If ever there was a case for not judging a book by its cover, it has to be the Imperial Bento restaurant at Thorney Toll.
We pulled off the A47 at a service station and parked sandwiched between a car sales lot and hand car wash. And the smell was best described as “agricultural”.
With the restaurant resembling an unloved truckstop, it was only the reputation of the place that stopped us getting back in the car and driving home.
And I am glad we stayed, because the food was on the whole very satisfying.
So after the inauspicious introduction to the place, stepping inside is something of a Narnia moment, it is nicely furnished and well set out and the decor is pleasant enough.
Now we had gone for a “Chinese”, as there is little to offer in the city, but found the menu described as “Pacific Rim”. And as it turned out our dishes came from China, Thailand and Malaysia.
Saturday evening the restaurant serves an a-la-carte buffet: You chose a couple of starters each, you get crispy duck for a second course and you can chose a couple of main dishes each plus a side dish (for adults it is £19.99 each).
We went easy on the starters, which is probably why we got such big portions.
It all came on one big plate, deposited on the Lazy Susan so sharing was easy.
The Malaysian satay chicken was Donna’s choice; nice soft chicken breast pieces, beautifully marinated, with a sweet, peanut sauce to dip.
The Szechuan smoke chicken was my choice and was a little moorish. The lightly battered strips of chicken had been tossed in seasoning which was quite sweet - making the sensation almost like eating donuts.
The duck was crispy, had a nice flavour and the sauce was deliciously fruity.
The mint lamb aside (the meat was very tender but it was all a bit slimy) the main courses were all very enjoyable.
The Thai spicy prawns weren’t that spicy and there were only four of them, but I did like the flavours from the onion, chili and coriander.
The beef in black bean sauce was probably the pick of the lot: the meat was delicate and the sauce wonderfully thick and rich.
The rice was soft and light and the noodles were excellent - with that smoky stirfried flavour -and packed with vegetables.
Alex Polizzi might have nightmares over the appearance, but the food - while not stunning - more than makes up for it.
VENUE: Imperial Bento, A47 Wisbech Road, Thorney Toll, PE13 4AX, tel 01733 849188
Brad’s rating: 7