Nothing says indulgence more like buffets. And while most all-you-can-eat restaurants around Metro Manila have their own special style, only a handful excel at going beyond mass-filled buffet lines and heavily satisfied appetites. Even to skeptics, the appeal of an upscale buffet dining experience is undeniable, with the refined ambiance, world-class chefs, premium ingredients, superb choice of cuisine, fresh, seasonal dishes, a sweet assortment of desserts, and above all else, stellar service.
With this in mind, the Vikings group put together their latest venture, Niu (pronounced nee-uh) – which means nine in Old Norse. Niu is poised to elevate your run-of-the-mill buffet dining experience so guests feel like they’re on cloud nine whenever they pay the gorgeous restaurant a visit. And surprisingly, you won’t have to pay a price that won’t break the bank (Weekday Lunch – Php 1,088++; Weekday Dinner/Weekends/Holidays – Php 1,388++) to enjoy such lavish luxuries.
The difference of Niu’s level of attention to detail for an eat-all-you-can establishment can be overwhelming – one can really appreciate the talents of all the chefs in the kitchen, the use of fresh, premium ingredients, and the level of service and attentiveness of the staff. Even the layout of the space and the decor is quite impressive. The interiors are sleek, chic, and very contemporary, with dark wooden tables and gorgeous velvet upholstered chairs with bright chandelier lights above private booths that make guests feel like they are in a lovely hotel lobby instead of a restaurant at the Skypark of SM Aura Premier.
Here are 18 tips to keep in mind when navigating the long buffet lines and making the most of you Niu experience:
1. Reserve a table.
Of course, you could always walk in and wait for a table to be available, but why waste your time twiddling your thumbs when you can very well call in advance? You can request for a table near the carving station (a request I will probably call in next time), ask for one of the booths with a view or reserve one of their private rooms for the whole family at no extra charge. Your only problem should be how much food you can get away with eating before having to pop that top button in your pants open to help you breathe. Call in ahead using any of the following numbers: at +63 2 478 3888, +63 2 847 3888, +63 917 586 6888 or +63 919 999-6888.
2. Whatever you do, don’t fill up on sushi.
I know how tempting it can be to make a beeline for the sushi station and just stay there, piling your plate with all your favorite sushi, sashimi, and maki combinations. Although I have to admit, this is probably some of the freshest sushi I’ve had in buffet lines, you really don’t want to fill up on all that rice before you’ve explored the rest of what Niu has to offer. Take a few of your favorites and then move on to the bigger and better buffet stations.
3. “Leave the bread, take the cold cuts.”
That would probably be what Peter Clemenza would say if he were to advise us on how to make the most out of this buffet. The bread station laden with croissants, foccacia, and cinnamon rolls can be tempting, but its also going to fill you up faster, and you haven’t even made a dent in Niu’s buffet spread yet. Enjoy the slivers of cold cuts and pair the pâtés with nuts, fruit, the wide variety of available cheese, and maybe a small salad instead.
4. Make the most out of the beer fodder.
If you’re looking for some of the best chicken and pork insides that go perfectly well with a tall glass of double chilled below zero draft beer, head for the yakitori station. If the likes of grilled chicken bum, chicken skin, and chicken liver has always been something you’ve been wanting to try on a street corner but have been afraid of catching some form of hepatitis, then I would strongly recommend this sanitary alternative.
5. Have a taste of Hong Kong.
It can be easy to find yourself going back to the dumpling station every chance you get, with the smell of hakaw, scallop and parsley, spinach and seafood, siomai, and mini siopao coming out of the big bamboo baskets. Make like a Hong Kong tourist and and stay long enough for you to miss it when you go ho me. Don’t be fooled by the delicate dumpling wrappers either, they seem to expand in your stomach, filling you up fast.
Staying true to Hong Kong favorites, the Vikings group also flew in Kavino Lau – of restaurant IMC Kavino – to create authentic Cantonese favorites. So while you’re there, do hang out by the Peking duck and char siu window with your plate outstretched for portions of crispy duck, crackly-skinned Lechon Macau, and sweet slices of roasted pork! These go marvelously well with Chinese pancakes, a little bit of hoisin, and some chives for that added crunch.
6. Enjoy the deluge of refreshments…
You will never go thirsty here. Never. Niu has a nice selection of non-alcoholic drinks to choose from – four seasons, iced tea, tamarind tea, and blueberry lemonade – as well as double chilled below zero draft beers, a decent selection of teas, and coffee.
7. …but don’t get too sloshed!
The buffet at Niu also comes with unlimited house wine, cocktails, and even Japanese sake. All the liquor is carefully chosen, using only premium brands in their mixes. Have a good time, but don’t overdo it! Nobody wants to be around the befuddled booze hound – at a buffet, of all places. With that being said, I would like my piña colada now, please. Prost! Cheers, Kampai!
8. Be nice to the line cooks at the grilling station and they will treat you well.
The grilling station is always packed with guests, and understandably so, with their selection of fresh seafood and meats marinated in various sauces and rubs. There are a few servers on hand behind and in front of the station, all ready to help you, so smile, be courteous, and remember to give them your table number so they know where to find you. I had a blast at this station, getting a few fillets of gindara, salmon belly, snapper, and lapu-lapu. Personally, this is the only way to go about enjoying fresh fish – when its right off the grill. I was also pleasantly surprised at how fast they brought it to me.
Once grilled, servers beautifully plate your selection before bringing it to your table. Its the little things that count, like adding a small siding of vegetables to your selection of perfectly grilled meats, and small details like this add up to your overall experience, as one can appreciate the love and respect they put into each plate, no matter how simple it is.
