The day after we went to Cambridge, we visited Oxford. Oxford is a city in the United Kingdom, in the county of Oxfordshire in England. It is home to the University of Oxford, the oldest university in the Anglo-Saxon world. It is known as “the city of dreamy pinnacles”, due to the harmonious architecture of the university buildings. Unlike Cambridge, Oxford is also an industrial city, particularly for the production of cars in the suburb of Cowley. The presence of the University of Oxford entails a large influx of students that spills over the streets on weekends, animating the city. In fact, despite the low temperatures and the cold wind, the city center was full of tourists and local inhabitants. As for Cambridge, I can say that even Oxford can be visited in half a day, they have very small centers and all the tourist attractions are very close to each other.
We relied on Google to find a place to have lunch and Banana Tree was a five-minute walk from us. The place was very simple with no particular embellishment or theme. It was also very quiet, with few customers. It could be a bad sign, maybe the quality of the food it’s not good or they don’t cook very well, but to be honest I much prefer quiet restaurants, where you can talk and people don’t shout or rush!
Banana Tree is the home of Indochinese cuisine, there are many vegan and gluten-free options and you can request the special menu to not waste time! To treat ourselves well we decided to have an appetizer, main course, and dessert! We shared some crispy vegetable dumplings with spicy sweet and sour sauce. In all my life, it was the first time I ate fried dumplings instead of steamed; I was surprised by the crispy external consistency of the batter in contrast with the warm and soft cooked vegetables. The accompanying sauce was quite spicy I have to say, but I learnt that the real Asian food is super spicy; in fact, watching an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix, I discovered that many Asian restaurants now cook without spices and chili, to better adapt their cuisine to a Western taste (because whites can’t handle spicy!). If on one hand, I am happy to be able to eat their cuisine without having to drain two liters of water each time, on the other hand I feel sorry because we are changing a culture and a tradition for the mere profit (too idealistic, you say?).
The main course I wanted to try was Bun Bo Vietnamese salad with satay skewers. It’s called a salad, but I wouldn’t call it a salad, especially considering my idea of an Italian salad that has leafy greens and tomatoes as its main ingredient. The dish looks like a large bowl rice noodle garnished with fresh vegetables, crumbled nuts, crispy sautéed spring onions, a huge “shrimp” chip, and mini spring rolls, all seasoned with a delicious Nuoc Cham sauce. Yes, it can give the impression that it is a pile of stuff put in an empty bowl without an order, but I give you my word that the dish works! I started with the hot and crispy rolls because nobody like cold-eaten spring rolls! I continued with the skewers, which in the normal version are made of chicken, seitan if you have the vegan option. So once the bigger items were removed from “the salad” I could easily mix all the remaining ingredients in the Nuoc Cham sauce, which it doesn’t seem like a sauce to me, as we Italians might imagine it with a creamy texture, but rather liquid, almost like soy sauce with a sweet and slightly spicy flavor. It was like experiencing something new and fun, far from my concept of culinary combinations.
At the end of the meal, we spoil ourselves a little bit with a dessert. I didn’t have much choice though. I ordered the Banana “Frotiteroles” that apart from being a lame pun (between fruit and profiteroles) was a complete disaster. They tried to make profiteroles with bananas. A sort of fried batter around the fuit, moistened with a sweet syrup; needless to say that both taste and consistency made me sick, they gave me the impression of eating a too-mature splattered banana. Fortunately, I had a scoop of mango sorbet that saved me from this infamous dessert!
With that being said, apart from the dessert, everything else was phenomenal! I look forward to returning a second time to one of the banana trees restaurant here in London.
Do you like Indochinese cuisine? Let me know if you have tried the Frotiteroles too!