Inside Maidstone’s unofficial worst restaurant
A brief introduction to Maidstone for those who have never met
Maidstone’s a strange place.
In theory, Kent’s county town should sit majestically on the river Medway in what used to be known as the Garden of England (but lost it to Yorkshire due to an overpopulation of “railways, traffic jams and chavs.” back in 2006.)
At a glance, it should be a cool place to live. It’s the nightlife capital of Kent, exceptional transport links, decent schools and a plethora of country pubs and cute villages to visit at the weekend. Littered with swimming pools, a cinema, bowling and this trampoline experience that has somehow become renowned across Kent, Maidstone has the looks, but doesn’t quite have the touch.
Walking down Maidstone’s old former-Medieval high street, tripping on cobbles and flanked by the locally-iconic Carphone Warehouse on the corner with a couple of pound shops on the left, it kinda reminds you of a scene from Shaun of the Dead.
Maidstone’s a cultural vacuum. It’s artistic extent is embodied by a recent reincarnation of Stonehenge, perhaps the world’s most famous prehistoric monument, with second-hand fridges, creatively named ‘Fridgehenge’.
Watch this vid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hksswszO9Ww
Here’s a small extract from an interview with its construction team and guy called Paul Stone and his mate:
“I thought it would be a good idea given the solstice was coming, so I went out at 3am and built it using about 30 fridges lying around in the yard.
“It took about three hours and I had to ask Paul for help as it was quite hard work. It’s fully bolted down.
“I don’t know when it will be taken down, it depends on what the council think.
“The first person who walked past said it was an eyesore but everyone else has been really positive.”
Maidstone is the predictable cocktail of Starbucks, 2 Maccies and an overstaffed Sports Direct — boasting zero things to do apart from shop, sesh and sleep — lying in the shadow of its prettier cousin, Canterbury. Maidstone is the butt of a Ricky Gervais joke. Maidstone is the guy who just got a promotion and spent it on a Subaru. Maidstone is the same guy who non-ironically then fits it with a spoiler. Maidstone is looking forward to the new Jessie J album, the new series of Celebs Go Dating. Maidstone is the guy in a turtleneck posing with a bottle of Grey Goose who post-photo puts it back in its ice bucket. Maidstone still watches X Factor. Maidstone holidays every year in Alicante. Maidstone can’t watch Narcos because it hates films with subtitles. Maidstone thinks Blue wrote Sorry Seems the Hardest Word. Maidstone is Brexit, not because of unemployment or misled frustration — but wealthy arrogance and genuine distrust of change and the foreign.
I appreciate this is a rant and my aim is not to offend anyone, just cathartically get this off my chest. I also don’t wish to be too doom and gloom so to lighten the tone (briefly), here’s a vid someone once made about Maido and why it needs to be celebrated (skip to 1.04 on this vid): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3slT7Ao5x8A
Back to business now…
While its County Council boasts: “We are happy to rest our case with Charles Dickens’s comment, ‘Kent, sir, everyone knows Kent. Apples, cherries, hops and women.’ We also do the strawberries for Wimbledon…” it often definitely feels as if the only fruit Maido serves up is on a Saturday night at the iconic Strawberry Moons.
I’ll now get to the bulk of the piece, which has been inspired by almost definitely the worst meal I’ve ever eaten outside of my own kitchen last Saturday — at a place called Buddha Belly itself fitting symbol for Kent’s county town.
Buddha Belly, based on a true story…
A criminally-unjust TripAdvisor ⅗, Buddha Belly perfectly polarises. With an abnormally high amount of ⅕ ratings on the review site, I suppose it has also managed to satisfy just enough people to ensure that it nestles nicely into mid-table mediocrity within the ultra-competitive Maidstone restaurant Premier League… while its food proceeds to offend the rest of us.
Much like its parent town, Buddha Belly is happy to be widely considered pretty bad among many who live there yet on paper somehow remain an “alright place to go” as enough of its population are content with its mix of cultural stagnation and reasonable facilities.
Dealing in bulk and a specialist in bland, distinctly low-quality food (also an apparent expert in food poisoning), Buddha Belly remains proudly on the corner of Pudding Lane, one of Maidstone and probably Britain’s oldest streets.
Here’s an covert insider’s report of Maidstone’s (unofficial) worst restaurant.
Walking into Buddha Belly on a painfully empty stomach it’s fair to say that myself and my mate were in high spirits and full of dreams, out to celebrate two well-served portions of good news.
Unfortunately Buddha Belly turned out to be more of a nightmare.
In essence, Buddham Belly’s USP is kind of a diluted “all things to all men” proposition, enticing as it sounds, in which it presents dishes from around the world in the traditional buffet format. On one side you have the tantalising possibility of a thai green, the other a generous slice of marg, with burritos bringing up the rear.
In its attempt at offering the world, Buddha falls horrendously short, leaving each separate dish a shadow of its former self.
