The Lemurs spent the holiday season home in Glasgow and while it’s nice to relax in the bosom of one’s family, it’s also really important to me to get out and spend some time in the city. We were en route to a festive party but wanted to have dinner first – we anticipated a long and alcohol-fueled night and didn’t want to drink on empty stomachs. Sadly, we failed to realise that our host was making vast piles of delicious food, so we ended up eating twice, but that’s another story. We fancied Malaysian food and we’ve eaten at both formica-tabled Rumours Kopitiam (famously rude staff but good roti canai and laksa) and the slightly classier Asia Style (good, but tones down the Malaysian flavours). Neither were quite what we wanted, but I discovered that a new Malaysian restaurant has opened in the last year or so, called Banana Leaf. It’s been getting good notices online, and, located on Cambridge St, couldn’t be more convenient, so off we trotted.
The space is immediately convivial, with a dark green, banana leaf colour scheme and loads of Chinese paper lanterns. It still looks a bit like a canteen with small tables and loads of students, but the kind of canteen that has given careful thought to how everything looks and feels. It’s a family business and it feels like it – staff want you to be happy. One of the critiques I saw on a couple of reviews is that the menu is too large and overwhelming: it is fairly large but I suspect this response comes from a lack of familiarity with Malaysian and Malaysian Chinese cuisine. It’s still relatively unknown in the UK and it’s probably just a gradual process of getting to know what you like. Meanwhile, the waiters were happy to offer advice and there was also a prix fixe that would work well if you weren’t sure what to choose.
We ordered a curry laksa, morning glory with belacan, and the very exciting sounding stir-fried pork maw with chili, curry leaf and dry curry sauce. The waiter came back from the kitchen with a message the Lemurs have heard often: “Are you sure you want to order that?… Your order is very authentic …” We reassured our waiter that we were quite happy with our choices and we were fans of authentic Malaysian food. Of course, it’s always nice in a smug kind of way to hear that we’re not ordering like white people (sorry, white people, it’s a fact that we have a reputation for liking bland food) but I also like to think of it as tiny, incremental activism to persuade restaurant owners that there is a wider audience out there for their food and they should have faith in their customers.
The laksa was first of all enormous – a bucket of soup with an encouraging number of objects bobbing on its surface. Happily, it wasn’t just about size but was layered with flavour; spicy, fishy, meaty, sweet, and a little coconut to round it off. The fish balls were springy and the noodles were toothsome. We could have dined cheerfully on this alone, but then came the stir-fried pork maw which is the picture at the top of the post. Sitting proudly on its banana leaf, it looked about as refined as a pile of tripe can look. The sauce was intensely spiced, with its use of curry leaves and black pepper nodding to the significant Indian influence on Malaysia. Nestled with the tender stomach were pieces of meltingly soft aubergine and okra, both providing unctuous texture as well as flavours. The dish was really a triumph of Malaysia’s fusion of Indian, Chinese and Malay cultures.
To finish, we had to try the bubur cha cha, a soupy dessert of coconut milk, sweet potato and tapioca, with a generous dollop of coconut ice cream on top. It doesn’t look much, but it was rather moreish, especially with the incentive to neck it before the ice cream entirely melted into the soup.
We staggered out into the rain, stuffed full and filled with chili-shrimp paste-coconut happiness. I hope Banana Leaf does well: if they keep up the combination of friendly service, authentic flavours and eagerness to build new audiences for their cuisine, I’m sure they will thrive.
Banana Leaf, 67 Cambridge Street, Glasgow, G3 6QX