Sunday, 12 February 2012

Banana Tree - Review

London is hosting a Flamenco show this week at Sadler's Wells in Angel. A couple of friends (both ardent devotees of Seville in Spain) and I trotted across to Angel after work on Friday to watch one of the shows. It was the first time ever that I was watching a live Flamenco performance. I loved the music the most. The singers' voices held such depth and power. The Flamenco itself was good, but I can't say that I fell in love with it. Nevertheless, it was an energetic performance and one that we all enjoyed. 

We were starving post the Flamenco and decided to go out in search of some good grub in Angel. Our first stop was Jamie's Italian, which ended up being just that - a stop - as there was a 45 minute wait for a table for three. That's when we spotted the Banana Tree restaurant across the road, which is part of a chain that covers pan Asian cuisine. I had been to the West Hampstead outlet and had fond memories of the food, so I was definitely game.

After a brief wait, we managed to get a table on what was clearly a busy Friday evening for the restaurant. We started with Lychee and Lemongrass coolers. An excellent combination of flavours, except that our drinks were cloyingly sweet. Made with just the right quantity of sugar, this could have been such a nice drink. The flavour combination was a winner because of the contrast between the sweetness of the lychee and the fresh sharpness of the lemongrass.

Lychee and lemongrass cooler
We then moved on to the starters. We had the sauteed lamb with kari patta and cashews, which was an absolute gem. In my experience, the problem with most lamb dishes (other than those that use minced lamb) is that the lamb tends to get rather though when grilled. This though, was a fantastic dish with excellent flavours and we managed to wipe the plate clean in a shamefully small number of minutes. For me, this was definitely the highlight of our meal at Banana Tree.

Sateed lamb - the star of the show

We also tried the Vietnamese Monk's springrolls for the benefit of our vegetarian friend at the table. I thought this one was very disappointing. When I took a bite of the springroll, all I could taste was lots of oil. This is a must-avoid dish if you ask me.

Disastrously oily Vietnamese spring rolls

For mains, I ordered the char grilled blackened pork with nasi goreng. The pork was nice enough but was overshadowed by the sauteed lamb which managed to occupy my thoughts right till the end of the meal. I really liked the nasi goreng though - much heavier than just steamed rice but much taster too!

Grilled pork with nasi goreng

The other non-vegetarian at the table went for beef rendang with steamed rice. Because I cannot keep my hands off good food, I did try the rendang, which was very good. Rendang occupies a very special place in my food memories. When I was a student in Bangalore (seems like such a long time ago - the images pop up in my head in sepia now!), one of my favourite dinner haunts was a lovely little restaurant called ASEAN on Castle Street which served excellent pan Asian food. My favourite on ASEAN's menu was the chicken rendang. I understand that chicken rendang is a bastardised version of the real thing, beef rendang. ASEAN's adaptation of the original recipe is understandable given that there is a fair bit of queasiness surrounding beef in India (for those unfamiliar with India, the cow is sacred for the Hindus, who form 80 odd per cent. of India's population). The waiters at ASEAN were a particularly happy lot which added to the lovely vibe of this quiet restaurant tucked away in a little street in Bangalore.

Beef rendang

 Enough of a flashback into my salad days in Bangalore. So yes, the beef rendang was very good. My vegetarian friend looked quite content with the food that he had ordered, but by this time, I was so thrilled with all the lovely meat dishes on the table, that I didn't pay much attention to the little veggie festival that he had going on at his end of the table other than to click this photograph. Now that I look at it, that solitary coriander leaf looks like such an afterthought of a garnish!

Veggie dish that I paid scant attention to

In the company of two health conscious people, I felt tremendous social pressure not to indulge my weakness for dessert. I am sorry to report that I succumbed. We ended up spending roughly 20 pounds a head for the meal, including service tax.

I would give Banana Tree 4.5 stars out of five. The service was good and the food was excellent. That half a star deduction is for the sugar overload in our drinks and the oil overload in our spring rolls. Don't let these minor flaws stop you from visiting Banana Tree - you will leave a happy bunny, as I did.


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