The Mandarin Buffet Chinese Resturant is not in the centre of Enniskillen proper. And you might miss it on a leisurely stroll through town. Though only a few minutes walk from the Clinton Centre or the huge supermarkets, it is off the beaten track. But easy to find - opposite the college, near the McDonalds and the fire station. And it is well worth the small detour.
Mandarin Buffet - the Restaurant
From the outside, the Mandarin Buffet Chinese Restaurant is non-descript, utilitarian. A pre-fab business-like building adjoining a busy intersection, thankfully enjoying its own private parking area. A huge banner proclaims the main attraction(s): Chinese cuisine, all you can eat, moderate prices. Admit it, you are tempted already.
Upon entering you face a small reception-cum-bar area (the restaurant has a wine license), then will be shepherded towards your seats in a generous dining area. Which is very light and airy, huge glass fronts on two sides help. Seating is, again, mainly utilitarian but comfortable. Décor is minimal. The music Chinese at an unobtrusive level. Air conditioning is good.
But we are here to sample the goods on display along the third, un-glassed wall. Rows and rows of self-service buffets slowly steaming away.
Mandarin Buffet - the Policies
Your waiter will explain all on your way to your table: You can eat all that you want for a fixed price (if you come late in the afternoon, be aware that the price will be charged according to the time you leave - and the evening buffet is more expensive). You can also make as many trips to the buffet as you like, use as many plates as you like, so don't panic and pile food like there is no tomorrow.
By the way - signs tell you that if you waste food you will be "fined" or charged. I am slightly curious how this would work ...
A positive note: The waiter will ask whether you'd like to order anything to drink or prefer "just water". Which is free. And (coming from the tap) can be quite chlorinated. So there is no pressure to order more than the flat rate advertised implies.
Mandarin Buffet - the Food
Now to the main point ... the food at the Mandarin Buffet. First of all there is lots, it is freshly prepared and regular refills are coming through from the kitchen. The presentation might be a bit haphazard (starters were all over the place when we visited), but the standard of hygiene is high (no spillages) and the labelling is clear. The latter does, however, include no calory or allergen information. The former may be slightly redundant in an all-you-can-eat-context, the latter could be a stumbling block for some.
The dishes are a happy mixture of regional styles - let us call it "Asian Fusion with Irish Influences". Meaning you get the old staples like sweet-and-sour chicken, you get your chips, but you also find interesting new dishes. And the distinctly Asian-Irish "Salt and Chilly Chips".
Happily munching our way through most of the dishes we found that the meat and chicken used seemed to be of high quality, vegetables were still crispy enough to prove they are fresh and sauces did not kill off your taste buds at first contact. The samosas on the starter side were a delightful discovery (crispy with a Thai-ish curry filling), you could prepare your own pancakes with a shredded pork and spring onion filling, meat dishes actually had meat as the main ingredient (not always the case in some cut-price establishments).
Special recommendations? Well, it all is down to individual taste, but I quite like the honey-glazed roasted pork. And the cumin beef, a surprise to me.
On the downside ... there was no fish. And vegetarians would have been severely restricted in choice. We would also have liked some tempura vegetables, but I suppose all this depends a bit on the day and time you visit.
Honourable mention must, however, go to the dessert buffet - ranging from fresh fruit to marshmallows and ice cream. Not "ethnic" overall, but certainly tempting and a good variety.
Mandarin Buffet - the Verdict
Arriving on a Saturday at noon, we found the Mandarin Buffet Chinese Restaurant to be hospitable, not too crowded and overall a pleasant experience. The food is not haute cuisine, but good and tasty and well-prepared - all that a buffet should be at its best.
As to the price ... we paid less than £ 15 for two, including a very good coffee (extra) to go with the chocolate cake (included). Bearing in mind that a set meal and drink at any budget eatery within walking distance (and there are a lot) would have cost us more, we can't really complain.
Recommended not only if you want to pile on the pounds for a few Pounds. Though being virtually opposite the college there might be some brisk business during term time.