Published: 06:00, 27 May 2021
| Updated: 10:16, 20 September 2021
I was hunched over my pork chow mein, picking through the noodles with my fork as I checked for hairy black flies.
Take one look at the TripAdvisor page for the Peking Express in Strood and you'll see why.
"Avoid like the plague, you’ll probably catch it eating here," writes one disgusted reviewer.
"Food was cold, tasted like it had gone off, a lot of fatty meat," another customer bemoans.
But one review really unsettled me as I scrolled through before placing my order. Gulp.
"HUGE DEAD FLY IN FOOD," it begins and is accompanied with a horrifying picture of the insect smothered in sauce.
The fuming diner adds: "We found a huge fly in our duck and after calling the restaurant they told us it simply wasn’t possible. I’m terribly disappointed and wouldn’t recommend to anyone!"
The Peking Express, at the time of this review, was the lowest-ranked traditional takeaway in Kent on TripAdvisor, based on customer ratings*.
But I thought it was only fair to try it myself.
That evening, I ordered on Just Eat what I believe are essential dishes to assess whether a Chinese takeaway is up to scratch: egg fried rice (£3.70), crispy chilli beef (£5.70), roast duck Chinese style (£6.30) and shredded roast pork chow mein (£5).
There was no collection available - not that I particularly wanted to venture out to get it - so there was an extra £2 for delivery and a 50p service charge, totalling £23.20.
The only drinks on offer were bottles of Coca Cola for £1, so I complemented my meal with a glass of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo red wine from Tesco.
My order was confirmed a couple of moments later at 7.24pm by the takeaway and I was informed it would be delivered between 8.10pm and 8.30pm.
The delivery driver rapped on the door earlier than expected, at about 7.50pm.
"Hello," he said, before producing the carrier bag full of grub from a shabby cooler bag. "Have a good evening," he muttered before hurrying off to his next ravenous customer.
The greasy stench of takeaway cuisine consumed the air in my kitchen - a smell which usually gets me excited, but that evening made me quiver.
I unpacked every dish and spooned portions onto my plate, inspecting them like an unyielding customs officer.
I'd also been treated to a bag brimming with prawn crackers, which are free with orders over £12.
But there are no fortune cookies in sight, so I couldn't even read a vague prophecy of what this meal would be like or the state of my belly afterwards.
Three of the dishes were warm, not piping hot, but the crispy chilli beef was slightly too cool for my liking.
The egg fried rice was too salty, however not wholly inedible and - more importantly - bug-free. The roast duck was nice and tender, but "melt in your mouth" would be a step too far.
Beef-to-batter ratio is crucially important when it comes to crispy chilli beef. Perhaps controversially, I don't like a lot of beef and I like the batter to be slightly chewy, and this was certainly the case in the dish from the Peking Express.
Finally, the chow mein was quite tasty and... free of flies!
Despite this, I can't say I got the same high from eating it that I usually do from ordering a good Chinese takeaway.
I was constantly checking the food for any unwanted surprises and was genuinely concerned about hygiene (The Food Standards Agency gave Peking Express 3 out of 5 following a visit in February, in case you were wondering).
But for those who may be apprehensive about giving the Peking Express a go, my experience is that is does not deserve the harsh reviews it has unfortunately garnered.
And I even enjoyed leftovers for lunch the next day!
Peking Express, 52 Station Rd, Strood, ME2 4BP
Food: There were no unwanted critters in the food. Most of the dishes were average, but the temperature of the food and the saltiness of the egg fried rice was a disappointment. ***
Drink: With only diet and regular Coca Cola on offer, the selection was poor. But the beauty of takeaways is that you can purchase your own drinks and my red wine was a delight. **
Decor: The outside of the building is in need of a revamp. However, I ordered online and didn't need to see it, so I got to enjoy the comfort of my own home. ****
Staff: The man who delivered my takeaway just gave me the food and left. No one wants small talk before they dive into their grub. ****
Price: I felt a total of £23.20 was not good value for money and could have been cheaper. ***
*Although some eateries appear lower down the list on TripAdvisor, this is because they have not yet been reviewed.