Ever since I moved to Chelmsford two years ago its dining kept growing. While it might be a small city, its close proximity to London means that commuters are hungry for exotic food instead of the done to death cuisines of China and India.
The openings of Turtle Bay and Las Iguanas went down a storm and I recall that I wasn't able to find a table at these places on a Friday or Saturday night for weeks. This time Banana Tree is getting the popular treatment. The restaurant's decor is minimalist with not a carpet or soft furnishing in sight, which makes for a very noisy venue once a big crowd is in it.
Staff is on the ball although it felt like ages waiting for our drinks to arrive on both rounds. During Happy Hour there's a 2-for-1 offer on a select number of cocktails. Not to be missed is the Lychee Mojito (£7.95).
As expected, the menu is exotic and interesting to peruse. The best dishes from a few cuisines feature. E.g. Sweet & Sour for Chinese (British Chinese, that is), Laksa from Malaysia, Satay from Thailand, Pho form Vietnam and Rending from Indonesian. Everything looks good.
For starters we had the Fresh Indo Duck Wraps (£6.95), served with Batavia lettuce, Viet pickle, fresh herbs and Nuoc Cham dipping sauce. Although you can eat the spring rolls straight, the dish came with instructions how to eat this Vietnamese dish. I.e. you need to place the herbs and pickle in a lettuce leaf, then the spring roll and sauce before wrapping the concoction. The starter was good but proved to be a messy affair.
Vegetarians will fall in love with the Aubergine with Caramel Sauce (£5.95) at the first bite but the best of the bunch was the Mekong Crispy Prawns (£6.95) which came with a sweet chilli dip. What I liked was that all dishes came with plenty of fresh salads abundantly dressed with various sauces.
The Beef Rendang (£10.95) lived up to its famous name. The meat was tender and the thick sauce aromatic and downright moreish. The Chilli, Ginger & Basil Prawn Stirfry (£10.95) contained an abundance of fresh vegetables and the inclusion of cloud ear mushrooms was a novelty. Side dishes such as rice need ordering separately. There is a special combo side dish available that can be ordered with any main course that comprises rice, crackers, salad and sweetcorn fritters, which proves to be a massive portion.
I couldn't help but think that the chefs went a bit overboard with the green food colouring for the Coconut-stuffed Pandan Pancakes (£5.95), although the sweet coconut filling with peanuts was sublime.
All in all, it was a good meal flavour-wise but I left with one gripe and it is a big one. Banana Tree came off as quite protein stingy. The Beef Rendang barely had enough meat to justify the £10.95 price tag. The protein in the duck spring rolls was close to non-existent. In the prawn stirfry there were only four measly prawns detected in the whole dish. This issue can easily be rectified if Banana Tree isn't so focussed on the profit margins, leaving customers irked.
25-27 Exchange Way
P.S. I was a guest of Banana Tree but all opinions are my own.
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