Restaurant review - The Chilli Banana, Wilmslow
PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 February 2014 | UPDATED: 10:02 20 April 2016
Ray King reviews a local favourite that's recently opened in Wilmslow
Just beside our table in the Chilli Banana’s recently opened new restaurant in Wilmslow, a collection of oars were pointing towards the ceiling...reminiscent, we thought, of a more sedate form of sailing than that etched indelibly on the memory from our time in Bangkok. With Mrs K screaming ‘slow down!’ to a completely oblivious skipper, the long tail boat batted down the Chaophraya River at what felt like 40-50 mph, past temples and waterfront hotels, towards the pier for the Mandarin Oriental.
So what has any of that to do with Water Lane Wilmslow (despite the watery coincidence)? Well, the chances are that without our introduction to Thai cuisine in the Chilli Banana the best part of 20 years ago - when the nascent restaurant was located in the long-demolished Royal Oak pub in Alderley Edge - we may never have ventured to Thailand in the first place. For food was, and remains, a major factor in our travel destinations and we’ve visited Thailand several times to enjoy it.
After 16 years at the King’s Arms, half a mile out of town (now occupied by a branch of Phantong Thai), the Chilli Banana’s move to what used to be Felicini’s, a spacious and modern two-storey restaurant in the centre of Wilmslow, marks a significant step up for owners May and Steve Wakefield. Over the years they have opened branches in Macclesfield (the Merchants House pub) and in Liverpool (in a quiet suburban street), but the new location and its bigger scale is set to be another story.
The couple’s imported artefacts from Thailand - not least 3,000 hand-made bricks which support the neat bar area and the theatrical, buzzing, open kitchen - and the suspended lanterns lend an atmospheric feel, but theming is not overdone and the dining areas boast a smart contemporary look.
The menu reflects May’s style of traditional home cooking laced with new ideas stemming from the couple’s annual eight-week sojourns in Thailand, from where herbs and spices are imported twice a week. This was nowhere better illustrated than Mrs K’s starter of Mieng Pla Tuna (£6.95) - crispy baskets filled with the freshest sashimi tuna salad with betel leaves and an aromatic dice of lime and lemon zest, dressed with palm sugar. The zingy flavours sang with fresh, keen notes - sweet, sour and clean chilli heat, the hallmarks of authentic Thai cooking - just delicious. I began with thoroughly enjoyable Nua Det Deow (£6.95), strips of rump steak, marinated to lovely tenderness and served with chilli and garlic dipping sauce.
My main course was a cracker too, so apparently simple but herbed and spiced by experts. Pad Prik Sot (£11.95) brought a stir-fry generously populated by big, firmly fleshy and succulent king prawns sautéed with fresh red chillies, onions and sweet basil; flavours all in superb harmony. I partnered it with excellent Goyteow Plow (£3), plain flat noodles fried with fresh bean sprouts. Mrs K noted that all four featured curries on the menu - green, red, Penang and Massaman - featured chicken, pork or beef, but it was no trouble for the Chilli Banana to rustle up a Penang curry with king prawns (£11.95). The shellfish were the same classy beings as came with my stir-fry, this time luxuriating in a rich and silky southern Thai curry with coconut milk and lime leaf. A simple portion of steamed fragrant rice (£2.50), served in a lidded glass dish, was all it needed. Presentation and service, from an east-meets-west front of the house team including Steve Wakefield himself, was impressive throughout.
We rounded off by sharing the Chilli Banana’s signature pudding - chilli banana (£4.50) - irresistible banana fritters topped with sweet chilli sauce and served with ice cream. We drank fresh, citrussy Urmeneta Sauvignon Blanc from Chile for a reasonable £17.50 a bottle and it was commendable to find an alcohol-free lager listed among the cocktails, spirits, beers and liqueurs.
The Chilli Banana, 71 Water lane, Wilmslow, SK9 5BQ. Tel: 01625 539100. www.chillibanana.co.uk