Review: I tried Gunwharf Quays' new Banana Tree restaurant which has replaced Cafe Rouge in Portsmouth

A new Asian restaurant has opened at Gunwharf Quays at the former site of much-beloved French eatery Cafe Rouge - but does it fill the void left in its wake?
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Banana Tree - a new “Pan-Asian” offering owned by the same company as Cafe Rouge - will have  to vie for custom with nearby Japanese chain restaurant Wagamama. Though, you’ve got to admire the ambition of Gunwharf’s newest arrival - claiming to bring flavours from across all of Asia, though specialising in dishes from Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia.

We were first struck by the lush decor, teeming with mock leaves and branches populated by the odd plush Orangutan peeking out at the diners. (I learned during a trip to the toilets that these creatures are beneficiaries of charitable donations from Banana Tree - from a poster, not a fellow diner.)

The decor at Banana Tree in Gunwharf Quays.The decor at Banana Tree in Gunwharf Quays.
The decor at Banana Tree in Gunwharf Quays.

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The decor at Banana Tree in Gunwharf Quays.The decor at Banana Tree in Gunwharf Quays.
The decor at Banana Tree in Gunwharf Quays.

Now, I don’t claim to be au fait with “Pan-Asian” street food and, never having set foot on the continent, cannot attest to the authenticity of what Banana Tree served up. Having said that, I didn’t get the feeling that the restaurant was trying to be a faithful recreation of a genuine Asian eatery - with not a chopstick in sight as far as I could see as we were seated by a friendly and helpful waitress.

As an example of this naivety on my part, I was taken aback when the prawn crackers which were offered to whet our appetites were brown and more substantial than what I am used to from Chinese takeaways and the like. I found them, therefore, a better medium than their white and more easily dissolved counterparts for dipping in sweet chilli sauce - perhaps closer to poppadoms in consistency - while we waited for our starters. 

Prawn crackers.Prawn crackers.
Prawn crackers.

Crispy Vegan Gyoza.Crispy Vegan Gyoza.
Crispy Vegan Gyoza.

The meal proper began with a shared dish of Crispy Vegan Gyoza (£7.45)  - a concession to my Vegan dining partner which paid off. Though not particularly crispy for my money, their innards - marinated shitake mushrooms, chives, carrots and spring onions - delighted my palette with an earthy spice which I couldn’t quite put my finger on. These were washed down with our first round of cocktails - come on, who can resist two-for-one? - each of us having a Lychee Mojito (£12.95) and Ko Mai Pirate (£12.95). 

Lychee Mojito (£12.95) and Ko Mai Pirate (£12.95). Lychee Mojito (£12.95) and Ko Mai Pirate (£12.95).
Lychee Mojito (£12.95) and Ko Mai Pirate (£12.95).

Both were refreshing, fruity - the lychee in particular having a pleasing tartness so as not to be too sweet so early in the meal.

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Next up came the mains. We had chosen contrasting Thai curries - mine red, hers green. Hers vegan (Thai Green Curry, £15.95) mine seafood (Thai Red Seafood Curry, £16.25.) 

The Tilapia fish was not much to write home about, proving to be more of a “filler” than a showpiece among the other morsels. I have to say that I was far more impressed with the tofu in my partner’s more fiery green dish which was cooked to perfection and formed the basis of a thoroughly impressive vegan meal.

Red Seafood CurryRed Seafood Curry
Red Seafood Curry

Thai Green CurryThai Green Curry
Thai Green Curry

My prawns delivered, however, displaying the perfect ratios of crunch and juiciness matched by the aubergine which was actually the highlight of the whole meal - I have never experienced the vegetable prepared so buttery-smooth and melt-in-the-mouth.

Feeling full of jasmine rice, we finished off with Mochi for dessert, sharing a portion of three (£5.45). These delicious ice cream balls in chewy, starchy shells come in green tea, mango and belgian chocolate flavours and, luckily for me, only the last one was vegan so it fell upon me to eat the lion’s share. I could have eaten a profiterole-style tower of them. We paired these with another two cocktails each. These were the Strawberry Daiquiri (£11.95) - erring slightly too far into the realm of sweetness for my tastes - and One Night in Bangkok (£12.95), a Thai rum concoction which I found much more impressive with a pleasing interplay between vanilla, peach and passion fruit keeping me interested with every sip.

Mochi from Banana Tree.Mochi from Banana Tree.
Mochi from Banana Tree.

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The Strawberry Daiquiri (£11.95 and One Night in Bangkok (£12.95)The Strawberry Daiquiri (£11.95 and One Night in Bangkok (£12.95)
The Strawberry Daiquiri (£11.95 and One Night in Bangkok (£12.95)

We only scratched the surface of what was on the menu, but I think that Banana Tree will more than hold its own among Gunwharf Quays’ many restaurants and feels like a fresh addition to the city’s culinary landscape. The variety of what’s on the menu could have the risk of presenting a ‘scatter-gun’ approach rather than perfecting a more modest number of delicacies. But, I found myself already considering a return trip before the meal was through. I was also particularly impressed with the vegetarian and vegan options and would explore these further on a return trip, especially the Grilled Aubergine Half - my mouth is already watering at the prospect.

You can browse the full Banana Tree menu by visiting

Food: 4

Value: 3

Ambience: 5

Child-friendly: 4

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