Following my unimpressive and disappointing experience at the new branch of Vietnamese restaurant Cay Tre on Dean Street in Soho, I received a few emails suggesting that I would have a better time at the original restaurant in Hoxton on Old Street. I decided to try it out one weekday lunchtime, but I came away with very mixed feelings.
The Hoxton Cay Tre feels cramped compared to the newer Soho branch which is due in part to the fact that it is split across two floors. It has a similar aesthetic to the Soho location with an intricate black and white wallpaper matched with minimalist white tables and chairs. Service was efficient but even more brusque than the notoriously terse waiters you’d find in Chinatown. I’ve never encountered a more sullen, depressed and uncommunicative bunch of waiting staff. If there are any restaurants left in North Korea, the waiters there are probably more cheery and enthusiastic than the miserable lot here.
Since I was a on tight schedule I decided to opt for some simple dishes which probably wouldn’t take much time for the kitchen to prepare. Sadly my first choice of starter, summer rolls filled with duck, were unavailable so I opted for another version using beef in rolls made from uncut pho-style noodles instead. The noodle rolls were smooth but had a tendency to fall apart since they were open-ended. The beef filling was tender with a mildly caramelised flavour that went well with the mild sweet chilli dipping sauce. The selection of vegetables, mainly carrot, mint leaf and surprisingly bland pickles, were uninspired but didn’t spoil an otherwise tasty starter.
Despite the lacklustre pho, or noodle soup, I had at Cay Tre Dean Street, I couldn’t resist trying this classic Vietnamese dish again. Sadly, there’s no option for beef balls or beef brisket on the menu, but the incredibly thin slices of beef that were available went down a treat. Some of the slices had a silvery tang to them so they were probably slices of silverside. The thin, flat pho noodles were supple and firm.
The soup wasn’t very fragrant though, an essential component of good pho, and tasted rather bland too. There was plenty of coriander and spring onion, but this did little to make up for the disappointing soup – I’ve made better tasting pho soup myself using stock cubes from Chinatown supermarkets (and that’s saying something). At least there were bottles of sriracha and hoisin sauces on the table for use as toppings.
Smell ya later.
Absent from the Dean Street branch but present at the Hoxton location is Vietnamese coffee. Although the coffee wasn’t especially strong, the exceedingly sweet, viscous condensed milk made up for this. Served ice cold, it was very refreshing on the hot June afternoon of my visit.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
Despite my less-than-perfect experience at the Soho Cay Tre, I was genuinely hoping for a significantly better time at the Hoxton original if only because I love Vietnamese food and have yet to find an outstanding Vietnamese restaurant in London. While there are clearly some highlights at Cay Tre Old Street, the service isn’t one of them and the staple dish of pho beef noodle soup is in need of serious improvement. I wouldn’t object to dining at Cay Tre again if I happen to find myself in the wilds of Hoxton, but for now Paris is still the closest place for truly excellent Vietnamese food.
Name: Cay Tre (Hoxton branch)
Address: 301 Old Street, London, EC1V 9LA
Phone: 020 7729 8662
Opening Hours: Lunch midday-15.00 seven days a week. Dinner 17.30-23.00 (Monday-Thursday), 17.30-23.30 (Friday-Saturday), 17.30-22.30 (Sunday).
Reservations: highly recommended.
Total cost for one person including soft drink: approx. £15