely noodle brother that my boyfriend’s mum had. I saw a carvery, some sad looking pizzas and a load of fried finger food, but avoided all of this because I didn’t want to load up on flavourless deep-fried carbs. There was a deli section that had a load of pickles, but no discernible salad that I could see (although there were salad dressings available), which was a shame, as I would have liked to have some salad on the side.
The range of dessert was better than I’ve had in Global, but not as good as The Food Factory, actually. It consisted of a lot of very similar cakes cut into squares (like dessert in the school canteen), apples, oranges and lychees in bowls next to a frozen yoghurt machine and a crepe machine that was burning all the crepes. There was a chocolate fountain with nothing to dip in it except marshmallows. There were no cheeses, nothing exciting at all really. I wish I’d gone and had a bowl of broth for myself instead.
One thing really let me down, however, and it was no small thing. We visited Cosmo with my boyfriend’s family, who are Muslim. I am not, but I don’t eat pork anyway because I just don’t like it. When I bit into what was labelled a prawn dumpling, all I could taste was pork, and I could tell from the colour and texture that it was definitely not prawn. This was after my boyfriend and his little sister had already eaten theirs in the confidence that they were eating prawns (obviously with no knowledge of what pork tastes like). This is a big error on the part of Cosmo, and it is quite disappointing that when we pointed this out to them, they just assured us that the dumplings were in fact prawn. They weren’t, and they should not have disputed this with us.
Overall, Cosmo was okay. There were a few nice dishes, but the disappointments, the chaotic people-herding and their one big mistake meant that I left with a bad feeling in my stomach (and it wasn’t just the food!). Despite the buzz, this Soton restaurant has sadly not quite lived up to its hype, and I don’t think I’ll be returning.