Sunday, 9 October 2011

Banana Tree - Indo China Kitchen, Soho - London Restaurants



I don't do chains. That has been my cry throughout life. I am from a city where Starbucks doesn't survive. Whether it be coffee, sandwiches, restaurants or clothes, we Melbournians like our independent stores for all their quirky, unpredictable glory.

But then I moved to London and stumbled upon Busaba. And I liked it. It became our standard lazy option for decent, local Thai food. In my desperation to find an acceptable coffee in the early days, I even tried Costa and Cafe Nero. Thank God we discovered Flat White, and promptly moved in down the road.



Papaya salad



BananaTree is a little chain operation that I wasn't all that keen to try because, well, it's a little chain operation. But then I did. And it was really good. The food was lovely and the place had personality. So then, exhausted after weeks of travelling and long hours, TPG and I decided to go again on Friday night - to lazily send off the week with a table full of food and a bottle of wine. And an hour later, by coincidence, I received a voucher to come in and visit for essentially a free meal (review us if you like us, give us the feedback if you don't). Done.


Eggplant


I like it.

Specialties from the Indochina region (think the lemongrass and fresh herbs of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar mixed in the the dry spices of mainland Malaysia) are served in a casual and funky setting. The room has an industrial fit out (quirky low hung light fittings, wooden tables, concrete walls, exposed pipelines, splashes of red), with an open kitchen (now becoming something of a norm in new London restaurant openings) and a mix of small and communal tables. Although Banana Tree has only been open in Soho for a month, by 8pm it's buzzing with a crowd, but minus the long queue of Busaba up the road.


Chargrilled pork



Feast on the tart but addictively sweet goodness that is the papaya salad (£5.90), actually right up there with the best I can remember having, along with some lusciously gooey baked aubergine with caramelised vinegar sauce (£4.20) - a bit like the Japanese nasu dengaku, and the big hitting rendang (£9.80) - satisfyingly big, tender chunks of beef, slow cooked in coconut milk and spices like lemongrass and chilli. The sautĂ©ed lamb with fragrant kari patta leaves, cashews, coriander, tomatoes and spring onions (£8.50) is rammed with so much flavour that I don't mind that the lamb is too dry. Large, thin slices of chargrilled blackened chilli pork are marinated in dark soy, palm sugar, chilli, garlic and spices (£8.90) and come with a nice nasi goreng - more deliciousness. With 2 glasses of wine our tab comes up to around £50 for 2 people.



Rendang


After eating at Nahm earlier in the week, eating this sort of food anywhere else so soon was at risk of being a massive downer. But, actually, I really like Banana Tree. I think Busaba has gone downhill recently, and in my view Banana Tree definitely comes up trumps for the quality of its food. Just watch the prices as they can stack up. Looking at the cost of each dish, I don't think they're overpriced compared with other places in the area (although the rending and some other dishes are probably pushing the upper end of the scale), but I probably tend to go to chains thinking they should be the cheap option, when actually the costs can sneak up on you.

Oh, and the service staff have been really sweet and keen on both my visits (as much on the anonymous one as my invitation to review). It may be a mini chain, but don't be afraid - it still has soul and you can taste it. Definitely one to try.

Banana Tree - Indo China Kitchen, 103 Wardour Street, W1F 0UQ (Tel 0202 7437 1351)

Banana Tree on Urbanspoon

There are other Banana Tree outlets at Angel, Bayswater, Clapham Junction and West Hamstead.

11 comments:

  1. This place is a double-no for me. Not only do I not do chains but I also don't do pan-Asian! That said, it doesn't look as bad as some pan-Asian joints. Who knows, I may even take off my snob-hat and pop in...

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  2. I loved Busaba when it first opened. As you say, it defied preconceptions of a 'chain restaurant' and served simple, tasty, authentic food at reasonable prices. But I think it's gone downhill recently and I've not yet found somewhere to replace it...so thanks for the tip! Definitely going to try Banana Tree next time I'm in that part of the world :-)

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  3. Hi Mr Noodles - I have always held the same wariness about Pan Asian/chains, and I can't vouch for everything being 100% authentic, but the main thing is (in my opinion) that it tastes good - which it does. Let me know your thoughts if you do pop in.

    The Little Loaf - I think you'll find this is a really good replacement!

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  4. I don't feel bad about this one, because it's been in West Hampstead for about 15 years and I went when it was a one-off indie.

    Quite ahead of it's time; shared wooden benches long before Wagamama was around. And nice, affordable food. FWIW - I like pan-Asian when you casn't quite decide! Or fancy Thai crackers with Chinese...

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  5. I'm amongst the chain-haters, but every now and again a small operation sneaks up on me and surprises me.

    I love Banana Tree - The one in West Hampstead has been the quick and lazy option for as long as I can remember!

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  6. Isn't it interesting? Sometimes *whisper it* they can just hit the spot. In London Canteen, Leon and Byron all hit the right notes with me. Sometimes, when you're feeling a bit worn out, don't want any hassle, but are out and about, then any of those hit the spot. Except Byron, Byron doesn't need to wait for me to feel worn out, it hits the spot no matter how I feel.

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  7. I'm not a food snob but some chains are really awful, some not too bad like @TheGrubworm mentioned Leon and Byron being the main exceptions.

    Banana tree is not bad and the food I had at their new branch in Soho recently was surprisingly good. I reviewed it here : http://www.slowfoodkitchen.com/banana-tree-soho-hot-eats/

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  8. I feel the same way about Pan Asian chains as Mr Noodles... but y'know...this place doesn't look too bad...

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  9. Oh, how I miss London... A chain snob myself I was a bit shocked when first moving to London but I slowly found the nice places. That, for coffee, all seem to be Antipodean (Flat White, Nude, Foxtrot and Ginger). Will try this one for a quick bite next time I'm in London, can't say no to a good rendang!

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  10. Never got the Busaba thing like everyone else. I guess some places strike a ord and some do not ..... We'll see if Banana Tree Soho does....

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  11. The Indonesian Malaysian food is my favorite. I love the spiced curries & the peanut sauce. These dishes have provoked my craving & now want to savor them.

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