The little chain serving Indochinese food continues to impress Londoners. This Angel incarnation is pretty good too, with decent examples of Southeast Asian dishes knocked out at pleasing prices.
Over the crossroads from Angel, right at the end of St John Street, Banana Tree looks pretty attractive amongst some slightly less salubrious shops, bars and other restaurants. That typical, slightly industrial Banana Tree look is well-represented, with bits of exposed brickwork and air ducts, good-looking, swooping lampshades, a bit of foliage and tables closely and cosily aligned. Some tables are communal, but if you’re the shy type then you can wait for a smaller one, you precious little flower.
It’s in a pretty good spot, as there are plenty of local workers keeping it busy at lunchtime and immediately after work, as well as plenty of Islington folk who seem to like the accessibility and ease of this type of restaurant. Consequently it’s pretty busy throughout the week and into the weekend, but staff (bar the odd hesitant, unsure member – maybe they are new?) are friendly, efficient and remarkably smiley.
It’s vaguely authentic, but clearly geared toward the less forgiving western palate, so don’t expect too much searing heat – even if you request it. Vietnamese spring rolls (£4.70) are a little over-fried, but bursting with herby flavour – and the nuoc cham sauce isn’t bad. Kau chi dumplings (£4.60) are, again, great on flavour (loads of pork and prawn, and the aged vinegar and garlic sauce is good) but they’re a little sloppy, collapsing under their own weight like a fat man out of puff.
Crispy chicken with mango and sweet lime sauce (£7.50) is very good – really crunchy, well-fried chicken that’s been nicely marinated in a spicy, umami-rich seasoning and topped with mango and lime that’s just the right side of sweet. The ‘legendary’ moniker given to the rendang (£9.80) is overdoing it a little, but it is nicely spiced, well-layered and fragrant, and the beef is pretty tender. The aromatic pho (with chicken - £7.60) is just a bit bland, though, with a too-light stock and only gentle hints of star anise and cinnamon, and not enough basil, mint and coriander mixed in.
Pan-Asian desserts are fine, if uninspiring, with the Balinese pulut hitam pudding (£3.80) the best of the bunch – a faithful recreation of the gelatinous, sweet rice pudding, here served with a very good coconut ice cream. Coconut stuffed green Thai pancakes (£4.50) are also good.
The wine list is judiciously kept pretty short, with a few unadventurous whites (£14.25-£17.95) that have enough about them to stand up to some of the more robust flavours (not least a Mullygrubber Semillon Chardonnay), and a couple of reds that are equally fine. Cocktails are actually pretty surprising, and though they can be a touch too sweet, the Lychee Mojito (£6.40) is a bit of a bargain, with well-muddled mint and lychee wine, rather than syrup. Beers include bottles of Tsing Tao, Singha and Tiger (£3.50-£3.75) so no surprises there, but if you want to be good then non-alcoholic options are great, with some excellent teas (the lemongrass and ginger is spot-on), some freshly made raw juices (£3.25) and suitably sweet Vietnamese coffees (£2.50).
The Last Word
It’s hardly going to bring memories of your gap year flooding back but for decent and affordable pan-Asian food, Banana Tree once again proves itself reliable.