Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Cay Tre review - Old Street Vietnamese food that slowly grows on you

Address: 301 Old Street, London EC1V 9LA
Tel: 020 7729 8662
Nearest Tube station: Old Street

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £15 pp
Service charge: 12.5%
Taste: ***
Service: **
Ambience: **
Suitable for: those looking for a healthy dose
of lemongrass, mint and fish sauce
There are quite a number of Vietnamese restaurants along Kingsland Road, but one of Vietnamese restaurants that I regularly frequent is Cay Tre, which is located along Old Street, a couple of minutes' walk from Old Street Tube station.

To be honest, I wasn't a huge fan of Vietnamese cuisine to begin with. That was probably due to the rather uninspiring experience I had of the Vietnamese fare back in Singapore. To me, Vietnamese cuisine was pho (flat rice noodles in soup with slices of beef) and nothing very much else.


Years later, I would find myself still ordering pho (not exactly adventurous was I?) at Cay Tre. The 'classic' beef pho (£6.50) was fine though not spectacular. The raw beansprouts added some welcomed crunch to the full bodied soup and the lemon slice provided gave it a certain tanginess. However, I thought that the beef was a bit flaccid and didn't quite acquired the soup's taste. I got over that by dipping it into the bottled chilli sauce that was placed on every table.

Beef pho

Next up was the luan rang (£7). That was one dish that would get me return to Cay Tre again. The rice field longfish was cut into large bitesize pieces, marinated with salt and pepper, and thrown into hot boiling oil for a couple of moments before serving it with sliced lemongrass and chilli.

Luan rang - crispy longfish

The simplicity of the dish astounded me. Unless you have a large gas stove at home, it will be virtually impossible to replicate the dish. I am not sure whether a electric deep fryer will work but I know for sure that a simple work over an electric stove will produce pieces that are damp and oily, totally lacking the lightness that makes this dish special.

If you happen to order this dish, I would recommend that you first take a bite without any of those lemongrass and chilli. Though it does add to the flavour, I thought it masked the taste of the fish itself.

Crispy tofu

The crispy tofu (£4.50) came with some kim chi. I was sure that the Vietnamese knew it by another name but it did taste like a less pungent variety of the Korean staple. The tofu was rather interesting - while its surface remained relatively dry, there was quite a bit of soupy liquid, which tasted quite fine, oozing out from the interior when I bit into it.

The couple behind us asked the staff about the dish when it was brought out to us. "Well, it's crispy on the outside and soft on the inside," replied the waiter. Not quite the description that I would go for but it was nearly there.

Cay Tre probably won't create a huge impression when you first visit. But it will definitely be one of those that slowly grows on you.

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Mr Noodles said...

Didn't you get some chopped chillies to add to the pho ? These usually come with the beansprouts, herbs and lime that you add to the pho. Not been here for a while but I'd say their pho is a bit insipid compared to Song Que. That said, they do have some pretty authentic dishes on the menu.

The London Foodie said...

Interesting as I think Cay Tre's management is also behind Viet Grill on Kingland Road - i have just reviewed this restaurant and thought the food was quite good and a bit more sophisticated than other restaurants in the area including my much loved Song Que.

C K said...

@Mr Noodles,
I didn't actually. The chillies provided weren't chopped at all and I didn't fancy biting on them. Will try out Song Que the next time round. Any dish to recommend over there other than pho?

@The London Foodie,
It seems so as the website features both restaurants. Hmm, would you recommend Viet Grill over Song Que then?

Mr Noodles said...

At Song Que, try the prawn paste on sugar cane and the summer rolls for starters - not sure what they're actually called on the menu. For mains, I like the bun dishes - rice vermicelli served at room temp with toppings such as grilled pork and spring rolls.

C K said...

@Mr Noodles,
Thanks! Mmm, haven't tried the bun dishes before. Will give it a go.