I must hold my hands up and admit that I’m no expert on Vietnamese food. I’ve always found it palatable, but never as exciting as Thai for example.It’s greener, fresher and more healthy tasting than Thai or Chinese, but doesn’t give me the same exotic frisson at all.
I’ve not been to Vietnam, one obvious explanation I’m sure, and I’ve never been a huge frequenter of the hipster BYO joints on Kingsland Road either. But I have been to Pho a few times, and a couple of places on Melbourne's Victoria Street too and it's never rocked my world. Vietnamese food’s surge in trendiness, mapped with London’s most hipster, faddy area is no coincidence.
But I'm an open-minded pig and having read some good excited comments about Cay Tre on Dean Street, I was keen to give it a go. Service and welcome were friendly, although it was so busy the bar area felt more like a crowded bus shelter at times, especially with everyone’s big coats, scarves and shopping bags.
We started with some various spring rolls and the table-griddled beef: quite a deal at £7 per person for the ceremony of it all. It’s basically making up your own summer rolls, with some slices of beef to grill on a hot plate and the usual accompaniments such as coriander, chilli, lime, onions and some salad. And rice paper to roll it all up into. It’s fun but as the beef isn’t marinated or anything, it needs severe seasoning or some sort of dipping sauce. Quite anticlimactic upon eating.
The Tiu Bowl (£9) was a reasonable dish. Pho noodles and a veritable meat feast (chicken, beef strips and bbq pork) in a stock base, but not enough to be a soup. The amount of meat was generous, but the stock tasted of nothing and lacked the ‘tangy sourness’ described.
Pork loin with vermicelli (£9) was also quite meaty. Small bites of crab and pork spring rolls were a little bonus. The pork loin was subtly but well flavoured. Again, well executed and cooked, but no element of thrill at all.
The staff were effective when it came to a nut allergy thing with a friend. The restaurant itself was like a furnace and so quite uncomfortable. And I found it quite pricey compared to my perceptions. I know it’s a little patronising and unrealistic to expect all Asian food to be good value, but I can’t help it sometimes especially with the precedent of Vietnamese joints in London. This wasn’t exceptional cooking and so the bill didn’t sit quite right. The bottle of prosecco was about £36!
I’m no doubt green and ordered the wrong things, and I happily admit to liking Pho's spicy red soups, but this just did nothing for me. The food was frankly very plain. I know it’s subjective and based on expectations, but one man’s delicate is another man’s bland.
Food – 5/10
Drink – 6/10
Service - 7/10
Value – 3/10
Tap water tales – 7/10
Staff Hotness – 5/10