My mind tends to go vacant when asked where to go for Vietnamese cuisine. I don’t like that feeling. I like being Miss ‘know it all’ or at the very least have SOMETHING to say rather than mumbles of ‘Erm…Hmmm… Oh crap .. I don’t know’ and a blank look on my face as if someone’s asked me to guess their mother’s maiden name. I wanted to change that so I have made it my mission to go on the hunt for some good Vietnamese restaurants, that plus the fact that I’m totally obsessed with Vietnamese fried spring rolls which can mostly only be found on a dim sum menu usually until around 5pm. I want them at anytime goddamit!
One thing I do know from word of mouth and frolicking, is that East London is home to some of the most authentic Vietnamese eateries, so I decided to hop along to Cay Tre in Hoxton. Cay Tre was new to my tastebuds but not to my ears. It’s one of those places you hear a lot about and always make a ‘note to self’ to visit.
H and I went there at around 7.30pm (bit earlier than the usual time I’ve my dinner) and there was a queue of about 4 but it didn’t take too long for us to get in. Thank god as I was wearing next to nothing and really was in no mood to freeze my derriere off. The menu has a whole lotta food to choose from and my stomach was rumbling. I wanted everything but alas that wasn’t possible so we opted to share 2 starters to begin with.
As I mentioned before I have a total weakness for Vietnamese spring rolls, like kryptonite to Superman, so my eyes lit up when I chose them from the menu (£4.50). They arrived and I don’t know what it is but I can always tell just by looking if they’ll be to my liking. These just weren’t. Taking a bite of them confirmed I was right, they weren’t the Vietnamese spring rolls I know and love, the wrapping didn’t seem/look/taste right, the filling wasn’t that great, it was really ‘pastry’ not enough pork. I was a bit disappointed as I thought this place would excel at them as it’s such a popular, traditional dish of THEIR origin. I didn’t hate it but I was highly underwhelmed. I expect them to usually be like THIS.
The ‘Table Grilled Beef’ arrived (£6.50) and wasn’t what I expected appearance wise. It looked awesome and it was a very interactive dish. Now you’ll either love this or hate this because you have to grill and prepare your starter yourself . The waitress lays it out on the table, demonstrates, instructs then leaves it to you.
First you put some oil on the grill, grill the beef how you’d want it cooked, whilst it’s cooking, dip the rice paper in water until moist and soft. Place the contents on the rice paper which include kimchi, vermecelli and lettuce. Grab your beef from the grill, place it amongst the other ingredients and wrap the rice paper so you end up with a roll. This was fun for me and I think it would be perfect as an ice breaker. Some people don’t want to go to a restaurant to cook it themselves so it won’t be popular with everyone. I enjoyed my rolls so I’m going to give myself 4/5, it’s only fair and it tasted better than my measly attempt at wrapping made them look.
Next, I ordered a prawn dish for my main. (Sorry I really can’t remember what it was as I did not note it and can’t locate it online). It had an array of flavours, the prawns were well sized, very fresh and were generous in portion. It was like Vietnam on a plate, or what I imagine Vietnam to be like as I’ve never been. I happily kept on drowning my rice with this. The sauce was fantastic and slightly tangy.
H went for the traditional popular, signature, Vietnamese dish ‘Pho’ with Beef (£6.50) which came with the fried spring rolls we had to start. Can I just say that the plate was as big as my head. (I have a small head so I’m not that far off). Wow, generous is an understatment. The bigger the better is definitely a term that can be applied in this context. I had a taste, the beef was hearty and enhanced the taste of the broth which were soaking the elasticy noodles but…. a bit was on the bland side. The use of MSG was quite dominant in my opinion. I could be wrong, however it was an OK dish. I was picking at it after H admitted defeat and could no longer finish. Wimp!
I wasn’t that impressed with the Pho and the fried spring rolls. Shame, you’d think that a Vietnamese place would get these right. The rest of the dishes were great. It’s a highly affordable place with dishes rarely exceeding £10. They have another branch in Soho said to be more swanky in appearance. Cay Tre is a place that you are not entirely in love with but you will find yourself going again and again. 5.5/10.
301 Old Street,