Confidential picks out some of their favourite Thai first course dishes
Do you eat out at a restaurant mainly to celebrate a special occasion, or does eating out actually create the special occasion in itself? We thought we’d test out the theory on a cold, wet Tuesday evening, now the nights are drawing in early. So instead of crashing out in front of the telly with something warmed up balanced on our knees, we thought we’d venture out to Chilli Banana for a change. And we’re really glad we did.
Thai food is famous for its balance of flavours; sweet, savoury and salty, with a touch of chilli heat, but you get a little over and above than all that in their Wilmslow and Didsbury branches. All the dishes on the menu have been specially created by owner May Wakefield after years spent perfecting her family’s traditional recipes. And this means no shortcuts. Everything is done by hand, including the crushing and pounding of herbs, spices, nuts, leaves and other aromatics imported specially from Thailand – an arduous task for even the most advanced home cook.
This means that every dish has layer upon layer of flavour, in a way that cuisines from other countries arguably don’t.
Take something as seemingly simple as their Tom Yam, or hot and sour soup – a bowl of pure clear broth with waves of flavours in every sip from the complex infusions of lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime leaf and Thai chilli. Occasionally your spoon dips in to pick up some treasure, like a plump prawn or a fresh oyster mushroom.
Another pick of the starters is Chilli Banana’s chicken satay – a popular dish that has been ‘watered down’ in cut price versions served in pubs or mass produced and found on supermarket shelves. May’s recipe reminds you how it’s supposed to taste; skewers of juicy chicken having been long marinated and charcoal grilled, the peanut sauce, smooth, delicate and multi-layered, with a perfectly balanced dip of freshly pickled cucumber on the side.
The attention to detail in each dish is quite remarkable. Even the dipping sauces (each allocated to its own dish) have been hand made from scratch – tasting a world away from inferior mass produced versions. We tested them all out by dipping a portion of tempura vegetables encased in a light and crisp batter; crispy green beans, sliced aubergine, fresh carrot and huge onion rings all enhanced by a selection of homemade dips ranging from sweet to hot.
Thai food isn’t all battered and deep fried, far from it – it is based around balance and an abundance of fresh herbs, spices and vegetables. For a solid protein hit, we recommend Nua Det Deo; strips of marinated rump steak with chilli and garlic dipping sauce, perfect on their own or to enhance a selection of other starters with some meaty goodness.
Watch out for the specials menu as there’s always something exciting on there. If you see Pla Meuk Tod Glua on there, get it. It’s their delicious version of salt and pepper squid – again, a world away from something you might find on your medium to average bistro menu. The Chilli Banana version uses larger pieces of squid and a special native peppercorn in the seasoning to impart a very unique flavour.
Just a word of warning – we know it’s tempting, but try not to over order on the starters because their main courses are just as good….