Banana Tree – Soho – restaurant review

This summer William Chow opened his sixth and latest branch of Banana Tree and this time in Soho, that bastion of Chinese cuisine of variable quality. He has remained true to his original concept and has his focus on Indochinese food. The chain has been around for 20 years, and to open a new restaurant in these desperate times shows continued confidence in the brand.

The new restaurant is on Wardour Street and here there is a link with William Chow. The street was named after Sir Archibald Wardour who was an architect and designed some of the buildings along the thoroughfare. William was himself an architect, but he left that career to follow his passion for food. He played a leading part in the interior design of the latest branch and it does indeed have impact. It’s not a temple to teak and there are no nodding luck-giving dogs, no ethnically-clad dusky lovelies to welcome the diner; In fact it’s a very contemporary space with tasteful techie lighting, imposing ceiling pipework and an acre or so of grey cement. The overall impression isn’t of cold minimalism but rather a functional restaurant that takes much of its ambiance from the buzz of diners.

Banana Tree is evidently a casual eatery. Its high communal benches offer convivial spaces for groups in the evenings. There are plenty of tables for 4 but be aware that if you are alone you might find that you are joined by strangers as the restaurant fills. You will have at least one thing in common with the new arrivals – love of good food.

Banana Tree pork The prices here are very reasonable and the menu offers a wide choice of traditional dishes of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia. William was born in Malaysia which has historically enjoyed the cuisines from the neighbouring countries as well as China. All those cuisines take advantage of the same palate of herbs and spices so it’s easy to mix and match dishes from different countries with no fear of culinary conflict.

We arrived for a late lunch and there was a steady flow of customers. No, I wouldn’t say that Banana Tree was full to capacity but many other restaurants in the area were empty. It seems that there are already a few who have Banana Tree as their restaurant of choice: some tourists, a couple of chunky chaps who might have been boxers and several office workers, all looking for a sustaining and flavourful meal without a wince-inducing price tag.

Double-cooked Crispy Pork Mix was my starter and I can highly recommend this. Morsels of various cuts of meat with a crunchy texture. Moreish with a mint, ginger and chilli dipping sauce that was so delicious that I saved the dregs to pour over my rice with the soon-to-follow main course. A simple little starter but memorable.

The Banana Tree Combo was appealing. It isn’t a single dish but rather a formula for your main meal. It adds sesame glass noodle salad, corn cakes, spicy crackers and jasmine rice. This spread is available with curries and regional specialities, and its addition turns a meal into a feast.

My main dish was the Legendary Rendang. This is a rich and flavourful casserole that has all the perfumed savour of the region. Spicy, yes, but aromatic and distinctive. A classic dish with plenty of sauce to take advantage of the aforementioned rice. There was no need for me to have hung onto that dipping condiment, after all. The salad was fresh and light, and those crackers were addictive. A substantial repast over which to linger.

Banana Tree works. It’s a friendly environment where one can enjoy an evening that won’t break the bank. It’s equally a spot to which to gravitate when you are alone and want some quality food rather than a coffee and a muffin or a pre-wrapped sarnie on a park bench. Lone diners won’t feel conspicuous at Banana Tree.

I am impressed. The standard of food is an obvious draw: a broad menu of well-presented dishes. It has accessible flair in unintimidating packaging. I look forward to visiting others in the chain.

Opening Hours: Mon-Sun 12 Noon-10.30pm
Banana Tree – Soho
103 Wardour Street, London W1F 0UQ
Visit Banana Tree Soho here


Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018