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Restaurant review, Papa Panda, Ipswich: “I was pleasantly surprised by this Chinese buffet”

PUBLISHED: 10:15 10 November 2017 | UPDATED: 12:48 12 November 2017

Restaurant review, Papa Panda, Ipswich: Crispy seaweed, salt and pepper wings, sushi and satay.

Restaurant review, Papa Panda, Ipswich: Crispy seaweed, salt and pepper wings, sushi and satay.

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Food

I haven’t set foot in a Chinese buffet for a very very long time. In fact, the last place I visited was this very restaurant in my late teens. Since then it’s had a not so great reputation. But with a completely new owner, new kitchen and new look I promised my kids (who’d been dying to go there) we could give it a try.

Instead of an open buffet (which always grosses me out) with the food exposed to the elements, each dish was enclosed in its own covered hot plate, with staff constantly checking them and replenishing their contents.

There must have been at least 30 dishes on the go, with something for everyone, including a teppanyaki grill (doubling up as a creperie which was a tad odd), and a sushi bar.

The kids are obsessed with crispy duck and couldn’t believe they could eat as much as they liked (being newcomers to all-you-can-eat it was like heaven).

Restaurant review, Papa Panda, Ipswich: Restaurant review, Papa Panda, Ipswich:

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The duck was succulent and tender, not shrivelled to within an inch of its life as is often the case. There weren’t any crispy bits of skin though, which was a let-down for me (I bet someone else stole it all). Other ‘starters’ included plump steamed pork buns, lip-smacking salt and pepper chicken wings, and chunks of chicken satay. I found some of the chicken a bit gelatinous and unchickeny, but the flavours of the sauces were good and for the price I couldn’t complain. I only wish the crispy seaweed had been less greasy. It had the requisite crunch, but left an oily film all over the plate which made me think twice about going back for more.

Restaurant review, Papa Panda, Ipswich: Crispy chilli beef, Mayalsian chicken, rice and noodles. Restaurant review, Papa Panda, Ipswich: Crispy chilli beef, Mayalsian chicken, rice and noodles.

The kids tried sushi for the first time, lapping up the exotic (but not too unfamiliar) rolls of rice filled with cucumber and tuna or topped with cooked prawns. This wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination the best sushi in town (the rice wasn’t seasoned with vinegar etc) but as a step into the unknown for many diners it would be a hit.

Of the main courses we piled on our plates, there was a Malaysian chicken curry which hit the mark, and some excellent char sui pork, which slipped down rather nicely with some piping hot noodles.

My favourite bite though was the shredded crispy beef. Not only was it crunchy rather than chewy, but the umami salty, spicy, sweet flavour was bang on the money. That was the single thing I went back most for.

If you can squeeze it in, which evidently my children did, there’s lots of choice for dessert. Steer yourself away from the chocolate fountain, marshmallows, sweets, chocolate fudge cake and cheesecake, and there’s a selection of freshly cut fruits on offer that might ease the guilt of having eaten like a pig for the past hour!

Restaurant review, Papa Panda, Ipswich: Pepper beef, salt and pepper prawns, kung po beef, black bean duck and rice. Restaurant review, Papa Panda, Ipswich: Pepper beef, salt and pepper prawns, kung po beef, black bean duck and rice.

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Drinks

There were ‘cocktails of the week’ at the bar and a decent range of soft drinks, wines and beers. We stuck with the soft drinks and water – saving room for the food.

Restaurant review, Papa Panda, Ipswich: Jelly, marshmallow and fudge cake. Restaurant review, Papa Panda, Ipswich: Jelly, marshmallow and fudge cake.

Location

It’s just a minute away from the Ipswich Regent, being right across the road, making it a good quick choice for pre or post theatre bites.

Ambiance

There was a pleasant hum to the restaurant, probably because it was packed. Everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Parking

This is where I wince in pain. Parking is almost prohibitively expensive in Ipswich. Many of the car parks close to the Regent are privately run and boy do they get their money out of you! Behind the theatre on the other side of the road is a small council car park that, if you can get in, is reasonable. Or burn off dinner and park at the council’s New Portman Road car park, which is free after 8pm.

Service

I wouldn’t usually associate all-you-can-eat with any kind of service, but I have to give credit where it’s due here. Used plates were whisked away from the table efficiently so we didn’t have to sit and look at the dregs of our feast for too long. Staff came over and asked if we were enjoying our meal. And drinks were offered and topped up whenever we needed.

Highlight

The shredded crispy beef for sure- but I think my children would say it was being able to dip fried egg sweets into the chocolate fountain!

Summary

If you’re looking for a quick pre-theatre or pre-cinema supper that will cater for families, groups, veggies and meateaters alike, you won’t go far wrong here. I don’t think, for a buffet, they could do anything better. It’s spotlessly clean, friendly, fast, and the food’s hot and tasty, which is all you could really ask for from this kind of place.

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