A group of friends (fairly new friends to me from a New Year's surf trip to Ucluelet) all met up the other night for a group dinner since an out-of-town surf crew member was in town for the night before flying out on vacation. We all met up at Banana Leaf on Broadway (and Willow) between 6:30pm and 7pm and were seated at one of their large tables towards the back of the restaurant. I've eaten at Banana Leaf a few times. The first time, I was blown away and absolutely loved it. But, since I've developed more of a taste of Asian and Malaysian food, and tried the same dishes elsewhere in Vancouver, I keep being less impressed with every visit.
Small dishes of roasted peanuts were brought out for us to nosh on as the group trickled in and everyone figured out what to order. These were salty, oily, and damn tasty. A few of us ordered the special $5 Pilsner on tap. Sadly, this beer was flat. No head or hint of carbonation in the glass. I was thirsty, and drank it anyways without complaining.
Roti Canai ($6) 2 pieces of Flaky layered bread with curry dip. This was a hit- light, warm, and buttery- everyone eating this dish gave it two thumbs up.
Satay - Chicken, Beef ($1.5 each- min of 6 per order) Grilled marinated skewers with spiced peanut dip. Those who ordered these liked said they were pretty standard. I tried some of the spicy peanut dip- it was thick, not very spicy, but tasty. The meat looked kind of dry to me, but I didn't try any so I can't comment.
Kung Pow Boneless Chicken ($13) Chicken sauteed in dried chilli, ginger & soy sauce with peanuts enriched by black rice vinegar. A couple people who ordered this dish gave it lukewarm reviews calling it "pretty good", "not great," and "pretty standard."
Curry Boneless Chicken ($13) Boneless chicken breast simmered in creamy curry with lemon grass, coconut cream. This dish came out in a oversize bowl with a mix of colourful vegetables....it was the first to arrive and it looked huge. Turns out it was a good portion and that the dish was pretty wide but shallow. It came with rice and the diner said that everything in the dish worked well together and made for a nice meal.
Malaysian Curry Chicken ($13) Bone-in chicken legs and thigh with potato stewed in red curry, lemon grass & coconut milk. This diner was not as satisfied with his meal. He said overall, it just wasn't great and he was put off that he needed to order rice seperately with this main. The menu isn't very clear on what dishes do and don't come with a side of rice.
Rendang Beef ( $13) a rich Malaysian dish, boneless lean beef stewed in coconut gravy and spices. Those who ordered this dish really liked it. I had a bite and had to agree, it was rich, spicy, hearty, and full-bodied.
Sambal Green Bean ( $11) Stir-fried crunchy green beans with small shrimps & tomato in chili, garlic & dried shrimp paste. This is the dish that blew me away on my first visit to BL and apparantly it is still pretty tasty. The girls who split this dish said the spicy, savoury, salty flavour was awesome and that the beans were cooked perfectly with a bit of a crunch.
Assam Curry Tofu & Vegetables ($13) Soft tofu and mixed vegetables simmered in tamarind juice and curry spice with coconut cream. The sous chef ordered this and liked it. He thought it was a good level of spiciness and loved the crunchy beans and okra.
Seafood & Chicken Fried Rice in Pineapple Boat($13) Fried rice mixed with seafood, chicken, egg, raisins, corn, sunflower seeds, served in a half pineapple boat. Beautiful and over-the-top presentation, but this was another dish that was met with a "just okay" rating. Adam says he orders this dish at the Thai House and they make a far superior version (also served in a pineapple).
Singapore Laksa ($11) Rice noodle in coconut soup base made of dried shrimps, chili, garlic, lemon grass & turmeric with bean sprout, cilantro, tofu, egg, chicken, fish-cake, squid & shrimps. This was my dish....I wasn't sure whether to get the curry laksa or the singapore- the server recommended singapore so maybe I'll blame her. This dish was super bland, over powered by coconut couldn't taste the flavours of the other ingredients.
All over dining experience:
It was a great night and I had an awesome time catching up with great people I hadn't seen in a while. BL has a really nice set up and decor. Servers are dressed in south asian sarongs and long skirts, and the decor and lighting create a nice atmospere. Our server was pleasant, although a bit slow on water re-fills, and checking in throughout the night.
Another server who brought out the food was both startling and entertaining (to a few of us). With every dish that was brought to the table, he would impatiently yell the dishes name until someone came forth to claim it. I found it funny (just to be clear, he wasn't doing it to be funny), but I could imagine it gets on a lot of diner's nerves.
I was really disappointed with the end of the night at the slow speed at which the bill was organized and divided. It honestly took close to 30 minutes for the bills to get organized and presented to us and another 15 to execute payment.
In my opinion, other than a few stand-out dishes like the Sambal green beans and the rendang, the dishes at Banana Leaf is average and over priced, especially after eating other malaysian food around Vancouver (go to BO LAKSA KING!). They are however a nice alternative to the other big chain restaurants for a group meal....that being said, if BL is going to fill that role- they need to figure out how to be better and more efficient with customer service.