REVIEW: Banana Tree in Chelmsford
PUBLISHED: 11:41 22 March 2019
Stephanie Mackentyre reviews the Banana Tree on Chelmsford's Exchange Way, a popular Pan-Asian location
When I last went in search of some vegan menus it was pretty difficult to find any participating restaurants, however in November last year it was reported that one in eight of us are now either vegan or vegetarian and so several of our forward-thinking restaurants are now getting the vegan vibe.
Banana Tree was the idea of founder and head chef William Chow, who opened his first 36-seater Indo-Chinese cafe in West London 27 years ago.
The cafe was born out of his great passion for the different dishes in this specific Southeast Asian region, including Singaporean, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Malaysian and Thai cuisine. He now has nine restaurants, one of which is in Chelmsford.
Although we called in advance we were told there was no need to book as there were only two in our party. Prawn crackers were offered while we checked out the menu and as soon as I asked for the vegan menu our waitress suggested trying the sesame crackers as an alternative to prawn. They arrived swiftly with sweet chilli dipping sauce.
There is a happy hour on cocktails and mocktails from noon to 7.30pm Sunday to Thursday, so with wild strawberry sparkler in hand, we checked out the IndoChina dishes on offer.
For my vegan experience, the spring rolls and crispy dumplings only narrowly lost out to curry puffs with a satay sauce. My dining partner opted for the signature dish – steamed chicken dumplings in a fresh herb sauce.
Both dishes were freshly cooked, certainly had plenty of spicy flavours and were good-sized portions too. Next I decided to try Banana Tree Laksa (I am salivating as I write this, just reliving the intense flavours in my mind.)
Also described as soupy noodles on their menu, rice noodles are topped with house-special spiced coconut broth, with chargrilled aubergine, tofu and crispy beansprouts, coriander, lime, fresh red chilli and shallots.
A huge bowl, it certainly packed a punch when it came to spiciness and variety of tastes. I couldn’t finish mine so our waitress offered to pack it up for me to take home — which I gladly accepted.
For my guest it was the beef rendang. You need to add a side of rice, so my tip is to order the combo. For the same price (£3.95) you can have Indo house salad, sweet corn cakes, Indo crackers, aromatic spiced rice and crushed nuts all served with your main dish.
Water was also brought to our table regularly, which was most welcome as all the dishes we found to be packing quite a spicy punch. However, they were also mouth-wateringly delicious, so we had to keep delving in.
Full to the brim we ordered banana fritters to share, served with vanilla ice cream, to complete our night out. With four sizeable fritters in the lightest, fluffiest batter, drizzled with chocolate sauce, it was a good call. The ice cream also helped to put out the fire from the fresh chilli we’d devoured earlier.
Viet café noung for two completed our evening – filter coffee served with condensed milk. This was hot, sweet and surprisingly delectable.
Petit Fours & Against
To be applauded: The ethos to embrace and welcome veganism and protect the planet.
Prefer less of: Spice! I know it’s an Asian restaurant but some dishes that were more fragrant than spicy would have been a welcome alternative.
Worthy of note: Such friendly staff and very efficient service
Who would enjoy this place: Nobody could help but feel welcome here, so it’s the perfect spot for groups of friends or couples for a cosy night.
I wish I’d also tried: The Phad Thai – wok fried noodles in tamarind, palm sugar and fish sauce with eggs, bean sprouts, peanuts and crispy shallots and prawn crackers, served with chicken, beef, prawn or tofu.
Worth returning for: Those swanky orange swing chairs, I bet they’re fun to get out of after 2 for 1 cocktails!
Useful to know
The total bill came to £63.20 for two courses and a shared dessert plus drinks and coffees. This is an independent review, featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and wine editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
Book a table
Banana Tree, 25-27 Exchange Way, Chelmsford, CM1 1XD | 01245 931343