Hoxton favourite makes its way to Soho – but forgot to bring superb quality food and service along with it.
Despite the popularity of Vietnamese food in Paris, the US and other parts of the world, there are relatively few Vietnamese restaurants in London and most are located in out-of-the-way parts of the city like Deptford or Hoxton. Thankfully for the perennially lazy among us, Vietnamese Hoxton eatery Cay Tre has opened a branch on Dean Street in easy-to-reach Soho so the Euro Hedgie and I popped along for dinner on its opening day. To help us out we brought along Gamera and Rodan, both originally from Vietnam, so their reactions should be interesting if nothing else.
Almost none of the dishes at Cay Tre cost more than £12, but you wouldn’t know from looking at the place. From the tiled floor of the foyer to the fancy light fixtures and minimalist black and white decor, Cay Tre certainly looks stylish. Unlike some lesser Vietnamese restaurants, Cay Tre’s menu eschews the Chinese filler dishes used to make up numbers and appeal to the chronically unadventurous.
As a starter I chose prawn summer rolls, where prawns, vermicelli noodles, coriander and a hit of citrus and fish sauce are served tightly wrapped in a thin but supple rice flour sheet. It’s a refreshing dish, but the prawns, while plump, tasted rather bland as if they had been cooked and left in a fridge earlier that morning. Never mind, the tart oyster sauce-like dipping sauce helped mask the taste of that disappointment.
Not bad, but could’ve been so much better.
The Euro Hedgie chose the chả lá lốt. This dish consists of grilled chunks of pork wrapped in betel leaves and served on a bed of lightly spiced vermicelli noodles. The chargrilled, smoky chunks of pork were pleasing enough, if nothing special. I’ve never seen the point of betel leaves though which taste rather bitter, and not in a nice way. They didn’t really complement the rest of the dish here. The Euro Hedgie didn’t seem terribly impressed either.
I have no idea how you’re supposed to pronounce ‘chả lá lốt’
Although there were some intriguing main dishes, such as pork belly and catfish curry, the four of us decided to try out the range of pho or noodle soups, a Vietnamese staple.
Rodan opted for an unusual-sounding Saigon satay beef pho where the soup essentially resembled curry. Gamera went for her favourite of bun bo hue, a spicier noodle soup made with udon-esque white rounded noodles and a ton of basil and whole chillies. Despite all that, Gamera didn’t find the dish all that spicy which made it a failure in her eyes, while Rodan responded with a non-committal shrug and a bitter-sounding ‘OK’ when I asked him how his dish was. Sorry folks, no pics of either of these dishes – Rodan and Gamera can’t operate cameras since they don’t have opposable thumbs.
I originally wanted a classic beef pho with tendon and brisket, but surprisingly this wasn’t available. Neither was the only non-alcoholic cocktail on the menu, a mixture of acai berries, grape juice and spices. And why is there no Vietnamese coffee on the menu?
Putting these worrying supply chain issues aside, I opted instead for the Hanoi pho served with strips of tenderloin and lots of garlic. The flat rice noodles were supple and firm, while the strips of tenderloin were certainly tender, although cooked well-done rather than the rare or medium rare that I usually prefer. The soup wasn’t very fragrant and tasted a bit bland, although it grew on me a little after I crushed some of the garlic chunks floating in the soup and chucked in some basil, chilli and coriander from the accompanying side plate of herbs.
Smell is a surprisingly important part of taste and this just didn’t smell right.
Despite his underwhelming starter, the Euro Hedgie was looking forward to his ox cheek au vin pho. What arrived instead was the almost identical ox cheek au vin, which isn’t a noodle soup at all, but a heartier sauce-based dish which is presumably meant to be eaten with rice.
Rather than sticking with it, the Hedgie pointed out this error and the incorrect dish was taken away. Unfortunately, the pho never arrived. The Hedgie was willing to sit it out and see what would happen, but Rodan became increasingly agitated and complained quite vocally on several occasions, especially after we had all finished our noodle soups, the vaunted ox cheeks still hadn’t appeared and the staff never bothered to check that it had arrived on their own accord. The manager finally appeared and apologised profusely and knocked 50% off our bill.
The total time between the wrong dish being taken away and the manager finally making an appearance? 28 minutes according to the Hedgie’s stopwatch. The poor lad left hungry too as he had to dash back to the office.
Normally, I would be willing to cut Cay Tre some slack since it was their first formal day of business and I’ve been rather forgiving of first week hitches before. However, the people behind Cay Tre have two other restaurants already up and running plus the Dean Street branch had actually been open the four days prior to our visit for a soft launch where these sort of issues should have been ironed out. Clearly they haven’t been, from the ox cheek fiasco to the absent cocktail and tendon/brisket.
Judging from the hysterical outpourings of joy on Twitter that accompanied the news of Cay Tre’s opening, I was expecting Vietnamese food to match the standards of the exceptional Le Bambou in Paris’ Chinatown. What I got instead was merely satisfactory food paired with some appalling service and supply chain issues. Admittedly it is cheap. I’ll give Cay Tre the benefit of the doubt with a generous three star rating instead of the two stars they should receive. I’m not adverse to giving the place a second try, although I doubt Rodan or the Euro Hedgie will step foot inside ever again.
Name: Cay Tre (Dean Street Soho branch)
Address: 44 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 4QD
Phone: 020 7317 9118
Web: http://www.vietnamesekitchen.co.uk/ (website not yet updated at time of writing)
Opening Hours: call and find out.
Reservations: probably a good idea.
Total cost for one person including soft drink: approx. £20-25