Cây Tre has finally expanded from East London to Soho, and upped its game too as a ‘French-Vietnamese cafe’. It sets itself apart from the passé Viet noodle bars with a slick bar, black & white patterned tiles at the granite grey entrance, a dimly lit dining room and rows of candles. Frankly it looked like an altar in a funeral from where we sat, near the entrance.
We were granted a table after the manager tsk tsk’ed us for not booking in advance at 7pm on Saturday. Immediately I felt uncomfortable; mainly because I was in for a casual feed-me-now dinner as opposed to a wine-dine-and-gaze occasion, and secondly a server had held the coldest, most unfriendly stare since I walked in. Was I the dinner?
Crispy Pork Spring Rolls
We ordered this out of habit; afterall it is a safe bet that rarely goes too wrong. It could do with more filling for a better ratio and more juices, the shell held a little too much oil... Second thought, if the kitchen hasn’t nailed this kind of basics, it doesn’t really deserve a place here.
Lang Son Spinning Roast Tamworth Pork Belly
Chef needs to practice his chopping skills, unless these were supposed to come in different widths. This dish looked very much like Chinese roasts.
This translated to stuffed pork belly with sweet curry leaves from Lang Son province in Northern Vietnam, honey & lemon roasted, and served with chilli oil and dried shrimps. Some bites were very pungent, with the distinctive taste from chervil (Chinese celery?) in the generous herb paste smeared on the side; some bites were bland because they didn’t have the lump of herb. Considering the sinewy leathery skin, dry meat and cold lard, not great.
The chilli oil, however, was extraordinary. Southeast Asia trademark, tongue-piercingly hot that loitered for the rest of the meal despite downing 2 cans of coke. The fishy dried shrimps, pushed to one side of the sauce, gave slightly more dimension to the meat but still not enough to liven it.
Pho Bo with Brisket & Tendon
The classic combo. Everything was spot on here: slices of soft, tender brisket; small chunks of buttery, melting tendon; slithering flat noodles bathing in clear broth, oozing with lemongrass and herby fragrance. Exactly how pho should be, and how it has been done almost everywhere else on Kingsland Road.
The entire dining experience was – perhaps a little harsh – artificial. If we remove the candles and switch the lights on, it is still sardine packed tables with plastic bottles of sauces on the tables. Cay Tre offers Vietnamese Afternoon Tea at £28 for 2; no scones or fingers sandwiches, but a selection of the starters and salads; the joke is tea is not included in the price. Personally I’d call it a starter platter; it’s all marketing bluff.
42-43 Dean Street
Tel: 0207 317 9118