The Banquet Oriental Buffet Regent Circus, Swindon SN1 1JL.

Tel: 01793 420059. Open 11.30am to 10pm daily

Michelle Tompkins gets more than she bargained for on a visit to Swindon’s latest all-you-can-eat buffet

MY partner might have been trying to gaze into my eyes across the table, but I was more interested in the punch-up brewing near the restaurant door.

“Don’t look round, but it’s starting to get nasty,” I whispered to him, far more excited at the prospect of a full-on fight than I probably should have been. “Oooh, it’s all kicking off now.”

As after-dinner entertainment goes, it was certainly unique. A party of four diners – dare I suggest, ever-so-slightly inebriated – had begun by quibbling over their change, but the quibbles quickly turned into the loud protests and pushing that I’d tuned into.

The restaurant waiters waded in en masse when things got more heated, before one had the sense to call the police and shut the feisty customers outside. By the time we left 10 minutes later, things had quietened down and the mini drama had run its course. More’s the pity.

With hindsight, we probably should have thought twice about visiting an all-you-can-eat buffet, right next door to a pub offering cut-price drinks, on a Friday night. The families that had filled the place when we first arrived were long gone by the time the fight broke out, and the worse for wear were starting to roll in the door looking for cheap food and plenty of it.

Which is just what the Banquet Oriental Buffet offers.

Opened in July by the people behind the Hongxin Oriental Restaurant at Peatmoor, the restaurant charges £7 all day, every day, for as much as you can eat. Children under 1.5m tall pay just £4, so in theory a family of four can pay just £22 for a full Chinese feast. Or to put it another way, anyone who needs food in their belly after a day on the drink can fill up for the price of two pints.

The decor is classy, with Chinese lanterns casting an orange glow over the entrance, and elaborate red and gold fittings creating a suitably Oriental atmosphere.

I was surprised to find only two hot food stations for such a large restaurant, one offering traditional ‘wet’ Chinese dishes like chow mein, beef in black bean sauce and chicken with cashew nuts, the other holding drier dishes like sweet and sour, satay chicken, prawn toast and the obligatory chips.

There was none of the sushi, Malaysian or Indian food promised when the restaurant opened (does chicken curry count?) – and certainly nothing like the 60 dishes suggested back then – but what was there looked good and hot and we tucked in.

I filled my plate first with some satay chicken and later with a selection of the traditional dishes, and what I had was tasty. Too often in buffet restaurants the food is allowed to sit for ages losing flavour, but this seemed fresh enough. I was especially impressed with the stir-fried cucumber, which I’ve never tasted before. It added some greenery to an otherwise orange plate of food.

My partner got his £7-worth, returning to the buffet three times for top-ups. I was about to question his final choice of chips and hash browns (hash browns?) with curry sauce when I was distracted by the disturbance in the corner. By the time I’d finished gawping, he’d polished off the lot.

I’d like to have ended with a dessert but amid all the drama someone had forgotten to restock the sweet trolley.

All that was left when I got there were some chocolate chips cookies, one piece of millonaire’s shortbread and a few crumbs where the gateaux had been earlier.

But with the staff harrassed enough already, I didn’t like to demand my pudding, so we paid up and left, only £22.80 lighter than when we walked in... but completely entertained into the bargain.