“ Cuisine: Asian / Location: Unit 6C, Hesterman Way, Valley Leisure Park, Beddington Farm Rd, Croydon, Surrey CR0 4YA / Tel: 020 86 800 800 „
Cosmo, according to their website is a pan-Asian buffet restaurant. You can eat as much as you like and they have a huge variety of food from around the world - noodles, rice, pizza, pasta, sushi, roast dinner, ice cream a chocolate fountain... the list goes on.
I became aware of Cosmo after my niece and nephew went and told me about this 'brilliant' restaurant, with all this food. I really wanted to go as I love food. At the time, I was pregnant and wanted to wait until after I'd had my baby so I could fully appreciate the experience. So, two weeks after I had my baby, it was my birthday and the prefect opportunity to go. I was slightly concerned because a few weeks before I went, I read a story in the newspaper that said a customer was charged £3 for her baby. The baby was too young to eat, but the argument was that the buggy took up space. This wasn't a problem for us and I saw other buggies in there, so I assume Cosmo changed their policy, due to bad press.
Cosmo is located off Purley Way, in the same retail park as Ikea and Vie Cinema. The restaurant itself is above a gym and the communal areas looks like an office block - I did wonder if I was in the right place. Cosmo is on the first floor so there is a big staircase to walk up. I assume there is a lift somewhere.
You pay as soon ad you go upstairs and are led to your table. Cosmo Croydon is supposed to be the biggest restaurant in the UK and it is big. However, the restaurant is split into sections, so it feels intimate and not canteen like.
You have to order drinks at the pay bar. The drinks are quite expensive, so be warned. As you pay for your meal before you go in, you forget how expensive the drinks are until you are on the way home and work out how much you've spent in total.
The food is set out by country. It didn't make a blind but if difference to me as I couldn't tell you the difference between Chinese style rice and Japanese style rice. There was about 20 different types of noodles, and loads of starters like prawn crackers, spare ribs, crispy seaweed. They also had a tepanyaki grill where the food was cooked fresh. It wasn't busy when I went, but I still had to wait 15 minutes.
In my youth, somewhere like Cosmo would have been my dream, but I felt overwhelmed by all of the choice - I mean, how many types of noodles can you eat? I tried about 10 dishes but that would have been a small percentage of the food on offer, so it felt like a bit of a waste of the £16 price, if you see what I mean.
There is a two hour limit on your stay, so you can't stay all night. I never found this to be a problem and I think 2 hours should be fine,but if it's busy and you are in a large group, I can see how you may need a bit longer.
Overall, I'm pleased to have tried the COSMO experience, but it is a lot of money for a pre-cooked buffet. I've been to other Chinese buffet restaurants and had just as nice a meal for less money.
I never like to take recommendation for restaurants from people by word of mouth as something that I can rely on, however reading a review of a place that someone has visited is a different thing entirely as you are given the experience first hand. So when we had a family birthday and the restaurant of choice was chosen as Cosmo in Valley Park in Croydon then I was a little curious as this is brand new place that has hit the local papers for its sheer size as it seats 800 diners! Cosmo has a number of other restaurants based around the country and by no means seem to be as big as Croydon.
Situated just off Purley Way on the Valley Park retail estate, the newly opened Cosmo has hit the ground running, it serves a style of food called Pan-Asian that cover Indian, Thai and Chinese as well as the Pizza, Fries and a Sunday Roast. So the scope of the food available is awesome to say the least. You pay a fixed price of £13.99 per person, children under the height of 1m 40cm are charged £9.99, and however the prices do tend to fluctuate at certain times and can be confusing. Even the website can be misleading on this subject, so its always worth checking before you visit. The set up is you are able to eat as much as you want and visit the food areas and make some interesting combinations given the different food styles.
The restaurant is on the first floor of a building that used to be part of the Mega Bowl Bowling Alley, and is entered through a normal sized doorway and up a staircase to reach the reception. A rather white and bland ordinary staircase that has a shared entrance with a Gym next door, there is a lift that can be taken for wheelchairs. Yet this area is extremely busy at any time given the sheer volume of human traffic moving through it. Reaching the top of the stairs we joined a big queue of thirty people, had our names ticked off a list. We paid on arrival and after discussing our booking in some depth with the cashier whose understanding of English was somewhat dubious was moved through to the waiting area as his ability was to be focussed on the till without looking up or even smiling, simply giving a reated synopsis
In fact most of the staff are Chinese and failed to give a single smile throughout our visit. Fifteen minutes later we were shown to our table. One of our party is registered disabled and at the time was on crutches, although we had mentioned this at the time of booking this didn't stop the restaurant giving us a table for twelve quite a distance from the food. In fact when I walked to fill my plate we found that we couldn't actually get further from the food! This was annoying given the fact that we had stated this when booking and had requested nowhere with steps.
The Waiters explained how this works and we knew from when we booked that we were given a timeslot of two hours for our meal, I guess this explains the high turnover and in some cases the rushed feel. Our booking was 3pm on a Sunday afternoon and the place was packed to the rafters. Consisting of families and the occasional mix of couples, however there were kids running about the place which was off putting as there parents didnt seem to worry about this at all.
