Oh, wow. This post has been an extremely long time in the making. Back in April, pre-Finals, I was contacted by Banana Tree and asked if I’d like to review their food, since they were a relatively new addition to one of Oxford’s busiest restaurant areas, George Street. It’s now nearly July – Finals, recovery and then the hideous events of last week all conspired to keep me away from this review for months on end.
But now it’s here! If you haven’t been to Banana Tree before, it’s important to know that they’re essentially a huge breath of fresh air compared to many of the chain restaurants around. Their portion sizes are more than generous, and they have a very affordable lunch menu that comes in at well under £10. Their Happy Hour extends to include mocktails, of which they have a wide variety. So far, excellent value for money.
This is what their website has to say:
Our founder and head chef, William Chow, opened his first 36 seater ‘Indo-Chinese’ cafe in West London 21 years ago. The cafe was born out of the [sic] his great passion for the different cuisines in this specific Southeast Asian region. He felt that by careful planning of the menu, he could showcase the best dishes from this vast and exciting area which in culinary terms does not really have distinct boundaries, as the different countries share so many common herbs and spices.
We have now organically grown to a total of 8 restaurants and our passion for good food has not diminished with our success. On the contrary, we have raised our game by creating an ‘in-house’ chef training academy, to ensure that our high cooking standards are maintained. William is still at the helm of our company and is passionately involved in the kitchen as well as our ever evolving fresh and wholesome menu. We strive to bring you new exciting flavours and offerings that are often not available outside of this Southeast Asian region.
When my boyfriend and I entered the restaurant, we were really impressed by the bright, airy interior, which combines modern furnishings with older, Eastern touches, and which still succeeds in becoming intimate and romantic as night falls, due to the subtle dimming of the lights. The plush orangutans hanging from the ceiling represent the company’s partnership with the Orangutan Appeal UK, which has been running since 2011. There is a good mixture of large multi-seater tables, perfect for parties and events, and smaller tables ideal for lunch and dinner dates. (Click to enlarge photos.)
Banana Tree is committed to treating their staff well and it definitely shows in the service! I’ve now visited the restaurant three times and each time the staff have been attentive, friendly and helpful, always ready to suggest a variety of dishes and refill your glass of water without even being asked!
We started out with the prawn crackers – can definitely recommend – and the steamed fish amok, which is a kind of fish souffle. This in particular was absolutely exquisite – incredibly soft, but still managing to carry the wonderful flavours of coconut and lemongrass. It was an amazing start to the meal, and I can’t wait until I get to try it again.
For the main, I couldn’t resist ordering a dish intriguingly named the Legendary Beef Rendang, described on the menu as:
A famous specialty from the Minangkabau Hill Tribe of Indonesia. This slow cooked dry & fragrant curry dish is complex, rich and nutty with a toasted coconut based sauce. The undisputed ‘King Of Curries.’
Of course, I had to try it, and the deep, rich flavours definitely did not disappoint! I also chose to create a “combo”, which adds a salad, corn cakes, a cracker and spiced rice, consequently making the meal enormous! I didn’t realise just how filling everything would be, and so we ended up taking much of the meal home to eat the next day – luckily, the staff fully understand how generous the portion sizes are, and don’t bat an eyelid when you ask them to pack things up for you.
Because everything was so filling, we didn’t have room for dessert: instead, we opted to have a cup each of Spiced Malay Pull Tea, which was deliciously warming, very like Indian chai. (Click to enlarge photos.)
The mocktails we ordered over the course of the evening were similarly enjoyable, and it was definitely a positive change from most places, who only offer one or two rather unadventurous alcohol-free choices. (Click to enlarge photos.)
I’m not normally so overwhelmingly positive in my reviews – as I’m sure you’re all aware by now – but I’ve been back twice for lunch in between April and now, so I definitely haven’t forgotten what it was like! It really is just that good. Of course, the inexpensive lunch deal makes it an ideal choice for getting an afternoon bite to eat if you’re in town – I’ve tried other dishes like the crispy chicken and Laksa soup, and they’re all just as excellent as what I’ve described here – but the extensive dinner menu means it’s also perfect for something a little more relaxed later in the day.
I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to review Banana Tree in Oxford, as I’ve now been recommending them non-stop to everyone I know as my new favourite place to eat in the centre of Oxford!
Have you tried Banana Tree? What did you think?
This meal was part of a PR sample, but the following two visits were paid for with my own money.