I was recently asked if I’d like to review the all you can eat world buffet restaurant Cosmo, in Reading. Not totally sure if it would be my type of place, I decided to say yes and popped along on Tuesday evening for a 6pm reservation with my boyfriend, Steve.
As a food blogger, I think it’s good to go a little out of your comfort zone and try something you wouldn’t usually. I also think that if I only review places I already know I love, then it’s probably not totally fair. Usually, I only accept offers of food reviews where I know I’d happily go independently or somewhere I’ve been before and liked. I also don’t review places that have limited vegetarian options. But, they all follow one common rule and that’s to always be honest. If there are negatives, fine, just consider being constructive about how you share those things.
I’ve never been to Cosmo before, but my teenage son has a few times with his friends. When I asked him what he thought, he told me “it’s amazing”. Having had a little search on Twitter, after about two minutes of scrolling I decided to stop as what I was reading wasn’t great! In fact, it was worrying! The Trip Advisor reviews were good though. And whilst I don’t really rely on TA much anymore, Cosmo in Reading does get a 4/5 on there. Either way, the online reputation for Cosmo is a bit of a mixed bag. Oh, and reassuringly it also has a 5/5 Hygiene rating from Reading Council. Which believe it or not, not all restaurants in Reading do.
Halfway up Friar Street, five minutes from the train station and five minutes from the Oracle it’s convenient and easy to find. Although we almost walked straight past as it looks a little bit like an office building or hotel, not a restaurant at all. The windows are slightly tinted just to make it a little more confusing.
Lunch is between 12-3pm and then dinner is between 5.30-10.30pm Monday – Thursday, with an 11pm close on weekends. Prices range from £8.50 to £16.99 depending on what time and day you go. All food is included (just in case that’s not clear) and drinks are extra. Oh, and children under 150 cm tall are half price. If they’re under 3 years old there’s a £2/3 charge.
Having a booking at 6pm meant it had only been open 30 minutes, so it was relatively quiet with around 20 or so people sat at tables. The waiter who greeted us was very friendly and explained quite simply how things worked. Our table was near the back of the buffet, which is quite close, but I did spot that the tables go quite far back and I’m not sure how I’d feel about being that far away. It’s huge!
This display was a bit confusing near the front too…it almost makes it look like some kind of supermarket or grocery shop. Tied in with the confusing look from outside, I don’t think Cosmo has got the first appearances part quite right.
I wandered around a little, slowly at first then went back to our table with an empty plate! Steve just looked at me and said, “where’s your food“. In all honesty, I was a bit overwhelmed, there’s so much to choose from! Chinese, Indian, Pizza, Teppanyaki, Sushi, Roast Dinners, Italian, Mexican, Burgers… plus more!
I started simple and went for a plate of Chinese food. Rice, Vegetables, Spring Rolls, Chilli Tofu (a bit of a risk) and some fried courgettes.
And do you know what, it wasn’t bad at all. I’ve had far worse! I’ve also had far better, but I’m not going to lie, it was totally fine. It was hot and the veggies weren’t overcooked. Salty…but it’s Chinese food and I did finish my plate. Which was cleared up pretty fast whilst I was getting some more food.
One thing that I don’t like about buffets is seeing people waste food. It’s the same as when I stay in hotels with all-inclusive options. It’s a massive bugbear of mine and I’ll still warn my son now about not over-ordering at places after a chocolate cake incident when he was around 8/9 years old. (He put half a cake on his plate – that’s my boy!!). Looking around I was pleasantly surprised to see everyone was finishing their plate fulls. There were no signs of over-indulgence despite the amount of food on offer.
I’m sure this wouldn’t be the same at a busier period. A friend said to me that he didn’t mind the food at all. In fact, it was more the size of the place and the battle to keep an eye out for fresh food arriving at the counter that he didn’t like. Luckily, we didn’t experience any of this, so our anxiety levels were fine 😉
People can sometimes be very self-absorbed in these restaurants, and I imagine that’s very difficult for the staff at places like Cosmo to control. I spotted some other diners leaving the lids open, mixing up spoons, and even using the same spoon for multiple dishes. This leaves you with food going cold, cross-contamination issues and… ugh…the coughers and sneezers! This did put me off a little.
On the flip side, you get rude inconsiderate people wherever you go, regardless of the type or class of restaurant. It’s just manners really.
Speaking of the people, it was mostly families eating whilst we were there. Along with a few people who appeared to have come straight after work (I assumed this as they were in suits and business clothes).
Both my sister and my friend Michelle said to me that Cosmo is fab if you’ve got small children who all want to eat different foods as they can just crack on and eat whatever they like. You get to enjoy your food without any arguing or bickering over who does or doesn’t like what. It’s easy, convenient, and Michelle said to me “to be able to have a meal without an argument is a joy, I don’t care if the food isn’t the greatest. That’s pleasure money can’t buy”
Apparently, my son said the most he’s eaten at Cosmo was around eight plate fulls! I was pretty ashamed of him when he first told me, what a pig! But then I reminded myself he’s a teenage boy so basically a human dustbin who has a stomach that just never seems to be full. So I let him off.
Two plate fulls and dessert was plenty for me. That’s it, which I imagine is a poor effort compared to some. Steve had six plates (though I’ve since been told I have to write they weren’t full) and he was far more adventurous than me. At one point I couldn’t make out why he had some kind of green dessert on one side of his plate, then spring rolls and hoisin sauce on the other side.
The green coconut dumpling wasn’t actually a dessert, but it still looked weird. I was eating my dessert at this point and he asked if I wanted a try of his strange pairing to which I said no, “I’m on dessert now, I can’t go back to mains” and he replied… “of course you can, it’s Cosmo! you can do whatever you like“. So I did. It was still weird
My second plate was Indian food. Masala chickpeas, rice, Saag Aloo, onion bhajis and naan. The masala chickpeas were fine and made a nice change to the usual vegetable curries I go for. The naan was cold and the onion bhajis were so small and dry. I think they were probably re-heated from earlier.
I got over this fairly quickly though when I saw the amount of dessert on offer. Quite how the chocolate fountain stays looking so neat and tidy I don’t know either.
All the bite-sized desserts I had were actually quite nice, especially the profiteroles. I didn’t eat the one on the right with the red jelly thing on top as I realised it probably had gelatine in. There was no label on the dessert stand to confirm this, or I didn’t see it if there was. There’s a high chance I missed it as all the food we’d previously eaten was clearly labelled so I can’t imagine why the desserts wouldn’t be either.
Probably not. I don’t mind my son going and can totally understand why families like to go. It’s cheap, the service was good and if Cosmo had been around when I was a kid I’m sure I’d have loved it too. With two brothers and a sister, we gave our Mum hell sometimes with food. Whilst usually we were often told the good old “you get what you’re given” line, I know a night off at Cosmo for her, would have been very welcome.
So, if you don’t like Cosmo and it’s not for you then fine, don’t go. But don’t pass judgement on the people that do like it. Don’t slate something that doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. Cosmo has its place, and if people want to eat foods from all over the world, fantastic. If Mums and Dads want a bit of peace whilst they eat, and their children can gorge on whatever they like, amazing. That’s their choice.
And for anyone that knows my son and sees him eating there, keep an eye on him for me and make sure he puts the lids down and doesn’t mix up the spoons. I’d be very grateful. 😉