My meal at Cay Tre was one of those nights where you have spent a lazy day drinking in the sun and then realise that it is dark and you have almost forgotten to eat. Inevitably there are eight of you and so you wander towards the Vietnamese restaurant hot spot of Old Street/Kingsland road and beg for a table at Cay Tre. They can’t make any promises since you are eight and you have no booking and so you have to wait for half an hour but that’s not too bad and somehow at the end of it they manage to produce a table that will fit you all. For me, that’s the charm of Cay Tre. This is casual dining at its best when you can turn up with eight people and half an hour later sit down to a Vietnamese feast going for a song.
Like it’s sister restaurant Viet Grill, Cay Tre offers a more upmarket Vietnamese dining experience. Don’t get me wrong it is still loud, bright, bustling and cheap but in a nod to Shoreditch’s increasing gentrification Cay Tre features designer wallpaper filled with beaming Buddahs, attentive if brisk service and a wine list rather than BYO. The menu is exhaustive and offers an overwhelming number of dishes although this trait is fairly common in Vietnamese restaurants.
To start Cay Tre’s spring rolls are tasty but a little on the greasy side. Bo la lot is described on the menu as “grilled leafy beef wrapped in Piper leaf” and what arrives are small parcels of beef in a rich, cloying sauce wrapped neatly in shiny dark green leaves. They remind me of Longrain in Australia’s much lauded betel leaf starter but at about one tenth of the price.
There are some knock out dishes such as the chili salted and peppered soft shell crab. The batter coating the crab is light and airy and the crab itself is buttery to taste. The sizzling seafood with lemon and garlic (pictured) is a bit more pedestrian and the scallops on the gluey side. Pho is always a great litmus test of a Vietnamese restaurant and Cay Tre’s pho is a deep brown from the rich stock used. It contains a mixture of rare and well done beef and plenty of it although the usual accompaniments of bean sprouts, chilli and fresh herb are not served separately and have already been added denying you the opportunity to mix the pho to your own taste.
No sooner had we finished than the table was cleared and the bill (£15 each including wine – super cheap) arrived. Cay Tre relies on fast turnover and even this late at night there were more eager punters ready to grab our table as we left. In some ways it is hard to distinguish Cay Tre from Viet Grill although Viet Grill may have the edge in my view. Viet Grill has a bit more of a relaxed atmosphere while Cay Tre is more frenetic so if you are in a big group like we were head to Cay Tre and for a more intimate meal opt for Viet Grill.
Details: 301 Old Street, Shoreditch EC1V 9LA (Ph 020 7729 8662)
Damage: Such a bargain my mother would approve
If you enjoyed reading this you can read my review of Cay Tre’s sister restaurant Viet Grill or if you are looking for Vietnamese but at an even cheaper price and with the added bonus of BYO try Tay Do.