Cay Tre Vietnamese Restaurant Review – Old Street, Shoreditch
Published 25 October 2009
This is the second time I have been to Cay Tre; the first was with high expectations from reading numerous reviews, and the second time was to satisfy my craving for good Vietnamese food. On both occasions, the quality of the food did not disappoint! This is simply one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in town, and the huge waiting crowds that snake outside the door onto the street is a testament of that.
Cay Tre is a Vietnamese restaurant with stiff geographical competition. There are numerous Vietnamese restaurants all over Old Street and the nearby Kingsland Street, yet Cay Tre stands head above shoulders compared to the others. It is also a class up, with an intriguing buddha wallpaper throughout the restaurant and tables and decorations that are a step above its canteen-style competitors. Its still not a fine dining establishment yet, and that suits me perfectly as the moderate prices make this place a very accessible place for the masses.
When we arrived late on a Thursday evening, we had to wait for a table, alongside some very rude American students. I guess it is a testament to the success of the place that word has filtered down to students and people from overseas. Still, we were shortly shown a table downstairs, which had enough room, but just barely. One tip though, if possible, is to ask for a table upstairs, as the downstairs basement is quite echoey and we had trouble listening to each other across the table.
Service is very efficient in the place, although the waiting staff have only a basic understanding of English, but the menu is very self-explanatory with descriptions and ingredients. Besides, part of the joy of eating foreign cuisines is to choose dishes you have no idea how it would look or taste, and be pleasantly surprised when it arrives.
Having dined there twice, I would advise that their best dishes are the starters, and not the main courses, and on our second visit we actually decided to do away with main courses altogether. We had Cha Gio (£3.20), a Vietnamese spring roll with prawns (not fried), as our first starter. We also ordered two of Cay Tre’s speciality dishes, Cha Ca La Vong (their signature dish of grilled fish, £10)) and Bo Tai Chanh (thin slices of beef with a delicious marinade, £6). To top the meal off, we ordered a big bowl of beef Pho noodles (£6.50), which was more than enough for two. Our waiter encouraged us to order more dishes, saying it was not enough, but we found our food perfectly filling for two very hungry young professionals at the end of a long day’s work.
The Cha Gio was amazingly delicious, very light and fresh with a good refreshing kick of mint leaves and succulent prawns. The Cha Ca La Vong was cooked at our table, and came with rice noodles and spring onions, as well as a very smelly fish sauce that tasted great, although a recommendation here would be to ask them to not pour it automatically into your noodles. We found it a bit too overpowering, and for those with a sensitive palate it might be wise to get them to leave the bowl of sauce on the table.
The Bo Tai Chanh is one of our favourite dishes at Cay Tre. Really tasty, and we would have happily devoured a plate each. The Pho noodles was rather standard, but given our high expectations of this standard Vietnamese dish, we were a bit disappointed with the lacklustre soup base. It was surprising considering that they have accomplished so much with all the other complicated Vietnamese dishes but failed on one of the most basic ones.
Verdict: This place deserves the rave reviews and praise it is getting for its food. This is probably some of the best Vietnamese food you will get in London, bar the Pho. But it is almost impossible to get a table within an hour during the peak evening times during weekends, and on most weekdays too. In addition, the restaurant is a bit too small for the huge amounts of diners they are getting, and one cannot expect a relaxing and quiet meal here. Pricewise it is well worth the money, with the meal coming up to £30 for the both of us. However, The London Insider is stickler for excessive service charges, and the 12.5% here slapped on the bill is not justified by the cold (although efficient) service, especially since they forgot to bring tap water and the paid drinks arrived quickly. If they rectified the few niggling problems, it will easily get a 10 out of 10 from us.
Rating: 8 out of 10 stars
Price Range: £30 for two, including soft drinks.
Address: 301 Old Street, Shoreditch/Hoxton, London EC1V 9LA
Nearest Tube Station: Old Street Tube Station (5 minutes walk), Liverpool Street Rail/Tube Station (15 minutes walk)
Tel: 020 7729 8662