Cây Tre Soho, 42-43 Dean Street, London W1 4PZ
After our cocktails at the Savoy‘s The American Bar (ooh get us!) we wandered along to Soho to try our first ever Vietnamese meal. The owner, Hieu Bui, 35 has four Vietnamese restaurants in London, the last being the popular Cay Tre Soho. As we walked in to the bustling atmosphere we noticed a small group waiting to be seated – luckily we had booked and were taken straight to our table. The decor was very simple with bleached wood panelled walls and small elegant brass lights. Later whilst talking to the manager he asked us our opinion on the interior and if we thought it was too ‘clean’. We mentioned that maybe he should hang a couple of big mirrors along one wall, it’ll be interesting to see whether he’ll put them up.
Well let’s move on to the food! We were told that his menu stays true to its origins as street food but with a modern twist. It’s also fairly obvious that Hieu has a mild obsession with British regional food and sourcing the best UK produce to go with the light, aromatic Vietnamese herbs, spices and ingredients. The choice on the menu isn’t so huge to confuse you, but it still took us at least 15 minutes to come to a decision. In the mean time we ordered a couple of bottles of Saigon beer (£4).
To start, Saffron ordered the Chefs Vinh Beef, the skewered five spice rib eye beef, charcoaled and served with a soy dipping sauce (£9.50). We both really enjoyed this dish but felt the charcoaled taste almost over powered the spices. I went for the Crispy Salt & Pepper squid (£7.50) as recommended by @TableforONE_PV. I very nearly went for the Crispy Salt & Pepper Frogs Legs but whimped out at the last minute. I loved it! It came served with red & green chillis, onion and garlic… the manager has it everyday for lunch and so would I if I could!
Next was the Lang Son Spinning Roast Tamworth Pork Belly stuffed with sweet curry leaves from the Lang Son province in Northern Vietnam, honey & lemon roasted, and served with chilli oil and dried shrimps (£10)
and a side of Steamed Jasmine Rice (£3). I’ve been a massive fan of pork belly since our first visit to Water Lilies at Lifehouse Spa and was really looking forward to Hieu Bui‘s interpretation. The crackling was crisp (how do they get it so thin though?) and the pork moist and tender but the meat takes in the flavour from the curry leaves which was a little too floral for me… Saying that, I ate the lot even daring to try the very hot chilli oil.
Saffron went for the corn-fed chicken Pho Bo, (£8.50) the classic Vietnamese noodle soup, served with Vietnamese basil, saw tooth leaf and bean sprouts. We both shared a side order of Tonkin Jasmine Flower, (£8) stir fried with black pepper. As you know, Saff’s a huge fan of Thai food and especially the heat of a green curry, so she was a bit disappointed by the bland taste of the Pho Bo. It looked and smelt delicious but the broth didn’t really carry any flavour and she couldn’t pick out the difference between the Vietnamese basil and saw tooth leaf. She should’ve ordered the Slow Cooked Mekong Catfish (£8.50) caramelised in fish sauce as recommended by Fay Maschler. The Jasmine Flower, in contrast, was surprisingly good… A nice crunchy bite with a subtle chilli and black pepper kick.
Just when we thought it was time to move onto desserts the manager decided to treat (and it was a definite treat) us to a portion of Grilled Calamari with Ocra (£8.50). In basic terms it’s what calamari would taste like if Nando’s had cooked it! It’s wok cooked in chilli oil and then grilled, the chilli paste adds even more punch.
By now we were both stuffed full so decided to skip dessert and ordered a Vietnamese dripped coffee (£2.80) that we saw being served to another table. I had mine hot, be warned it’s very strong but the condensed milk takes the edge off and adds a creamy sweetness. Saff had hers with ice, and said it was the highlight of her meal, it was nowhere near as strong (but still more potent than anything Starbucks can rustle up!).
Another option for drinks would be the special selection of teas provided by the Rare Tea Company. Oolong tea (£2.90) is the ideal accompaniment to Vietnamese food.
Overall, I enjoyed the meal more than Saffron, although I do think she chose the wrong dishes, especially as she’s someone who likes spicy food and bold flavours. She ended up having several Twitter conversations with @KaveyF
and @loveLELUU on the way home on the train discussing Vietnamese food and was given advice on what to order next time…
42-43 Dean Street
London W1 4PZ
Phone 020 7317 9118
Monday – Saturday: 12noon – 11pm
Sunday: 12noon – 10pm