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.