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The Banana Tree Canteen (London)

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1 Review

237-239 West End Lane / London / NW6 1XN / Tel: 0871 0757439.

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      17.04.2007 15:34
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      Something a bit different...

      I came across this restaurant purely by chance; we were wondering around West Hampstead looking for something a bit different to eat and happened across this one that serves a mixture of South Asian food. Although the word ‘canteen’ brings to mind cheap, not particularly tasty University food, the menu was sufficient enough to persuade us to give it a try.

      Location
      West Hampstead is well served by both the tube (Jubilee line) and the Silverlink. Turn out of either station and walk uphill for a few hundred metres – the restaurant (or should I say canteen?) is on your left-hand side.

      Address:
      237-239 West End Lane
      Hampstead
      London
      NW6 1XN

      Telephone: 020 7431 7808

      Décor
      From the outside, the glass-fronted façade looks very welcoming. The bar and serving counter are visible from the street, which gives it a warm, friendly feeling. I was actually quite surprised when I walked in and discovered that the tables really are canteen-style – long with fixed benches. There are a few tables for four though if you really don’t like the idea of sharing a table with others.

      The interior is fairly plain; the tables don’t have table cloths and decorations are kept to a minimum, but there is a very vibrant feeling to the place and I felt quite comfortable there. The lighting reminded me very much of Japanese restaurants – dimmed, but not so much that you couldn’t see what you were eating.

      Food
      There is a good selection of food on the menu, although it would have been even better had it been a little more extensive – the cuisines of South East Asia are wide and varied after all. The menu was basically divided up into sections: starters (which included things like Vietnamese spring rolls); fried noodles; soup noodles; stir fries, South East Asian curries and side dishes. The stir fries and curries were particularly good value at about £9 because you could pick a flavour, choose the meat or fish you wanted to have in it and it came served with rice and a couple of side dishes.

      I chose a side dish of beancurd with salsa and the Hanoi spicy noodle soup. My partner chose fried noodles with barbecue pork. To accompany it, we chose a bottle of house wine.

      I am a big fan of beancurd – it grew on me over a number of years, but now I love that nutty, creamy taste. Even better, it is really good for you. For this dish, the beancurd was crispy on the outside and lovely and soft on the inside, topped with ‘salsa’, which looked like, but tasted nothing like, a tomato-based salsa. It was actually quite spicy and had some ingredients in it that I couldn’t even begin to guess at, but it was absolutely delicious and melted in the mouth.

      The noodle soup came in an enormous bowl. The soup was clear and very fragrant, with just a touch of spiciness – I would actually have preferred it to be a little bit hotter. In it were beansprouts, mushrooms, chicken and shallots, along with a pile of flat noodles. It was really delicious and I enjoyed every drop.

      My partner’s dish was also very tasty. We were quite surprised that it came with the noodles served on a bed of salad, with the meat next to it – we were expecting the meat to be cooked in with the noodles. The barbecue pork was cooked to perfection – beautifully tender with all the taste that Asian barbecue pork should have. I often find that some restaurants use the barbecue option to get rid of pork that they perhaps wouldn’t otherwise serve – not the case with this. The noodles were very tasty, slightly spicy and strangely enough, blended well with the salad.

      There were desserts, including ice cream and sorbets, but we were so full that there wasn’t room for anything else!

      The drinks
      We just ordered a bottle of house white, but I did notice that there was a good selection of drinks being served, including cocktails, beers and lagers (including Hoegaarden) and a range of coffees and teas.

      The service
      I have read about some experiences of bad service at this restaurant. We had excellent service. Someone met us at the door, although the restaurant was quite full, and had attentive service throughout the meal without feeling under pressure to order. When we wanted them, they were there; exactly what I want.

      The toilets were clean and more than adequate.

      The price
      As the name suggests, this is a canteen-style restaurant and almost has prices to match (not quite as cheap as my old University’s canteen though!). We paid about £26 for two main courses and a side dish and a bottle of wine.

      All in all, I definitely recommend this restaurant if you are looking for a quick, nutritious and tasty meal. Although it is canteen-style, it has a more relaxed atmosphere than Wagamama’s, so you could stay around for longer if you wanted to, particularly late evening when it begins to get a little quieter. I’ll certainly be going back anyway.

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