The Pepper Tree appears to have been influenced by the Wagamama's school of restaurant design - long tables with backless benches. Perhaps it was The Pepper Tree that influenced Wagamama. If so, it has a lot to answer for. It's not a format conceived to encourage lingering. This, combined with the extremely rapid delivery of all our dishes, contributed to a very quick meal. We visited on Monday evening so there were no queues. If you come on a Friday, it's entirely possible that your wait for a table (bench) would exceed the time you got to sit at it. Never mind - this is a cafe (albeit a licensed one), somewhere to eat at the beginning or end of a night out or to grab a quick cheap dinner on the way home when you can't be bothered to cook.
Starters of tord man (deep-fried spicy fishcakes) and chicken satay were both very tasty. The tord man were light to touch and a touch light on the seasoning. They were an excellent sponge for the various chilli condiments placed on every table.
The satay sauce is heavenly. I could eat it on its own. Which is to say, I did, with a spoon, when all the chicken was finished. The barbecued prawns are also excellent, these too being elevated from good to delicious by a top-notch dipping sauce.
Mains are the predictable aray of stir fries, curries and noodle dishes. We opted for Pepper Tree Beef Curry and Thai Chilli Sauce Chicken because they both promised the most heat for our money. Served with plain steamed rice, both sang with vibrant, tangy gravies that were sufficiently different to avoid the one-sauce-fits-all conspiracy theories that fly around similarly priced Chinese and Indian eateries. Portions are generous on meat and even more so with veg, the crisp firmness of which is the true indicator of the from-fresh cooking going on in the kitchen.
Pudding options are limited. The best option is not to bother at all. We chose bananas in coconut milk which was as sickly sweet as it sounds but slightly less disgusting. We couldn't finish the bowl. It being a Monday night we drank jasmine tea. They also serve wine, beer and spirits at pub prices.
We paid £27 for the two of us. If we'd had a couple of beers, it would still have been well under £35, even less without the soggy bananas. That's great value for cooking of this quality and freshness. It's also remarkably consistent. Granted, the menu has hardly changed in the last five years. But so what? These guys know what they're doing. According to their website, they opened 17 years ago. On this basis, they'll still be here in another 17. Let's hope so anyway.
Service - 4 out of 5
Value - 5
Quality - 4
Cooking - 4
Decor/atmosphere - 2
Total - 19 out of 25