Restaurant reviews: The Chilli Banana, Macclesfield and Franc's Bistro Francais, Chester
PUBLISHED: 17:04 20 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:10 20 February 2013
The setting may not be authentic, but the food is every bit as good in Macclesfield as on a Thai beach
We fell in love with Thai cooking while dining, with white sand between our toes and the moonlit sea lapping on the shoreline, in the simple beach cafes of Laguna, Phuket and Koh Samui.
The fare is much the same as the legendary food served by the manic street vendors of Bangkok - fast and ultra fresh - it was just that the surroundings were considerably more relaxed. Which suited us fine.
Fortunately Thai food travels well even if some other cuisines do not; though matching the idyllic background is a little trickier. In fact, back in Blighty, one is far more likely to encounter the likes of tom yam gung, pad Thai and geang keo wan in a pub than on a windswept promenade.
The first marriage of pub and Thai restaurant I became aware of was at the Royal Oak in Heyes Lane, Alderley Edge, though the restaurant, now the hugely popular Chilli Banana, soon relocated to another pub, the Kings Arms in Alderley Road, Wilmslow.
Its reputation for appetising, authentic Thai cooking well and truly forged, a second branch was opened in Liverpool (not in a pub this time) and then, most recently, a third Chilli Banana surfaced in Macclesfield. And yes, were back in a boozer - though it has to be said at the outset that owners Dao and Ben Jackson have created exceptionally smart, split level dining areas in the spacious setting of Robinsons landmark colonial-style Merchants House.
Decor and furnishings are chic and modern and the use of Thai artefacts to set the mood is subtle and discreet. Unlike some venues I could mention, with dining rooms stuffed with every sort of gargoyle and herds of carved elephants, this is no theme park.
The menu - more or less common to all three Chilli Banana branches - is split conventionally into starters and seafood starters, soups, stir-fries, classic curries, fish and seafood and rice and noodle dishes. There are also various banquet collations and vegetarians are extremely well catered for.
At lunchtimes only the menu also offers an array of small Thai tapas-style dishes.
We started with skewers of satay moo (that's marinated pork by the way, not beef - ho ho!) which came with regulation peanut sauce and fresh cucumber pickle; spicy Thai fishcakes and a platter of tempura prawns and vegetables with dipping sauces. This last was the best of a reasonably priced trio - 6.45 a plate - for its ultra light, crunchy batter coating; freshness being the essence of Thai food.
For the main courses, chosen for sharing, we had Penang curry with chicken (9.95) and drunken stir-fry with beef (9.99), accompanied by that enduring favourite, pad Thai noodles with king prawns (10.95) and sticky rice. The curry, a speciality of southern Thailand, came appealingly subtle and silky with coconut milk and lifted by aromatic lime leaves while the stir-fry offered a gratifying chilli kick in addition to the classic lime leaf and lemongrass flavours. The pad Thai, with its myriad sweet-sour-fish sauce flavours, generously populated by king prawns, was spot on.
We rounded off by mixing and matching a simple but lovely banana fritter and delightful coconut ice cream (3.95 and 3.50 respectively). We drank a couple of refreshing ice-cold Singha beers (2.95), then chose an Australian gewurztraminer-riesling (14) - perfect with spicy food - from a thoughtfully assembled wine list.
We missed the beach, though.
The Chilli Banana, The Merchant's House, 59 Buxton Road, Macclesfield, Cheshire, SK10 1JX. 01625 422332; www.chillibanana.co.uk.
And if you like that
Here are three more restaurants with fruit and veg inspired names to try
Rhubarb Restaurant, 167 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester, M20 2LN. 0161 488 8887; www.rhubarbrestaurant.co.uk. Excellent guide-listed eclectic British and Mediterranean cooking.
Damson, 113 Heaton Moor Road, Heaton Moor, Stockport, SK4 4HY. 0161 432 4666; www.damsonrestaurant.co.uk. Steve Pilling's brilliant suburban oasis of classic British cuisine.
Cabbage Hall, Forest Road, Little Budworth, Cheshire, CW6 9ES. 01829 760292; www.cabbagehallrestaurant.com. Robert Kisby's stylish rendezvous majoring on great local ingredients.
Meal in a minute
Digest this mini-review in 60 seconds
Franc's Bistro Francais
14 Cuppin Street, Chester, CH1 2BN
Style of venue Elegant yet cosy and laid back with rustic features. This French bistro, which has been open in the city for more than 20 years, celebrates all that's great about French cuisine. It's located not far off the main shopping street and is popular not only with Chester residents but the millions of tourists that visit the city every year. There are few occasions when you won't find this bistro busy with people and you will find it just as lively at lunch as in the evening.
On the menu Classic French cuisine as well as meals with a twist. Francs also cater well for vegetarians and features in the Vegetarian Restaurant and Holiday Travel Guide Book. The portions are just the right size and the menu features things like local mussels steamed with fennel, tomatoes, saffron and orange as well as slow roasted belly pork with butterbeans, bratwurst, pearl onions and red wine. I had the brie pane, deep fried brie wedges on seasonal leaves with a spiced redcurrant jelly (5.25) and poisson en papilotte, a steamed parcel of red mullet, new potatoes, carrots, green beans, white wine, lemon and garlic (10.95)
Dcor Lots of wood gives a rustic feel and there are areas to relax on huge comfortable sofas.
Ambience Friendly, welcoming and there are always plenty of diners in there making for a great atmosphere.
Service Very good. Staff are efficient, helpful and eager to make your experience as pleasant as possible.
Cost Reasonable. Expect to pay around 40 for a meal for two. Visit during the day and there are lunch specials offering two courses for an extremely reasonable 7.85.
Suitability for entertainment Excellent. I went with a group of my female friends for an afternoon and we were made to feel very welcome. There are also tables where you can feel a little more secluded from large parties.