Tired of over priced and overly busy Chinese restaurants for Chinese New Year, my mother sought Malaysian cuisine for this year’s celebratory dinner. So we found ourselves at the long standing chain, “Banana Leaf”; and just in time to take advantage of their $35 Dine Out menu, on its last day.
It has been a while since my last visit. I am a fan of Malaysian cuisine, but don’t find their rendition of it the most authentic. So was surprised to see how they have updated their space walking in. The once green and yellow exterior was now hiding a chic new dining area. White walls, sea foam booths, and a collection of dark wood artifacts around the room. The decorative greenery gave the space some life. I didn’t visit the washroom, but was able to spot the eye catching, green banana leaf print that papered it from my seat. It was quite the pun. As a whole, the space was updated and the brand breathed anew because of it.
As for our meal, their Dine Out menu wasn’t the typical pick and choose 3 course menu like at all the other restaurants participating, (that I have encountered). This was a set meal with no substitutions, and a minimum required spend of 2 servings. Although both the appetizer and entree course came with 3 different dishes, served together. Which gives the diner a total of 9 courses for $35.
We came as a family of 7, each ordering the $35 menu, and for the most part we shared two full servings of each course, family style. I did the math, and ordering this special menu versus the regular plates off the regular menu, is a better deal. Majority of what is offered on this menu is also available on their regular menu; thus making it a good way to dip your toe into Malaysian cuisine, or to try a new restaurant at a fair price.
We started with our own individual serving of “Indonesian gado salad”. Cooked bean sprouts, tofu, cucumber, potato, green bean, and egg; coated in a sweeter satay peanut sauce. It was tasty, but I could have used more texture in my salad. I found it too juicy with all the bean sprouts. I wanted some chew from dried tofu or some crunch from crushed peanuts. It was a good start, but it felt incomplete.
The rest was served shared style in their full serving plates, like the “Nyonya Calamari” served our 7 across two full plates. Crispy fried calamari with a sweet chilli sauce dip. It was your standard breaded and deep fried squid offered in modern chains and at Greek restaurants. Out side of the sweet and tangy dipping sauce I didn’t see how this was “Nyonya” style, the term coming from a group of nomadic Malaysian tribes.
The “Gulai clams” is not on their regular menu. Steamed clams sitting in a pool of their sweet, yellow, coconut curry. It was good, juicy clams in a slightly spicy broth. I enjoyed the roti we ordered below best when dipped into this, using it to wipe the bowl clean.
I completely disliked the “Curry spiced oysters”, to the point that I couldn’t swallow and had to spit it out. I am not a fan of the fishy flavour of cooked oysters. I can eat them raw, but find them rancid tasting when cooked and fried in oil that exemplifies this. Breaded and deep fried oysters, seasoned in curry spices, served with a green leaf salad on the side. Everyone else found them just fine.
I liked the “Lemongrass grilled giant prawns”. Giant grilled tiger prawns seasoned with lemongrass, garlic, palm sugar, fish sauce, and scallions. Minus the hassle of peeling the shell, I would gladly eat a plate of this again.
I liked the presentation of the “Sambal sockeye” grilled in banana leaf. You unfolded the green leaf to discover a cut up sockeye fillet, seasoned in sambal chilli sauce, lemon grass, dried paste, curry spices, and okra. It had a good flavour to them, but I am not a big fan of cooked salmon. Though did enjoy it with a serving of the rice below.
The “Turmeric rice” was fragrant, great on its own and better as a base. I want to learn how to make this for myself.
The “10 veggie and 10 spices” was also a nice accompaniment to the rice. A collection of diced vegetables in a creamy curry-like sauce. I was able to make out chunks of squash, peas, green beans, carrots, red and yellow peppers, taro, tomato, and okra. So tasty that I didn’t miss meat in this, but got my fix below anyhow.
“Thai sweet chilli chicken”, simple and delicious, juicy dark meat nuggets. The red and yellow peppers played off its sweet sauce.
For dessert our $35 set came with “Kuih dadar”, pandan crepes with grated coconut. But luckily I asked if we could get a split order, wanting half of our desserts to be the “Pandan coconut panna cotta” from off their $25 menu. The “Kuih dadar” was not as expected. I liked their neon green colour and how soft and chewy the crepe was, but the filling was off putting. It looked like minced meat or as my partner put it, “the bottom of a container of bacon bits”. It tasted as gritty as it looked, coating the mouth like sand, with a burnt after taste.
By comparison the “Pandan coconut panna cotta” was much better. It looked pretty with its layers of white and green jello-pudding, topped with a mango compote, gula melaka syrup, and a single tart cranberry. It tasted like mango and coconut pudding mostly. Whereas I didn’t get enough pandan flavouring. I also didn’t need the sweet syrup, it almost took away from the lighter fruit flavours.
Having seen our dislike of their crepe, our server was kind enough to offer us more servings of the panna cotta, so that everyone could have one glass jar in full. We fully appreciated the gesture and service.
As additional sides to share we also got three servings of the “Roti canai”, a favourite of those familiar with the chain. It was served split between two plates, so my photos shows a one and a half serving. Flaky layered bread prepared with evaporated milk, egg, flour, and butter; served with a sweet and lumpy peanut dip. It was like a layered pancake, tasty on its own, but dipping it into sauces is what makes it.
“Baba’s chicken wing”, Peranakan’s marinated chicken wings, lightly breaded, deep fried in curry spices. It was a clean and dry wing. Didn’t get any of the listed curry spices, it was more a simple pepper and salt seasoning.
The “Vegetable spring rolls” were filled with jicama roots, carrot, cabbage, celery, green bean, turmeric, white pepper, sesame oil, sweet chilli sauce, and pickled red cabbage. It had a curry flavour to it, which was over powered by the sweet dipping sauce that it came with. Not my favourite flavour from a spring roll, but it at least had a nice crispy texture.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Approachable Malaysia food made easier with a set menu that gives you a little bit of everything and takes the guess work out of the equation for you. Having Malaysian food in Malaysia I cannot say this measures up, I was missing punchier ingredients and more pronounced seasoning. Good, but didn’t hit the spot the same. Recommend for those new to the cuisine and for those who prefer milder flavours. Don’t deny your cravings.
820 West Broadway, Vancouver BC, V5Z 1J8