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103 Wardour Street
Most canny London diners have a mental list of budget eateries that they can always fall back on, & Banana Tree – the now-trendy Thai chain that’s grown steadily over the last 20 years – is emphatically on the list. ‘Tasty food at a reasonable price’ is enough to keep punters queuing up, squeezing in & sharing tables. ‘Indochina’ is the culinary inspiration, & dishes from Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore & Thailand all make an appearance on the menu. Chicken-stuffed ‘moneybags’ & aubergine with aromatic caramel sauce are favoured appetisers, ahead of ‘huge mains’ such as char-grilled blackened chilli pork with nasi goreng, steaming bowls of laksa & Thai green curry. Vegetarians will find tofu & vegetable options aplenty. Cheap Asian-inspired cocktails & cold beers complete an offbeat, ‘gap year’ experience.
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103 Wardour Street
020 7437 1351
Tottenham Court Road Tube Station 309m
Piccadilly Circus Tube Station 331m
Freedom Theatre 51m
Wardour Street 71m
Mon-Sun 12N-11pm (Sun -10.30pm)
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 4
I guess it's not great to start a review by saying “I don't normally write reviews, but I just had to in this case”? – Oh well, too late. I just felt that this was the ‘underdog’ of Asian chains that needed a thumbs up!
I visited Banana Tree Soho last Friday night with a three colleagues after work (we're all in our mid 20's). A few friends of mine kept going on about this place, so thought why not!
Make sure you get there early, or you may have to wait around for a bit! We got there at around 8pm and waited only 5-10minutes luckily – the large group behind us weren't so lucky!
It's quite funky in there, it has a very ‘market-syle’, ‘back home’ type of feel with it's exposed ceiling and use of raw materials like metal, concrete and this huge cage above the kitchen (seriously, it's big!). My only comment is that a bit more lighting would have been nice (menus were a bit hard to read)
Even during an extremely busy evening with a queue, they still managed to attend to us efficiently and go through some details of the menu! One of my colleagues is a veg this month for some reason, and they even had a Vegetarian Specific menu! (well done Banana Tree).
There were a lot of dishes on the ‘newspaper style’ menu which we had to try! however considering we were very hungry, decided to go for the chef's signature dishes. I had The Legendary Rendang with a side of rice and Spicy Green Papaya Salad. The Legendary Rendang was served in a cast iron pan on a wooden block, with a bamboo / banana leaf inside – it was very well done, however made my expectations very high. The Rendang was around 5 big chunks of prime beef, very tender – served in a rich sauce with a lemongrass kick to it at the end (my mouth is watering talking about it), it was delicious! one of the best curries I had ever tasted! My only complain (if any), is that the chunks were quite big, almost felt like a cannibal eating it!
The Spicy Green Papaya Salad was nothing like I have tried before, it is definitely spicy after a few mouth fulls, however always leaves a burst of freshness from the Papaya and mint – you have to try it. My colleague Hiran devoured his!
We all had one of their freshly made ‘Raw Juices’ which was delicious, however they do an interesting list of cocktails, including a ‘Dirty Thai Guy’?!!
I am not a chef, or food blogger, however am a customer (representing the masses) – someone who eats out a lot! and can honestly say that Banana Tree is up there with some of my favourites. They offer authentic style cuisine, emphasising on fresh herbs and spices from their ‘indochina’ area, and it doesn't break the bank! (around £25 per head). The only way to compare this restaurant is to say it is in between Wagamama's (in terms of style) and Busaba (in terms of cuisine quality) – however the restaurant has a certain personality that Wagamama's does not – but don't take my word for it, try them out.
Food + drink: 3
Following in the footsteps of other ‘alright to like it’ chains Wahaca, Byron and Cay Tre, The Banana Tree Canteen has opened its doors on the lucrative corner of Old Compton and Wardour Street. They've stripped back a relatively new concrete clad build to reveal, surprise shock horror, a bland concrete interior, complete with a ceiling full of air con and shiny piping. Unnecessarily New York.
The menu takes you on an interesting twirl round Indochina, an accurate description, if slightly colonial and not a word you hear oft used to describe the Thai / Viet / Malay cuisine on the short snappy list. Like trailblazing neighbour Busbai Eathai (they of the legendary hour long post work queues) it's aimed squarely at the office crowd. There's a good mixture of sweet and spice, nothing too challenging, and you'll get away for £25 a head, perfect for that leaving lunch or a postscript to a few drinks.
A selection of mainly fried dim sum style starters thankfully feel homemade, or at least freshly made, and skip the sacherrine sweet MSG chilli toilet cleaner that often accompanies such dishes. We pulled little morsels of salty porky flesh from their bones and hoovered up moist and juicy minced chicken ‘moneybags’ – deep fried in bulbous wonton wrappers, pleasingly large, and definitely more than Monica from HR could cope with in one mouthful. Steamed dumplings were sadly less successful. Waterlogged, still born gzoya in an acrid burnt sauce.
Mains were pleasingly meaty, coming in two principle variants – the marinaded to dark almost bitter perfection meat, a char-grilled blackened chilli pork and a blackened beef both fell into this category, or the softer strops of al dente noodle curled round various sauces. The meat arrived punctuated with pillowy mixed vegetable rice and more dipping sauce, they had enough heat for the casual chilli hound, though not enough for me, lacking as they did the kick from the missing, surely obligatory, bottle of Sriracha sauce.
Cocktails are a bit of a let down sadly, in an All Bar One kind of way. Overkill of cinnamon gave (too much) Oriental flavour to a watery Mai Tai and the freezer cold lychees in a second were just nasty. That being said, I'm sure I'll be back, it's a sufficiently above average offering in an everyman kind of way and sometimes frankly, only a Thai can satisfy.
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