Read my disclaimer about restaurant reviews.
St John Street
020 7278 7565 (phone)
Date: Lunch (early dinner) on January 25, 2015
The Good: Great SE Asian selection on the menu. My laksa was better than I’ve had at home, but not quite as good as The. Best. Laksa. Ever. in Wellington NZ.
The Bad: Prices, are you kidding me? I know everything is going to be more expensive in the UK, but I die inside a little every time I pay more than $3 for a SE Asian dish (and, sadly, it needed just the tiniest amount of salt).
My menu: Banana Tree laksa (superior combo) and a Tiger beer.
What I paid: About £15 or the current equivalent of $22.50
Value? Certainly, once you get past the ridiculously high cost of eating out in London. My meal was a huge serving, about the same as a large pho bowl back home.
Dine-again status: Yes, definitely; it’s right around the corner, easy walking distance. I might even become a regular!
The Story: This was my first meal in what is likely to become my new home neighborhood. And I can’t discount the romantic appeal of something so familiar and delicious when I’m feeling jet-lagged after a long flight and not just a little scared about having committed to a near-permanent international relocation. Finding great Asian food like this was what most Americans must feel like when they’re in a (probably-not-so) scary foreign country and then they see a McDonald’s. I read through the menu looking at all the choices, realizing “Alright, things are probably going to work out, this is going to be OK”. It was like putting on an old pair of slippers or your favorite, threadbare college sweatshirt. Yes, I get that I’m over-selling this place a bit, but it really made my day having lunch here.
The restaurant space itself was modern, clean, and well-filled with other diners at 3pm. Yes, that’s an odd time to be eating out but my jet-lagged mind didn’t care. I don’t know what the excuse was for everyone else there! Service was what I probably will come to think of as British-barman-terse: Polite, but to the point; not overly warm, but not rude either. That was a bit rough for someone who felt a bit loopy, disoriented, and wiped-out after a 9-hour flight and who is now having to pay attention to traffic coming from the wrong direction. But when lunch arrived (in about 5 minutes!) it more than made up for any lack of warm-fuzzies from the waitstaff.
The laksa had everything in it: fried tofu, shrimp, bean sprouts, cilantro, coriander meatballs (new to me and very distinctive in flavor, but good), chicken, rice noodles and the coconut-curry soup base that makes laksa what it is. It was in a large bowl, had to be about 40+ fl oz for my serving, and I ate every single bit, short of lifting the bowl to my face to finish it off. Manners count; I am in England, after all! The beer was was what Asian beers always are: slightly yellow-tinted water, but today it paired perfectly.
The next time I visit Banana Tree, I will have to try something else to see if the food is as good as the laksa, but skipping over the laksa is going to be difficult. Making it harder is that they offer a 10% discount for take-away orders. Maybe I should just leave my credit card on file for them?