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Restaurant review: Super Thai Banana?

AA Grill gives the food at Lark Lane's Chilli Banana the once over. So is it any good?

Published on January 14th 2010.


Restaurant review: Super Thai Banana?

THERE has never been a shortage of places to feed your face along Lark Lane, that little bit of Hampstead just off Aigburth Road.

They come and go; a lot that are good, a lot that are not. A few seem to have been around forever. Like Maranto’s whose food never quite manages to match its superior interior. And Keith’s, where the food’s brilliant, consumed at bare tables where scallies sit alongside Jonathans and Georginas and a fair few Ians – vegetarians, bohemians, lesbians, Rastafarians – and they all rub along very nicely, thank you.

The place that for
long wore the Lane’s culinary crown was L’Alouette until one day locals found it abandoned, like
the Marie Celeste, soupe a l’oignon still dripping from table six

But the place that for long wore the Lane’s culinary crown was L’Alouette which had been turning out top notch French nosh for donkeys years until one day locals found it abandoned, like the Marie Celeste, soupe a l’oignon still dripping from table six.

Chilli Banana took over the site of L’Alouette and, despite having its origins closer to Manchester than Liverpool, its owners were keenly aware of its significance and talked about their ambition to “again be the destination of choice for discerning diners”.

The Chilli Banana brand prides itself on providing high quality, Thai home cooking and the Liverpool branch earned itself a place among the nominations for newcomer of the year in the 2007/08 Cheshire and Lancashire Life Food and Wine Awards. Close, but no cigar.

We liked the feel of the place straight off; this is one Thai that hangs loose. A lot of people go there and, although only midweek, the long room was buzzing with a large party and several smaller, with couples drifting in later on.

It actually doesn’t look so different to the old L’Alouette days, and that’s no bad thing, with – as the owners put it – “reminders of former glory” (the handsome bar. dual staircases) and some Thai-themed adornments of their own, without labouring the point.

The sure-footed staff confidently pulled off the awkward trick of giving us everything we wanted while keeping a firm grip on their dignity, starting with bottles of Chang beer £2.90) that were so good we immediately ordered more. From a presentable wine list, we chose a Gewurtztraminer (£19.95), which ought to have given the food a run for its money but this one displayed a lack of edge and a faint note of Benylin suggesting it might have worked better with dessert, or a chesty cough.

Miniature spring rolls (£4.95) – diminutive, delicate, delightful – came with good chilli dipping sauce. Pork loin salad, from a list of specials, was fresh and zesty with mint, red onion and chilli nicely balancing slices of sweet, moist, flavour-rich meat. Tempura gung (£5.95) could have been the star of the starters had the prawn, aubergine and onion fillings not been failed by a flaccid, faintly greasy batter, probably the result of sitting around too long.

Pad king (£8.95) was a well-proportioned assembly of lean, sapid stir-fried beef with ginger and wood-fungus mushroom. Good if not absolutely lip-smacking. Gung ob wun sen (£9.95), a steaming pot of king prawns, vermicelli noodles and coriander stalks, would have been a treat but for the prawns. Fat, fresh looking specimens, they are meant to be soft and yielding but instead proved tough and chewy. We wanted Kate Winslet but we got Ken Bates.

Geang ped pak was chock-full of precision-cooked, flavour-packed vegetables in a red curry sauce. The carbohydrate content came in the form of lovely sticky rice, the perfect comfort food.

We rounded off with the eponymous chilli banana (£3.75), much how it sounds, encased in a sweet batter; coconut ice cream (£3.25), which was creamy and refreshing, and espresso (£1.50) that was better than most city restaurants manage.

There’s a lot to like about Chilli Banana; it’s smart and relaxed and the staff have an attitude to match. The food was good, too, but it should have been – and on another night probably would have been - better.

The negatives were most likely a failure of timing rather than any want of technique or raw ingredients, and we can all have a bad day at the office. With that in mind, we will return another time. Close, but still no cigar.

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 7/10 Food
4/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: Chilli Banana
2 Lark Lane
Liverpool
L17 8US
Tel 0151 726 8641

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