Feast. Smörgåsbord. Cornucopia. Service à la française. All-you-can-eat. The variety of existing terms related to food in abundance shows the value we give it as a symbol of prosperity and even luxury. The word “buffet” may be the most representative of all in this regard. Les Grands Buffets takes that concept to the highest level of international gastronomy, with all you can eat gourmet options for less than 53 euros.
We traveled to this picturesque restaurant, focused mainly on the great classics of traditional French cuisine. The visit turned out to be one of the best culinary experiences we have ever enjoyed.
Numbers and Flavors
The concept of Les Grands Buffets, one of the largest buffets in the world, came not from a great chef, but from an accounting employee. Louis Privat, a native of Narbonne, France, had a change of heart about his career during an internship in the 1970s.
As a husband and new father, Privat studied international business in order to establish his own accounting firm. However, after completing his studies, Privat abandoned accounting.
In 1985 he and his wife acquired their first restaurant, Côté rêvée (Coast of Dreams), whose owners approached retirement. His success with Côté rêvée motivated him in 1989 to propose an all-you-can-eat restaurant, a novelty at the time, to the Narbonne city council.
Les Grands Buffets’ three decades of success can be attributed to multiple factors, mainly the quality of its cuisine and service. This consistency is due to a well-paid team of professionals who work within a cooperative environment.
About Les Grands Buffets
The Les Grands Buffets experience begins with the journey towards Narbonne, a beautiful town 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Franco-Spanish border, founded during the Roman Empire. We decided to drive there from Barcelona, Spain to enjoy the Mediterranean landscapes.
The destination lies within the Espace de liberté du Grand Narbonne, a sports complex with a glass pyramid like the Louvre Museum. Before entering, you can enjoy a good cocktail at the Private Bowling Pub, an traditional English pub.
The majestic internal decoration of Les Grands Buffets includes utensils and antiques from European royal palaces. The waiter shows you to your table, takes your drink order, and hands you a map to navigate around the vast themed food counters. When we say vast, we mean vast, with fifteen sectors classified by available dishes.
Choose Your Own Gastronomic Adventure
The appetizer area, for example, features delicacies like foie gras and varieties of raw cured ham that you can slice straight from the pork leg. The seafood station is just as impressive, with all every kind of fish and shellfish to try out.
At the rotisserie you can order several meat and poultry dishes, as well as house specialties. Featured dishes include poached egg with mushrooms, American-style lobster, sweetbread vol au vent with morels, quail stuffed with foie gras, Nantes-style scallops, or hare a la Royale.
Right in front of the rotisserie you find a table serving Canard du Sang or bloody duck, perhaps the most traditional Frech dish in the entire restaurant, as well as a recipe in danger of extinction. The pressed duck is brought into the room with fanfare and reverence. Diners line up to witness the dish decoration. You get a small serving, but its exquisite flavor is worth the wait.
World Famous Cheese
Le Plus Grande Plateau de Fromages au Monde, a 30-meter (100-foot) wide station, features a total of 111 different types of cheese that you can try. This counter earned Les Grands Buffets the Guinness World Record for the most variety of cheeses comercially available in a restaurant.
We only got to try a few different cheeses, all delicious! Among our favorites were the Tomme du Berry with basil, old Laguiole, 1000-day Gouda, Tomme au Marc, 18-to-24-month Comte, and Bleu. Each cheese on the station is accompanied by a piece of paper indicating its name and classifying it by pouissance or strong flavor.
French pastries are world famous and are well represented at Les Grands Buffets. Highlights in their pâtisserie include its enormous chocolate fountain and 50 signature desserts, including Crème brûlée and Belle Hélène pear.
If you like ice cream, you can satisfy all your cravings at the Palais de Glaces, its extensive ice cream parlor. They also have a silver cart where they prepare the Crêpe Suzette flambée.
Unfortunately, everything comes to an end and Privat plans to close his restaurant in Narbonne within the next few years. Nothing to fear, however, as Les Grands Buffets is simply moving to expand its service. Privat plans to move by 2027 and has pre-selected two nearby cities, Carcassonne and Béziers, as possible locations.
Travelers won’t notice much of a difference distance-wise in either case and the initiative will double the restaurant’s current space, as well as increase the total occupancy from 560 to about 700. Ever the businessman, Privat even toys with the idea of opening a hotel. We can only dream of trying out everything at Les Grands Buffets, then simply heading up to our suite for a nap!
Les Grands Buffets deserves the worldwide praise it has earned, especially during this time of social media-driven experiences. You deserve a stop there during your next trip to Europe to experience its welcoming atmosphere, exceptional service and above all its cornucopia of gourmet flavors.
Now, Some Tips
Plan your European trip well and book your visit in advance. Les Grands Buffets require reservations and demand never wanes.
Dress for the Occasion
Les Grands Buffets’ dress code is semi-formal. The restaurant reserves the right to refuse entry to diners in casual attire (this includes caps, shorts and printed t-shirts). Take advantage of the occasion and dress elegant.
When the waiter takes your drink order we suggest that you choose wine, since France is renowned worldwide for its vintages.
If you cannot decide what to order, ask your waiter about pairing options.
Limit your Portions
We’re not suggesting you limit yourself, but trust us: you’ll want to try out everything. You are better off with small servings of every dish than binging one or two and missing out on something else. You will be satisfied either way, rest assured.
Where to Find It
Rond-Poite de la Liberté, 11100 Narbonne, France
+33 4 68 42 20 01