PROFILE BY BEST RESTAURANTS
Taking its name from the banana palm leaf, which is habitually used in Vietnamese cooking, Banana Palm restaurant is a reliable locale for good food at an affordable price. Its atmospheric sweetness, emblematic of the blossoming sugar bananas that grow within the emerald palm, is a testament to the warm hospitality of the sibling trio (Hai, Lilly and Tai) who operate the venue.
This sentimental banana palm symbol has been used as a decorative accent throughout the restaurant and can be found printed on the bodice of the bar. The rest of the space is equally smart with polished wooden floors, mahogany furnishings and chocolate wooden-framed wicker chairs. Serene photographs featuring snapshots of Vietnam taken by a close family friend hug the ash blonde walls. From long moon shaped boats cruising down the Mekong to an old French colonial style hotel in Saigon, the imagery lends a dignified feel to the space.
Lily fondly recalls that in its early days, the restaurant offered a mix of Thai, Malaysian and Vietnamese fusion cuisine in a carpeted space with soft textile wallpaper (it was the 70s after all). The Pham trio bought the restaurant from their parents and turned it into a Vietnamese-only diner to better reflect their culinary heritage: Their great grandparents hail from North Vietnam, but they grew up in the South where chef Tuan Hai Pham (‘Hai’ for short) notes that “the food is more complex in flavour.” The dishes are predominately influenced by the southern palette, but in the future Hai hopes to transform the menu to reflect the country’s regional culinary landscapes.
We take chef Hai’s advice and order a selection of entrées to share. A fragrant, delicately spiced papaya salad arrives draped in rare beef slices and speckled with coriander and crispy shallots. The combination of meaty petals and crisp papaya, with a furtive chilli kick is a well balanced, texturally pleasing combination.
To follow, fresh Vietnamese prawn and scallop rolls come tightly wrapped in a rice paper casing. The whole peeled prawn peeps through the rice paper, tail fixed behind. They are simple and tasteful. To accompany, seared scallops arrive doused in salted black bean vinaigrette. Perfectly cooked with a hat of julienned seaweed and a lick of chilli, the lightly seared scallops pair pleasingly with the tangy dressing.
As the setting sun dapples through the French colonial bay windows, a calming ambience settles in. It is clear that the trio have honed a relaxed and dependable dining experience.