It takes a lot to tempt me out of my cosy expat bubble into the wilds of Haidian, but mention the words "free-flow lobster buffet" and I will be in a taxi as fast as you can say "15 percent service charge." So it was that I found myself in a taxi on the way over to the Shangri-La Hotel on one fine, windy weekend recently. 

Said lobster buffet takes place in the Shangri-La's all day dining restaurant Café Cha. The restaurants is distinguished from similar buffet destinations by the view onto the Chinese-style landscaped gardens. Come the warmer weather they open up the roof on one section of the space, making this a good choice for semi-alfresco dining.

Priced at RMB 458 (plus 15 percent service charge) per person, the buffet includes all the usual standards like sashimi, salads, Asian and Western barbecue items, pizza, pasta, and noodles. However, lobster is the main draw here, which you can choose to grab yourself from the cold seafood counter or order up broiled with cheese. Don't be shy about going back for more either the tables around us were making repeat visits to the buffet, challenging the waitstaff to keep up with the lobster shells piling up on their tables.

The lobsters are good, but the biggest surprise of the visit was the selection of Indian dishes. As soon as we entered the buffet area our noses caught the rich scent of spices and we were drawn to a counter where a chef was liberally applying butter to naan breads freshly pried from the walls of a tandoor oven. We scooped up spoonfuls of prawn masala, aloo gobi and lamb curry and we're very pleasantly surprised by the strong, well-balanced flavors.

So if free-flow lobsters aren't enough to attract you over to west side, then let the curry guide you instead.

More stories by this author here.

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Photos: Robynne Tindall, Margaux Schreurs, courtesy of Shangri-La Hotel

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