This has been a post long in the making – we’ve been talking about going to Banyan in the South End since it first opened last July. Banyan Bar + Refuge replaces the iconic Hamersley’s Bistro on Tremont Street and brings with it an Asian fusion and flair. Banyan’s executive chef Phil Tang definitely has a fun way of pairing classic Asian ingredients with Western foods, and we’re thrilled to tell you all about our wonderful experience.
The space is handsomely decorated with wooden chandeliers that instantly take you away from the city, with beautiful signature green leather chairs to add a bit of color and sophistication to this already stylish space.
We quickly ordered drinks to start off the night, opting for the Painkiller and the Faithful Rabenda.
The Painkiller is perfect for the summertime – a mixture of 5 spice infused rum, pineapple, orange, and coconut foam. It comes topped off with toasted coconut; it is the perfect tropical drink if you want a vacation in your cup.
The Faithful Rabenda was like lemonade with an undercurrent of lime, made with vodka and lavender simple syrup. This will definitely be a drink worth returning for in the coming months of summer, when sitting in the shade of the romantically lit patio just isn’t quite enough to keep us cool.
First up was a grilled Romaine salad with a tea egg and garlic bread. Its garlicky soy dressing lent a savory pop to every bite, and we couldn’t stop dipping those bread pieces into the soft egg yolks. (In case you didn’t know, we’re suckers for a good yolk.)
Our next appetizer was the daikon fries with gochujang ketchup and pickled ramp aioli – this was probably our favorite dish of the night. If you’re unfamiliar with daikon, it is just a large white radish. It’s mild in flavor so it pairs well with lots of things. What really makes this dish a standout, though, is the ramp aioli. You know we love ramps for their beautiful flavor and elusiveness, and this aioli delivered all of that and more.
Banyan’s spring vegetable rice bowl was a vegetarian’s dream, and because one of us has recently been trying to forego meat (ahem, Leili), of course this stood out to us right away. The fiddleheads tasted as though they had been harvested from a field just outside the kitchen doors moments before they were plated. After just a few bites, it was abundantly clear that this dish was aptly named – it was like springtime in a bowl.
The stinging nettle miso pesto (pictured above, in the foreground of the plate on the right) blew us away, and we kept dipping our spoons back into it trying to figure out what it was that made it so goddamn delicious. It was buttery in a way that words cannot describe.
And with an egg on top? Game. Over.
Poke bowls are hard to find on the east coast since they originate from Hawaii. Since one of us (ahem, Wei) loves raw fish, we had to try this salmon poke rice bowl with pickled vegetables and sorrel. Although neither of us has tried the real thing from Hawaii, although we hope to, we are proud to say this was a delicious bowl of beautiful raw fish and rice. The salmon was seasoned and dressed perfectly and the vegetables added a nice crunch and texture to the softness of the fish.
And lastly, what is a meal for us if we don’t order pork belly off the menu? Pork belly buns are one of our favorite things and it’s only fair that we gave Banyan’s version a taste. Any vegetarian leanings we may have been having were forcibly suspended once this dish was dropped off at our table.
The bun comes with the usual ingredients – cucumbers, pickled onions, and a sweet sauce. It was certainly delicious but we wanted more fat on there. Never hurts, right?
For a good time out, go to Banyan and relax. It truly is a refuge. Bring some friends and have a few drinks. Order some food and have good conversations. Everything is so comfortable here and the food will surely not disappoint. Their full dinner menu is here and their brunch is equally delicious. Their sister restaurant, The Gallows, is also in the South End and we highly recommend that one as well. For dessert, Blackbird Doughnts, is across the street and you can find our recommendations here.