I am a bit wary about invitations to review restaurants. It’s a bit of a dilemma for a food blogger in that not paying for a meal can color your judgement or you feel bad about being negative. Before I accept I tend to check other reviews first to see if there is generally a positive vibe about the place and indeed if it looks interesting enough to write about. The Banana Tree opening a new flagship branch in Wardour Street in the heart of Soho certainly looked interesting as their Oriental Market style Kitchen is a great concept and the chain of restaurants has had lots of positive reviews.
We went at Sunday lunchtime (one of their quietest times I was told on the phone when making my reservation and again on arrival), so we missed out on the real buzz this place would have when busier. However there are advantages to visiting restaurants at quiet times. You get the pick of the tables, the kitchen and waiting staff tend to be less stressed. More people arrived while we were having lunch, so although it was not buzzing we did get a idea of the type of clientele that were attracted to the restaurant. “Young and Cosmopolitan” would be my description.
The restaurant with its distinctive Urban Chic design focuses on food from the Indochina region and the menu is certainly inviting with some appetising sounding dishes. We tried quite a few of the starters and shared some main courses. The Aubergine with Aromatic Caramel sauce was by far the most interesting of the dishes we sampled – nice flavour combinations. The self assembly Vietnamese lettuce wrap with spiced lamb didn’t work for us, it was a bit dry and we felt it was missing something to bind the ingredients together – although the pickled vegetables were nice. The other dishes we tried were not really that memorable – no standout flavours and normally I would not order something like Pad Thai when there are other more interesting dishes on the menu, but it’s a good one for comparison purposes – I have had a lot of Pad Thai. The Banana Tree Pad Thai was unfortunately bland and lukewarm. A description that could equally be applied to some of the other dishes we tried as well.
Wardour Street is a tough location for a restaurant, there is a lot of competition. They have a nice concept here, the staff are very friendly and attentive, but alas the food (on our visit) did not live up to the promise of the menu.