Food review: Thai Banana Leaf, Kingswinford
For an authentic taste of Thai cuisine head to the Thai Banana Leaf. James Driver-Fisher tucks into some mouthwateringly fresh flavours. . .
Fresh layout, fresh food and a fresh experience – if there was one word to describe our first ever foray into the wonderful world of Thai food, it would be . . . fresh.
Having eaten a friend’s Thai cuisine efforts – and very good they were too – to say we had never experienced the delicacy would perhaps be over-stating the fact.
However, just like you can’t beat a curry from your favourite curry house, I’m pretty sure it must be the same for Thai food having enjoyed a wonderful meal at Thai Banana Leaf in Kingswinford.
It was a special occasion, my wife’s birthday – and it being on Monday – we decided to go for something a bit different in a relaxed environment, and this Thai restaurant ticked all the boxes.
We were playing a bit of risky game, as our two-year-old daughter was with us. Risky because the restaurant didn’t take bookings until 6pm, so it was going to be a fairly late finish.
But it was a decision that paid off because we were all treated fantastically well from start to finish.
We were one of two groups eating while we were there – the other being a couple – but the waitress had very kindly placed us right beside the fish tank, which kept our daughter entertained for ages.
The layout was how you would expect: plenty of neatly arranged tables, beautiful oriental statues and paintings, and of course the fish tank.
After ordering wine to share and an orange juice for Annabelle, it was time to select starters.
Fresh fish was going to be a big theme for the meal for both my wife, Kelly, and I, as we had plenty of junk food during a weekend of celebrations for her birthday.
And it was so nice to get some professionally trained chefs to whip up all sorts of dishes for us on the night, all at very reasonable prices, which were healthy, light and bursting with flavour.
We had been told Thai food lives by five fundamental taste senses in each dish – sour, sweet, salty, bitter and spicy – which was like a set of rules sent down from heaven for someone with a palate like mine.
Throw in those rules with plenty of freshly-cooked fish and you begin to realise what the food is all about.
After much deliberation, and it really was a task to choose just one dish, I went for the Fisherman’s Soup, a spicy mixed seafood soup with lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and mushrooms.
Ample amounts of prawns, squid and seafood sticks were served with the usual vegetables like onions, carrots, spring greens and bean sprouts.
There was a real kick to it too, not a spicy kick but the fish sauce really came out. That flavour can be an acquired taste as it’s fairly salty but it’s something I cook with fairly regularlity at home and it made the soup for me.
It was all so fresh – you could just tell it had been cooked quickly and authentically minutes before being served to the customer.
Handily, every dish also comes with a ‘chilli’ chart, which simply meant the more chillis the higher intensity the dish would be.
I do tend to choose hotter dishes but nothing I ate I would class as too spicy, for me the chilli chart meant more flavour – and the soup was a lovely and light way to start the meal.
Kelly went for the deep fried spring roll duck, served with hoi sin sauce. The first thing to mention about that dish was its size.
There were four spring rolls when two would probably have sufficed. Never one to complain about big portions, it was all eaten, but someone with a smaller appetite might want to try something else.
However, the rolls were bulging with filling and the duck was lovely and tender, not crispy like you sometimes get at a Chinese restaurant, and went really nicely with the sauce.
We had asked on arrival about a children’s menu and, to be fair, there is the likes of fish fingers on the starter menu which, when ordered with a side order of chips, would make a perfectly good alternative.
Annabelle has always been pretty good experimenting with food so we decided to give one the main dishes a go and went for the Pud See Eaw, stir fried rice noodles with broccoli, spring green, bean sprouts and egg.
As she loves broccoli and scrambled egg, we thought it was worth a go, especially as it came with a choice of chicken, which we went for, or pork, beef, duck, prawns or a vegetarian option.
Just as an aside, as well as the mouth-watering main meals, a lot the dishes are a choice of different spices and vegetables, cooked in a certain way, which then come with the option of any meat of fish.
It makes it really easy to mix and match, to choose the spices you think will match the dish best, and vice-versa.
As for Annabelle, it turned out to be a great decision because she really enjoyed the combination and even gave the spring greens and bean sprouts a go too.
We ordered hers to come at the same time as the main too, which meant she could graze over it while we moved on to the mains.
I decided to stick the fish theme and the seafood pad prik, stir fried seafood with red curry paste, garlic, pepper, spring onion and coriander with oyster sauce served on sizzling plate, caught my eye, while Kelly pushed the boat out a little and went for a whole steamed sea bass with ginger and spring onions in soy sauce.
Having seen the size of the starters, with thought sharing steamed jasmine rice flavoured with coconut milk would be a good idea.
A sizzling platter always gets my mouth watering and this time was no different.
The seafood combination was pretty similar to soup but, as I discovered, the beauty of Thai cuisine cooking is dishes with the same base, but using different spices and using different serving methods – like a platter – can mean outcome is completely unique.
My pad prik was tangy and sweet, moist and juicy, with just a touch of that grilled flavour you get from a platter.
Kelly’s was another special dish; the sea bass just fell apart and was packed with flavour
The whole fish was opened out with the accompanying vegetables spooned into the middle. Again, it was just so fresh, not too overbearing and not too filling either.
Having eaten quite a large starter by having the spring rolls, it was lovely to have such a tasty and light main.
I have to say the side dish was possibly the nicest rice I’d ever tasted. The sticky coconut rice mixed with the fish and the vegetables went absolutely superbly with both dishes – and we were right not to order any more, because we both very pleasantly stuffed.
There was so much to choose from too so, if you’re not a massive seafood fan, fear not as sizzling platters, chefs specials, set menus, and noodle and rice dishes are also available.
Annabelle ended the meal with a children’s strawberry and vanilla ice cream and we all left extremely satisfied customers. So much so it’s fair to say our second Thai experience is unlikely to be too far away.