The newest branch to the expanding Indochinese chain, Banana Tree Soho fits in perfectly with its surroundings thanks to deliciously different food served in an easygoing but vibrant setting.
Sat right in the centre of bustling Wardour Street, Banana Tree does have plenty of restaurant competition nearby but not when it comes to cuisine. Huge windows mean you can’t help but peek into the buzzing restaurant as you walk by, offering views of an industrial-chic interior with concrete tables, sparse decoration and exposed piping and ventilation boxes. It's all given a sense of personality from low-hung light shades, touches of warming woods and a smattering of foliage but you get the impression there's an attempt to stay authentic to restaurants back home with an 'only have what you need' ethos that works just as well here too.
The decor translates to the atmosphere of the place too, giving things a casual, relaxed feel. There's no music so the buzz comes from the busy open kitchen and diners comprising a good mix of Soho folk – mostly young groups of friends and couples. The staff manage to stay very attentive even during the packed peak (around 8pm) and can happily advise you on your choice.
The 'tit bits' are a nice way to introduce you to the cuisine and give you the idea that it’s South East Asian food, but not as you know it. The melinjo crackers are good to get the taste buds going – melinjo nuts are pounded, formed to create a cracker and fried, before being served with a sweet chilli dipping sauce. The tilapia fish wrap is an impressive and light sharer starter, with crisp lettuce leafs acting as the wrap, and crunchy vegetable salsa and glass noodle salad as additional filling. The lamb curry is definitely worth a try despite the lack of description (it's something of a secret recipe). It boasts a warm base and deep spices that hint at something along the lines of a red Thai curry, served with very tender, slow cooked chunks of lamb that combine for a delicious dish. To make your main go further, the supplement special helps offer variety, with sweetcorn cakes, a glass noodle salad and jasmine rice. The char-grilled blackened chilli pork is another one to try, with flattened, glistening medallions of pork boasting a seductively sweet glaze full of spice and flavour - wonderfully soft and deliciously moreish. Pair it with the mee goreng noodles for a really authentic dish.
Banana Tree Soho has an impressive drinks menu, with a few well-made cocktails on special offer too. The Lychee Mojito (£5.90) is very refreshing, the mint and lychee working well to create a little holiday in a glass. The Red Saigon (a vodka based cocktail with ginger syrup, rau ram mint and raspberry juice - £6.40) arrives as a rich ruby red drink with pomegranate gems sitting on the bottom and a flavour that boasts a lovely sweet finish.
The Last Word
Located in an area packed with different cuisines, Banana Tree Soho can easily stand its ground. The relaxed vibe, casual setting, deliciously comforting food and inventive cocktail menu suggests that this branch will do very well - it's just a slight shame there’s no dessert menu.