9. Experience an English Christmas all-year round.
Everybody loves the carving station! Nostalgic for my English roots, the combination of the roasted turkey with cranberry sauce, Niu belly-chon (a.k.a. porchetta), Yorkshire pud, and creamed spinach on the side was utterly delightful. All that’s missing is the Beef Wellington (although they do have a stuffed salmon version), and I have a traditional English Christmas spread that I can keep coming back to all-year long.
10. Medium rare, please.
When asking your server to carve up some of the Herb Spit-roasted US Prime Rib and New Zealand Garlic & Rosemary Stuffed Leg of Lamb for you, please don’t ask them to ruin it by turning your juicy pink potions into burger meat. You can really see the effort they put into making the perfect roast, cooked through on the outside and blushing on the inside, so don’t ask them grill it to kingdom come (a.k.a. well done) to enjoy the maximum flavor in every bite. On the other hand, by all means go crazy with the mint jelly, mint foam, and the assortment of gravy flavors to choose from go give your roasts a bit more personality. And then go back for seconds. Attaboy!
11. Try the all-you-can-eat foie gras.
A highlight of Niu, discovering the all-you-can-eat foie gras station is a jaw dropper. It’s almost too good to be true! Let the inner Frenchman in you loose for the day and add a thick sliver of foie to finish off your beef, lamb, and turkey. This is something you don’t see everyday.
12. Food goes down better with a little music.
In the middle of the vast restaurant at the SM Aura Skypark is a baby grand where a piano man puts you and your digestive system in a cheerful mood, surpassing the din of the crowd with soothing melodies that make your stay at Niu so much more enjoyable.
13. Freshly made pasta every single time.
Unlike most buffet restaurants around Metro Manila, Niu prides itself on using only the freshest ingredients, and this includes their pasta. You definitely will not see anything coming out of a packet here. Made with an eggy dough that been rested, rolled out, cut into strips, and left to dry on a pasta rack, the fresh noodles are cooked ’til al dente and served with the sauce and topping of your choosing. Play around with your favorite flavor combinations or discover a new one at Niu – you may just surprise yourself.
14. Save some space for the brick oven pizza.
Made with Italiain flour, the dough of the uncomplicated-looking pizzas at are chewy with a bit of a bite, done the rustic Italian way, while the simple toppings makes one appreciate the quality of the ingredients, from the tomato sauce to the slivers of imported pepperoni.
15. Don’t want to stand up? Order at the table.
There are so many other interesting stations along the winding buffet line of Niu (like the Asian and Indian stations, for example), and after a few trips back to the table, you kind of wish the food could just come to you. And it can – just ask any of the servers on the floor.
Oh heck, ask them to tell the chefs to surprise you and you’ll be delighted with what they can put together – most of them did, after all, come from Michelin star restaurants. The Dragon Roll with wasabi aioli and oyster teppan with an apple slaw and mango coulis for one was an innovative use of their rolls and teppan station. And the pan-seared beef medallion stuffed with Gorgonzola served with a potato purée, a deconstructed hollandaise and a dollop of caviar on top was delightful.
The “sit down” buffet service is another little aspect of Niu that makes it stand out from the other eat-all-you-can establishments in Metro Manila, making your dining experience extra special. And in true Niu fashion, everything comes out beautifully plated and Instagram-worthy.
16. Take a little break before making a beeline for dessert utopia.
The dessert station at Niu is probably the longest one there, and it will take an incredible amount of self-restraint to not try everything they have – from rows of chocolate truffles all lined up in a row, cake slices in all sorts of flavors, mousses and creams stored in a chiller, and colorful macarons, to Filipino favorites like canonigo (a Filipino take on the French œufs à la neige), halo-halo, pichi pichi, halo-halo, and even the festive puto pumbong. I suggest to wash this down with a few glasses of sweet Riesling, and I promise you, you will definitely leave happier than when you came in.
17. Important: Don’t skip the gelato stand.
The talented folks at Niu boast of their top-of-the-line kitchen equipment, and not only do they have their own cabinet for smoking meat, but a gelato maker, too. The dense ice cream is great on its own or on a crêpe à la mode, with little marshmallows and sprinkles on the side for guests to experiment with – you really can’t go wrong. The flavors may vary from day to day, but the staples are a simple vanilla, cookies and cream, and green tea.
18. If you see these two walking around, say hello.
When you see Corporate Executive Chef Anton Abad or Sous Chef Von Ragudos walking around, inspecting the buffet line, the polite thing to do is say hello. The passionate chefs embrace the importance of meticulous attention to the taste and aesthetics of food, which is a very challenging thing to do at an eat-all-you-can buffet restaurant, and a smile and a thank you can really make their day. Heck, if you’re really nice, maybe they can personally whip something up for you!
Overall, Niu stands out in a locale crowded with all-you-can-eat establishments, offering a lavish spread worthy of residents across Metro Manila. Niu is truly an elevated dining experience that guests can rely on time and time again, and I personally cannot wait for an excuse to go back!
Niu by Vikings is located at the Skypark (right across the Samsung Hall) of SM Aura Premier located along 26th St. corner McKinley Parkway, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. The restaurant is open for lunch from 11:30am to 2:30pm and for dinner from 5:30 – 10:00 pm. Major credit cards are accepted. For inquiries or to make a reservation, please call +63 2 478 3888, + 63 2 847 3888, +63 917 586 6888 or +63 919 999 6888.
Photo Credit: Images of seafood pasta and dessert have been provided by Powercom.