The décor inside is extremely smart and very professional. Pillars and stone clad walls make it look like a temple with stone floors that the clicking of ladies heels can be heard as they walk. With the clever use of dark colours giving the vast dining areas a depth and character the first time you visit may be overwhelming. First thoughts that this was Aztec in style as small wall spaces depicted symbols, I have to admit I was impressed with the appearance as small up lighters gave a majestic impression to the whole place and it didn't stop in the food area either. it was more like something from The Mummy. All furniture was a dark brown with individual seating and thankfully no benches.
One of the problems in there concerns the cramming in of the tables and we were in close vicinity to other diners to the extent that whoever spoke the loudest kind of drowned out the other conversations and hence it was hard to talk as well as listen to the family with us. Even though we had waiters on hand, they were not required to take drinks orders at all and this is something that you have to go to one of the twomain bars to get, quite a queue seeing as we were on the tail end of a "change-around" time in the place and so as others went to get food I was stuck at the bar getting some drinks in. Drinks which given the price tell me this is how the profits are made as the prices were quite high even for a restaurant. £1.50 for a 200ml bottle of Coke was a bit hard... besides we found it better to get a big bottle of water instead.
Your place setting has a map on it to tell you where all the various varieties of foods actually are and it is worth reading before trekking off. I wasn't too impressed with the food, the presentation is great and the cards placed at the front of each variety of dish gives you some idea as to how hot, spicy and whether it contains nuts. However its how the food is being handled that raised my concerns. Watching a chef add more of the dish into the pot he failed to stir and therefore you had two different temperatures of food that could seriously cause issues when eaten. The Chinese that I had was tasty and quite filling yet had that taste that it could have been a ready meal from Tesco's and the same could be said for the Curry too and to be honest that was kind of what I expected. However I was shocked by the plates that you take from the dispenser to place your food on. Shocked because they weren't actually clean on the underside and was sticky when touched, as you can imagine this had a knock on effect with the top of the one underneath and so on. This really did repulse me as the underneath still had some food on it even after the plate had been washed up!
I filled my plate a couple of times with a mixture of Curry and Chinese - Chicken Vindaloo, Rice and Chutney on the first plate with Sweet and Sour and Prawn Toast on the second. Yet becuase of the smaller then normal plate sizes then wanted something meaty to have with my Chinese, so I went up to the Tippanyaki bar. Here they cooked your food to how you want it. Strips of seasoned Steak with ingredients such as vegetables cooked in a Mongolian style are also available here. This was no doubt going to be popular and by the queues that had built up the waiting time had exceeded to 20 minutes before you got your end meal. Strangely all people overseeing the cooking of food wore medical facemasks, this gave a strangely over clinical look and prevented communication in part. Desserts wise was something else entirely, Profieroles and a Chocolate Fountain. Which seemed to draw the children like a Moth to a light. I just stuck with Trifle. It has to be said that the plate sizes do tend to hold you back, however it is unlimited so you strongly need to pace yourself.
The toilets are right at the back of Cosmo, and for a new place just opened the Men's room had leaky toilets and taps that wouldn't work properly with a less than well stocked cubicle.
We were politely given a 20 minute notice by the staff that the end of our timeslot was fast approaching. This meant that the desserts and drinks we had were going to be finished quickly and we would depart the restaurant. The tables around had already been vacated by the guests who were on the same timeslot as our gang and the areas were being cleaned and reset for the next two hour timeslot. The tables were wiped and the places set, however the very attractive floor wasn't swept at all and still had chips and crumbs it, which when turning up to a place for the first time gave a very bad impression given the fact the high quality standard of picture on the website. I saw a rather large and oversized brandy glass just outside the waiting area on the way out for gratuities; ironically this was empty bar a few pennies.
Overall I can see the good points in bringing a large group here, really it is organised chaos. Yet can save a family some money given the fact that it is an "all you eat" setup. However I do hope that some\ of what I saw was teething troubles as I think the potential of this place is huge. Okay it was already packed when we went and I can imagine Christmas do's and hen parties being drawn to a place like this giving the savings that can be made on a large party. Although the location does present a few problem and given the fact that its on a busy retail park which is on the outskirts of Croydon and not at all in the central area. Cosmo is next to the Croydon branch of Ikea and on a weekend the traffic is something that is easily mentioned on radio as a place to avoid. After visiting Cosmo it took us an hour and 10 minutes to get out the car park and onto the main A23. This was a major letdown in accessibility to the venue itself, to give some idea of the distance it was just under a mile from the car park to the junction! I've been here once and I don't think I would go again; bottom line is that the seating is tight, the food is questionable and the hygiene levels to me are unacceptable. Simply put its in the wrong location, B&Q, Ikea, DFS and Next are literally within a stones throw as is the Vue Multiplex cinema, so whoever thought that this would be a suitable place where you can relax and have a meal then they were well wrong. Seeing the time it took to get out of the car park then I think it's safe to say that I wouldn't return here again as the customer service level leaves a lot to be desired.
Others may disagree, however these were not the people who drove 40 miles for a family member's birthday, and looking back I spent longer driving the car than I actually did in Cosmo!