Sandwiched between Zizzis and the Opium Den, across the street from the Old Fire Station, Banana Tree is the latest culinary chain restaurant arrival in George Street. Billed as a healthy 'Indochina kitchen', the menu contains extensive treats from Southeast Asia. The 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 his great passion for the intermingling of common herbs and spices throughout Southeast Asia. He brings this passion to this latest sit-down restaurant chain in Oxford.
Having decided to catch a late showing of Carol across the street, at the Odeon, my husband and I found ourselves with enough time to eat out. We stumbled into Banana Tree to try something new, and started with a sharing platter of five Kajang Satay Sticks. The peanut sauce was heavenly, and we enjoyed uncurling the palm leaf covered sticky rice which accompanied the Malaysian barbecued chicken sticks which transported me to Penang.
For the mains, I devoured The Banana Tree Laksa, rice noodles topped with the house special spiced coconut broth with aubergine, tofu, and bean sprouts. It was generously garnished with coriander and crispy shallots. It's available with chicken, coriander meatballs, or prawns, but I asked for extra tofu. A little red 'spice' symbol on the menu had warned that it was hot, but aside from a gorgeous background warmth, I didn't find the dish overwhelmingly spicy at all. The Laksa was a large bowl of lusciously deep goodness, the vegetables were fresh and abundant, and the flavours and textures perfectly balanced.
My husband had The Legendary Rendang, a famous speciality from the Minangkabau Hill tribe of Indonesia, available either in the original beef or experimental chicken. My husband ordered the beef. What arrived was an intense slow cooked, dry and fragrant curry, incredibly rich in flavour and containing complex twists in flavours. He added the house combo to his dish, so it was accompanied with an Indo house salad, crushed nuts, pakora-like sweet corn cakes, and aromatic rice. I couldn't resist leaning over to try it. Although I would have preferred it with fresh roti rather than rice, it was superbly intense. We ended with the Coconut stuffed Green Thai Pancakes, filled with a delectable creamy surprise.
Five satay sticks came to £6.95. We have already tempted friends to join us for the 10 stick (£13.45) sharing platter in the New Year. The beef Legendary Rendang was £10.95, and the Laksa £9.50. An upgrade to the house combo comes in at £3.95, but is well worth it.
The service was a little slow, but the staff were keen and eager to impress. The back of the restaurant was cleverly designed to include elevated seating, creating the optical illusion that diners were sitting crossed legged, while in fact having their legs disappear into a dipped space. The decor is simple, but the food delectably deep and complex. I would highly recommend Banana Tree, and am looking forward to welcoming in 2016 having planned to return in the New Year.