During a staycation, what could be more British then a day spent by the seaside, checking out the notably muddy yet scenic Southend whilst visiting my recently relocated sister who now lives a mere 15 minutes from the fresh and salty promenade. After a day wondering the high street, perusing the prom, attempting to bowl sufficiently and a rather intensely avid search for a 1p slot machine in the arcades, our growling tummies dictated that we find food – fast. Having been to a world buffet before in London, our interest was piqued by Essex’s version, Maya’s, situated on the high street. Occupying the first floor of a corner building, its flame inspired red and black sign beckoned, and we decided to check it out.
Entering the side door felt quite glamorous as we tread on the red carpet under bright red awning, ascending the unattended stairs inside. First impressions once I reached the top of the stairs were generally good, as the décor and layout of the restaurant was nicely done. The bar and reception area was directly in front of the stairs, ideal for greeting new customers, but the floor space felt roomy, with the tables decently spread out which can be rare for buffet scenarios. The red theme continued with the leather cushioning on the hard dining chairs as well as the walls, which also housed light box style photos of landmarks across the globe, emphasising the cuisines that were included on the menu. The food was set out in a square in the very centre of the room, allowing for easy access, although the food stations were smaller than I was expecting.
If I’m honest, the lady who greeted us wasn’t the most welcoming of people, actually coming across as very brusque and short, as well as really suspicious since we actually had to pay for our food and meal upfront before we had even been given a table. I understand doing that for large groups and parties, as you are reserving space for them, however we were just a table of three so to demand payment first was rather unusual. The greeter wasn’t inviting in the slightest and got all of our backs up. Price wise, it wasn’t too bad coming in at £15 a head for the food, although we had to find out what food we could even eat. No wiggle room to change our minds either since we had already paid.
Our table was nicely decked out, paper placemats explaining the procedure for newbies of world buffets, our drinks swiftly following us to the table. Jess and I shared a bottle of the house white, which was a sauvignon blanc, whilst designated driver Dan went for a coke. The waiting staff who cleared the plates were very friendly and polite, so I think the greeter could definitely learn a thing or two from them. The table was decorated with plastic purple flowers, standing out against the bright red and the dark wood of the other décor.
The food was not really what I was expecting. For starters there was a choice of a couple of soups, with Dan picking the Chinese chicken and sweetcorn and Jess opting for the Thai prawn broth. However the stale prawn crackers had an aftertaste of paint which was a tad off-putting to kick start the night. I sampled some of the peri peri chicken and Chinese style duck pancakes for my starters. The duck was incredibly pale and anaemic looking, with no crispy and bubbling skin in sight, just small, wet cubes of duck. I tend to smother my pancakes in hoi sin sauce, so it wasn’t the end of the world, but it was evident from the start that Maya’s liked to cut corners and costs by lowering their food quality. The salad section wasn’t really my scene, so after my duck pancakes I looked at the Spanish section, trying some of the chicken and prawn paella. The chicken was a bit dry and some of the cubes seemed a little pink to me, but on the whole this one wasn’t bad.
The Mexican section was the best in my opinion. I grabbed a tortilla wrap and loaded it with red kidney beans in a tomato salsa sauce, shredded chicken in some kind of sauce, lettuce, salsa and sour cream with chives. I also got a spoonful of the rice to try, although I feel it was overcooked, as it clumped together unattractively, although it tasted ok. My burrito was tasty and definitely the safest thing I ate over the course of the evening. I also tried some of the braised lamb that Jess brought back from this section and the flavour of the sauce was nice, although the texture of the meat was again slimy and tasted like a very cheap cut that was more water than meat.
Although they offered a fresh Japanese section for stir fries I assume, there was no one around to actually cook up these ingredients for you and no signage as to the process, so that was a bit pointless. I moved round to the Indian / Chinese / Thai side of the food station. There was a few nice looking Indian dishes, so I went for my favourite – chicken tikka masala which was the trademark burnt red in colour. Dolloping it on to pilau rice, I also nicked a cube of Chinese style lamb, which was nice, and a piece of the sweet and sour chicken, which was also nice. I skipped the Thai green and red curries since the sauces looked too watery to me and Thai isn’t high on my favourites anyway.
The chicken tikka masala was a bit of a disappointment to be honest. The sauce was a fantastic colour and a great consistency for mixing with your rice, however it lacked flavour in any way, shape or form. I had been to my favourite Indian restaurant just the week before having this dish, and the difference was notably startling. I understand that a tikka masala is considered a less hot and milder curry however it really didn’t taste of much although the chicken was more moist than in the other dishes. After this, I tried some of the Italian, taking a spoonful of pasta bake and a slice of pizza that was labelled as pepperoni, yet had no pepperoni in sight. The pizza was average and edible, whilst the pasta sauce oddly had an aftertaste of cigars, although I’m not sure if this was due to some combination of spices. The pasta bake was cooked ok though.
Thoroughly unimpressed with the quality, Dan and I took a last effort look at the dessert station. Half-filled miniature ramekins and tiny plastic cups held about a teaspoon of each dessert offered; all the mousses and custards looking the same. The chocolate fountain is a standard feature in most buffets, and they also had a gelato machine, however we gave this a miss knowing that dessert parlour Cream’s was next door and most definitely on our hit list.
On the whole, Maya’s was a severe disappointment. It had all the hallmarks to be a truly great venue, proudly advocating on their website the vast range of cuisines and flavours that they cater for. When looking at the site beforehand, I was excited to go and get stuck in to the variety of food offered. The food was mediocre, lacklustre with an incredibly small selection. The meat was squidgy and cheap, hiding in sauces that couldn’t even disguise it well enough. The chefs wondered around aimlessly, and there seemed a general air of laziness and lack of effort when it came to the food presented. The waiters and waitresses who cleared our plates were vocal, polite and chatty and they were the best thing about the restaurant, although the white wine was delicious, being zesty, fruity and light. The food was edible, yet not great and Maya’s clearly don’t understand how to entice guests into their establishment. Yes it is a cheap price, but it shows in both the food and some of the service, so I would rather spend my money elsewhere. A shame as this place could have been great and if they had hit the nail on the head, we wouldn’t have wanted to leave. They have missed such an opportunity here, as world buffets are still breaking into the restaurant scene and they could have become such a vocal one for Southend. I doubt it’ll last long if the food is consistently that quality.