'All You Can Eat' are easily my four favourite words in the English language. 'Hugh you look fabulous' and 'Cocktails are on me' come close, but it's the invitation - though I'll admit I tend to interpret it more as a challenge than an offer - to scoff as much as my heart desires that excites me every time.
I've enjoyed some exceptionally good all you can eat affairs; particularly memorable binges include a Champagne brunch at the Marriott, Budapest and a ninety minute breakfast blow-out at The Fullerton in Singapore. But, while I'm hardly a food snob at the best of times, put me within a bain marie's throw of an unlimited buffet and any care about the quality of what's on offer pales next to my delight at the quantity - and it's probably for this reason that I really liked Mr Wu.
Londoners will be familiar with the Wu brand even if, as many do, they abjure it as a cheap, base-quality tourist trap to be avoided at all costs. There's a number of branches dotted around central London operating under a variety of names including Mr Wu, MW and in the case of the Shaftesbury Avenue branch I visited, Little Wu, all offering an all you can eat Chinese buffet for next-to-no-money - £6.50 at this particular outlet.
Although everything about Wu restaurants is designed to discourage lingering - hard wooden benches, fluorescent lighting that would be rejected as too harsh for Abu Ghraib, overpriced drinks - pay your money and you can stay as long as you like and eat as much as you can of the dozen or so stock Chinese and Oriental dishes on offer.
Now I know what you're thinking; food that cheap, in the West End, has to be terrible, right? Well, not entirely. Sure it's not brilliant quality, and much of it is a nuclear orange colour which screams 'Tartrazine!', but most of the dishes available are no worse than you'd get from an OK-if-not-great takeaway and some of it's even rather moreish. Highlights on my visit were char siu pork and satay chicken on skewers, both genuinely delicious and made with meat and poultry of sufficient quality as to withstand slight - only slight - over-cooking, and some juicy, spicy pork balls.
Everything else - including chow mein, beef in black bean sauce, sweet and sour chicken and 'Thai-style' battered prawns - was fine, albeit that the latter might more accurately have been described as 'discernibly prawn-flavoured battered bullets'. A ladle or two of any of the separate sauces - sweet and sour, sweet chilli and sweet peanut (OK, satay) - elevates any of the dishes from 'edible' to 'rather tasty'. By the time I'd shovelled down two hefty platefuls I was full, happy and satisfied that I'd had more than good value for my £6.50.
Or rather, my fiance's £6.50; if you're wondering, perhaps incredulously, what I was doing at Little Wu in the first place, the answer is that my lovely man who doesn't earn very much wanted to treat me to a meal for a change and I knew that at a Wu we could eat, drink and tip for less than I'd usually happily spend on a main course.
Is this great food? Of course not, but it's not as bad as snootier critics might have you believe. Is it authentically Chinese? About as much as Christopher Lee playing Fu Manchu. But it's passable, palatable and pretty good value, and when it comes to bargain all you can eat, that, to be honest, is about all you can ask.
Mr Wu, 64 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 6LU and branches. Tel: 020 7437 5088. No website.