Plenty of people have an instinctual distaste for casinos. The garish display of excess. The cacophony and electronic whistles of the poker machines. The occasional distraught person tumbling out the front entrance, clearly a lot lighter in the hip pocket than when they entered.
In a society where foreigners still struggle, even after months and years, to come to terms with such a severe disparity in wealth, the idea of a casual trip to the most famous casino in the country seems crass to say the least. Whatever urge one might have for a punt is certainly tempered by the building’s proximity to the country’s seat of government, the gray concrete walls of its hotel towering over the red tiled spires of the National Assembly below.
A lot of expats steer clear of NagaWorld for these reasons, but inevitably there will come an event, an invitation to dine, or a sustained bout of peer pressure. Even for the most trenchant puritans, there’s an excellent culinary reason to overcome any moral objections to this little local shrine to Mammon.
Each week for the last three years, four of NagaWorld’s four flagship restaurants – Le Gourmet, Bistro Romano, The Aristocrat Bar and Indochine – have collaborated to lay out a spread on the first floor.
With each restaurant specialising in different European and Asian cuisine, guests have a choice of stacking their plate with just about every delicacy under the sun. Whatever they choose, they have to choose judiciously, because there’s no way even the most starved diner would have the stomach room to try one of everything.
Beginning in the dining hall, an array of roasts and pastries are lined up beside a waitress preparing miniature Eggs Benedict, presumably for the people who would feel a little shy about eating roast lamb so early in the day. Laid out in the next room are even more temptations, some enough to seem otherworldly to anyone who’s spent long enough in the country. Oysters – honest to God oysters – shipped in from overseas segue into cuts of raw fish, freshly pressed pasta and 12 different flavours of ice cream, including durian and lychee for those who’ve acquired a taste for the hotly debated local produce.
Headed by executive chef Uwe Manfred, who has overseen Naga’s restaurant operations for two years after more than a decade working in Asia, the Sunday buffet sees a steady stream of locals, expatriates and hotel guests filling the restaurant tables.
Diners range from young families seeking a civil meal in the relaxed elegance of the first floor foyer to groups of men who evidently pledged themselves to a 24 hour fast in the hopes of consuming their body weight in sushi.
Manfred hopes to keep expanding Naga’s fare, with plans to open a teppanyaki restaurant in the coming months and incorporating even more Japanese cuisine into the Sunday brunches.
For the chef, cultivating a regular clientele eager to sample the work of some of the best restaurateurs in the country has been a point of professional pride.
“We developed the buffet over time to the present quality and layout, with seasonal additions to our existing menu selection to keep our brunch interesting,” he says.
The Naga brunch takes place every Sunday between 11am and 3pm. Prices are $US39 including prossecco and wine, $29 excluding beverages, and $15 for children.