The Vikings group opened a posher buffet restaurant at SM Aura: Niu (Norse word for Nine). We heard a lot of buzz around the place so we decided to drop by and try its fare.
The place was indeed posh; it was stylish, with its modern furnishings and glitzy decor. It rivalled the restaurants and lobbies of hotels. The dinnerware though is similar to that of the "regular" Vikings buffet restaurant.
Now, the food: it was hit-or-miss. Some dishes were OK, some were bland, some were too salty. All in all, the food here was forgettable. Given the restaurant's name (not to mention price), we expected Niu and exciting dishes (pun intended). But we were disappointed. There was not one item that we could consider Niu's signature dish or a dish that would make us go back.
For the soup, try the creamy and hearty chicken and corn chowder.
For those who regularly eat at hotels or fancy restaurants, the appetizers and cold cuts were a bit familiar. The cheeses were sharp. The little sandwiches were made with stale bread. The vegetables for the salad were crisp and fresh. We liked eating them with the blueberry vinaigrette. Our favorite appetizers were the watermelon-jalapeño gazpacho, the carpaccio with pesto, and the couscous salad.
The Japanese food section offered, again, nothing Niu. The sushi and sashimi treats were same as the ones in the regular Vikings. The katsu was a little salty. The tempura was OK. What we liked was the yakiniku. The marinade/basting sauce was delicious, savory-sweet. We liked the chicken skin yakiniku.
Other Asian dishes were enjoyable. We liked the juicy and flavorful beef rendang with biryani rice. Also good was the chicken inasal.
Now, the grill station offered many choices like cajun fish and spicy tuna. The much hyped beef medallion was also here. The fish dishes were good, but the thing was they were already cold when served on our table. As for the beef, the meat was salty and dry, and the mustard sauce on it was not good.
For the Chinese fare, we liked the hakaw (packed with shrimp!) and the soy chicken. We also enjoyed eating the fried almond tofu (high-grade tofu with almond crust, topped with chili sauce) The other meat dishes like char shiu were dry. The yang chow fried rice was bland. The sweet and sour spareribs were not that great (Chowking's sweet and sour pork is better).
The different meats at the carving station were generally dry. The only one we enjoyed eating was the Angus beef. The sauces with truffle were good enough. A side dish there that we liked was the steak rice with mushrooms.
The Italian section offered familiar pasta and pizza dishes. We tried the stromboli; it tasted like Greenwich pizza. We also had some mushroom risotto and risotto balls. Now those two dishes were good. Although the risotto was just a tad too runny, its flavors were satisfying. The risotto balls were good with the meat sauce.
The other European dishes were not good. The callos was bland, the coq au vin was salty, the gnocchi was forgettable.
The dessert treats were generally cheap, taste wise. All we could sense really were cream and sugar. The mousses were gelatinous. The "gelato" was too saccharine; only the vanilla and chocolate variants had distinct flavor. What we liked eating for dessert were the fruits, especially the pineapple and the lansones.
For our drinks, well we tried almost everything. The red (Sauvignon) and white (Chardonnay) wines were OK. The coffee was strong and good. The fruit shakes were not consistent; some were too sweet, some were delicious (banana and apple shakes). The cold and hot Twinnings tea choices were also good. We liked the Strawberry Mango and Blueberry Lemonade.
Now the service (and we have a mouthful to say): it was not OK. First off, the waiters, even the chefs, were not knowledgeable about the food they were serving (For example, they spelled risotto "resoto.") Second, some waiters had a hard time understanding instructions given in English. Third, the waiters kept walking unnecessarily around the restaurant, making the place a little chaotic. Fourth, one of the managers had bad breath, so we found it hard to talk to him. Fifth, some of them were a little too caring (read: overbearing). Sixth, they needed some system for bringing food to the customer's table, because most of the time, the food came to the customer cold.
Considering the food (quality and taste) and the service, the prices were too high (read: not commensurate ). There's a 5% service charge, by the way (seriously?!).
All in all, we could sum up our Niu experience with this: we left full but not satisfied.
Niu is at SM Aura.