Enter a mix-max of new cuisine that you may not have tried before at Banana Tree in Clapham Junction. Here you’ll get the chance to enter regions that you haven’t explore, through scrumptious and delicious cuisine.
In three words: Exotic, Buzzing, Exciting
The Lowdown: You’ve enjoyed Japanese and Thai cuisine – heck, you might in fact be able to roll-call your favourite dishes. But how about food from regions like Cambodia, Java and the Minangkabau Hill Tribe of Indonesia? Well, these parts of the globe can offer the same stunning taste sensations, with the use of aromatic herbs, spices and delicious combinations of exotic ingredients.
This is what William Chow wanted to bring to the people of England when he opened the first establishment back in 1991. Originally an Indo-Chinese cafe, his intention was to showcase all the beautiful flavours of Southeast Asia – and boy, did London love it. Banana Tree was born in 1997, and whether munching on green papaya salad or tucking into crispy pork with rau ram mint, the British public embraced the concept wholeheartedly.
Location: The first ever Banana Tree was opened in Maida Vale nearly twenty years ago, and since then has grown to eight restaurants. We visited the Clapham Junction site – a mere stone’s throw from the station itself, just at the bottom of lively Battersea Rise.
The Occasion: Banana Tree is great for groups of friends – there are long, communal tables, a vibrant atmosphere, and some hearty dishes to catch up over. There’s also a great cocktail happy hour for those in the mood to get the party going.
Decor: There’s a simplicity to Banana Tree that makes it immediately chilled – lots of wood, low lighting and exposed brick give it an air of a contemporary tree-house. We liked the large black and white mural depicting a bustling street in Southeast Asia – it transported us to the wonderful, hectic world that Chow was aiming to capture.
Atmosphere: Relaxed yet buzzing, busy with people getting their noodle fix or experiencing a new delicacy. It’s always been merrily full whenever we’ve passed by, and our visit was no exception – with laughter in the air and a burble of chatter, it certainly set the tone for a good evening.
Culinary Concept: An authentic commotion of dishes from the Indochina region of the world, using lots of aromatic herbs and spices. Mint, ginger and lemongrass sit alongside mango and bamboo shoots for some truly scrumptious dishes.
What we tried:
The very air of Banana Tree smells gorgeous, and your mouth will soon be watering. Chicken Dumplings were divine – translucent, slightly shimmering steamed parcels, speckled with a confetti of coriander and served in an ink-dark vinegar and herb sauce that erupted in taste. The Crispy Seafood Moneybags were tight, golden wontons packed with flavour – the prawn shone through and was helped along by a dip of fiery chilli sauce.
We found it almost impossible to choose a main course, but in the end went for the Legendary Rendang. This speciality, known as ‘the King of Curries’, is from the Minangkabau Hill Tribe of Indonesia – a must-try for any fans of slow cooked, rich dishes. The unctuous, slightly nutty sauce hugged tender chunks of chicken, and the toasted coconut base was just tangible within all the complex spices. We accompanied it with the Banana Tree Combo – a platter of fluffy rice perfect for soaking up sauce, two sweet discs of corn fritters, and a zingy Asian salad topped with peanuts.
We also thought it wise to try one of the Stir Fries from the Indochina Garden, and went for Lemongrass, Tumeric and Cashew Nuts. This was a dish of oriental heaven – plump prawns piled atop fresh, crunchy vegetables, all swimming in a dark soy sauce. The saltiness was nicely balanced by the crunch of nut and zing of lemongrass. We could have closed our eyes and heard the orangutans calling outside.
For next time: We’d be sure to leave space for dessert – the coconut stuffed green Thai pancakes sounded intriguing. I also loved the idea of Tamarind Crispy Fish with Thai Basil Glaze. Definitely a pick for the next visit!
Veggie delights: Banana Tree is veggie heaven, and those who don’t eat meat will be in their element. There are tofu versions of most of the meals, as well as specials like Tamarind Spicy Aubergine.
Best of the booze: There are some fun cocktails to get you going – the Dirty Thai Guy had a kick of spice finished off by boozy rum and a twist of lemongrass – it was exceedingly exotic, while those with a sweeter tooth will love the Lychee Mojito. There’s also a decent wine list and the essential Tiger beer for those wanting to kick-back to their time on a Thai beach.
Overall: You could most likely point out Japan or Thailand on a globe – but how about Malaysia, Cambodia or Sarawak? And yet these regions have a rich and diverse culinary culture just waiting to be embraced by the taste buds. The menu at Banana Tree is as exciting as Borneo rainforest – exotic, wildly colourful, and choc-full of things you might never have experienced. Yet it’s not scary – there is something that everyone will find tempting. What’s more, there was an undeniable freshness and lack of greasiness that we loved. So, with eight restaurants dotted around London like tropical flowers, then it’s up to you to find your nearest and get a taste of Indochina at its best.
75-79 Battersea Rise SW11 1HN
+44 207228 2828