In the comfort zone, Chinese food is king.
While Indian cuisine has gone through a bit of a street-food revolution of late, Mexican got a fashionable overhaul by the likes of Wahaca, and Thai seems to have embraced the tapas trend, Chinese seems to have been left behind.
It is like a friend on hangover duty, a top takeaway choice when the fridge or effort levels just won’t deliver and a safe option for birthday bashes which will always boast one picky relative.
Which is what makes it quite brilliant.
In our fast-paced, high-demand world, the one thing you can be sure of is that sweet and sour will taste like sweet and sour pretty much everywhere you go – apart from actual China that is, but that’s a whole other mountain of eggplant.
The Imperial Palace, at Belmont Grove, Bedhampton, known by some by its former guise as The Belmont, has a good reputation and testament to this was the number of diners who turned out despite the downpour on Tuesday.
I’ll admit a punky penguin was tempting...
The staff, all two members that we could see, met everyone like they were regulars – which is to say they probably were – and provided an attentive and personable service throughout.
Keen to get a measure of what was to come, we did our usual trick of ordering the classics as we find it is a good gauge if the basics are done well.
This Dish Detective prides herself on being able to tell a lot about a place from an orange juice and lemonade, for instance, if it is squash the outlook isn’t great, if it is freshly-squeezed chances are I’ll get dessert.
In this case the benchmark was to be mini vegetable spring rolls (£3.80 for a portion of eight) and butterfly king prawns (£5).
While we waited we both tried to play pin the description on the decor.
The large space with neutral colour choices and suitably oriental canvas of photographs, drew comparisons to an airport lobby and likened to those dentist waiting rooms you find in practices based at converted Georgian properties.
That, thankfully, was as close as we got before the arrival of the first course called an end to the impossible task.
Both dishes posed less of a challenge being exactly as you’d imagine.
I would be surprised if the rolls were made on site, but they delivered the crisp pastry-soft beansprout centre contrast you would expect, while the prawns hit the mark once you stopped getting distracted by the relatively vibrant orange breadcrumbs.
Having already had a blast of nostalgia by ordering a bitter lemon to drink, my partner decided to return to an old favourite when picking the main course opting for beef with mushroom cooked in oyster sauce (£8.50).
While I took a different route by talking myself out of going for what I always do and instead selecting the king prawns with fresh ginger and spring onions (£9.30).
To accompany these we went with the egg fried rice and Singapore vegetable chow mein (£7.50). The latter was easily the stand-out dish of the day, being both impressive in size and flavour.
With just the right level of heat and a nice variety of vegetables, the mountain-sized portion helped spice up proceedings.
This was welcomed as the prawns and beef plates proved nice, but standard, fare.
Our appetites were such that we didn’t get doggy bags – unlike pretty much everyone else – and it is just as well we’d tucked in as the dessert list was handed over with a ‘we just have the frozen ones I’m afraid’.
I’ll admit, a punky penguin was tempting, but we were keen to get home before the food coma kicked in or the weather got to the point we’d have to hail an ark. So we made do with the imperial mint – nice name check – and fortune cookie.
RATINGS (out of five)
Tel: (023) 9249 8833