Been recently trying to cut back on meat so only fish on the menu on this particular occasion and therefore upon entrance, my options were already unfortunately heavily limited by the religiously-named but faithless Buddha Belly. Early on into the restaurant experience, I bit into what I thought was a battered prawn but upon turning to inspect the interior, I was presented with a specimen that encapsulates everything that’s wrong with the meat industry. There was nothing that had ever clung to a chicken on that piece of animal and if you looked close enough you see the craters of moral ambivalence punctured against the poor animal.
Bad start and the distant throb of Europop that Buddha then decided to drop did little to settle the early nerves.
Onto an Indian second plate and there’s me thinking that you can’t go wrong with a poppadom so I loaded up.
I thought wrong. They just didn’t crunch — they bent.
How do you even get a poppadom wrong? I hear you ask… Surely all you need to do is just buy in bulk from a supplier. Even Tesco can do a job on the day.
Other lowlights included a simply unforgivable potato salad, labelled in the subcategory ‘salads from around the world’ — again why go over-easy on the mayo and include literally nothing else? No danger of a red onion and that’s just potato with mayo — that’s food fraud.
I’m not going to pretend I’m a good cook because I’m not but it’s hard to fathom just how you can get a potato salad so nightmarishly wrong. Dry crackers have more charisma.
Elsewhere, the pizza was so bad that describing it as tasting like cardboard would have been a gross disservice to cardboard and the nachos bowl had accidentally been pre-decorated with guac and sour cream leaving you with little choice as to with what you wanted to accompany the bendy corn.
What the place lacked in good quality food however, more than made up for in strawberry milk strewn over the floor.
I feel slightly bad. The service wasn’t great from a time perspective but the guys were really nice; the highlight being a thoughtful lemon in the free water and we didn’t even have to ask.
Out celebrate my friend’s new job, I asked him for comment:
“The ice cream and nachos were pretty good and while not homemade you can’t fault Buddha’s selection.”
Let’s not end on a positive though, much like the poppadoms, you needed a knife and fork to penetrate the diabolical prawn crackers — again leading me onto something I’d like to reiterate: How do even manage to ruin something you can literally buy cheap from a packet about a minute’s walk up the road.
Generally, I’m not fussy about food, though you expect a bit more when eating out you’re hardly expecting the world (pun intended) from an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Shout out to the Raj of Kent by the way, recently closed down up on Union Street which served a lesson on how to do an all-you-can-eat curry for the masses. You’ll be missed.
This as my first, and most-likely last, food review is born out of a genuine mild anger and bewilderment that somewhere so bad can charge over a tenner for a meal. Buddha Belly was easily the worst meal I’ve ever had in a charging institution.
Buddha Belly — as a symbol of Maidstone
In many ways the ungodly Buddha Belly is the perfect gastronomic metaphor for Maidstone as a concept. It theoretically has everything you might need — a wide range of choice if you want a 6/10 pair of jeans, branded polo or new Range Rover. Whoever you are, it’ll have the consumerist object you desire in some shape or form. It’s the shape or form it really struggles with.
You’ll always have a choice of at least 4 decent pubs, bars and clubs a night and can get your groove on to some chart until maybe 4 or 5 at the weekend. The pubs, bars and clubs however, are decent at best, abominable at worst and there is literally solely chart on offer and the occasional grimy house night.
Let’s imagine in some parallel universe you like theatre, opera or the visual arts you’d better get used to “The Bee Gees Story” and the usual trail of pantomimes.
Let’s imagine in some parallel universe you like live music… unlucky.
Let’s imagine in some parallel universe you like art… London’s your best bet — or Margate’s Tate gallery to be fair but that’s still pretty far.
There are some beautiful places in Kent. Tunbridge Wells, Canterbury, Whitstable, Sevenoaks, the Downs, the White Cliffs of Dover.
However, much like Buddha Belly, Maidstone has nothing of its own. There is nothing unique in the town that can’t also be found in Kidderminster, Halifax, Truro, Swansea… wherever. Staring at the unappealing congealed slice of pizza before me in Buddha Belly, it seems obvious that if you want pizza you try and find an Italian, a curry an Indian etc. In the same way, there are a million other towns that do Maidstone better than Maidstone. Nearby Gillingham has a football team, ice rink — Chatham a historic dockyard — and both towns are considered by many as ‘worse places to live’ whatever that means.
Maidstone is ‘good for shopping’ but you won’t find any independent shops and the retail stores are easily beaten by Bluewater and London. Maidstone is ‘a good night out’ if you have zero degrees of creativity and just want a few thousand shots and some chart. Maidstone is the perennial emphasis on quantity of convenience in the face of its allergy to quality; the unconscious pursuit of excess; the successful target of the latest McDonald’s marketing campaign; Maidstone is the subsequent lonely Chicken Select wrapper left on the train; Maidstone is the taste of processed meat the morning after a loose one. Maidstone is Buddha Belly and Buddha Belly is Maidstone.
Unfortunately, much like this damning insight, literally none of the vast range of intercontinental dishes the restaurant could offer had any semblance of a taste and ultimately we walked out, not angry, but disappointed with the bittersweet taste of Maidstone lingering in the mouth…