One of the wonderful things about living in East London is the number of great Vietnamese restaurants nearby. I have no doubt that I’ll be posting a full review of one of my absolute faves – Mien Tay – which I’ve already referred to in a previous post, but for now I’m leaving Kingsland Road behind. About 10 mins away lies Cây Tre on Old Street, and it’s rapidly rising up the ranks in my favourite Vietnamese category! There’s something really fresh about Vietnamese food that I love – really clean flavours, but packed with plenty of punch. And it’s one of those cuisines I really want to start mastering at home.
Location and Atmosphere:
Tightly squeezed into a row of terraced properties on Old Street, Cây Tre is not too far away from Hoxton. And it’s worth the wander. The atmosphere is hot and chaotic, but in a good way! In fact, the owner (or manager, I can never quite tell) orders his staff and customers around in equal measure. Whilst walk-ins will always try to be accommodated, there’s absolutely no guarantee. This place is ALWAYS busy, so it’s definitely worth booking ahead if you can. The staff are extremely efficient and during their busiest periods they will not hesitate to rush you through your meal. But honestly, whilst this behaviour would annoy me in many other places, it’s all part of the charm here. It’s not the sort of place you want to stay in for hours anyway. The restaurant is on two-levels, and tables are squeezed in wherever there is room so there’s lots of hustle and bustle. But watching the steady stream of bowls and plates landing on tables around you is guaranteed to get your mouth watering!
The food here is really good and the menu is refreshing with lots of dishes I haven’t necessarily seen in other Vietnamese restaurants. So starting with the starters, whilst I do love Mien Tay on Kingsland Road, the Chilli Salt & Pepper Squid at Cây Tre is definitely the best I’ve tasted. Really lightly battered and with lots of onion and garlic. For a sense of occasion, I can’t help myself ordering the Table Griddled Beef starter which you need to share with a friend. You get a tabletop burner and cook rib-eye steak (in very thin slices) at the table, which you then wrap in rice paper along with noodles, herbs and a kimchi-type dish they provide. It’s very tasty indeed! On to main courses, a couple of dishes stand out in my memory. Fried Sea Bass with Green Mango is delicious, with the green mango and sauce managing to avoid overpowering the delicate fish. Then there’s the Coconut Chicken Curry, the title of which doesn’t really do the dish much justice – the flavours are so much more complex than they sound! And finally their Beef Pho. They have quite an extensive Pho menu, and this one is the only one I’ve tried but I used to have it A LOT when I worked in Old St. It was always worth the walk, and the wait, for lunch!
Whilst I’m sure you can get Vietnamese food marginally cheaper in London, I can’t imagine it’d be by much. And for quality, CâyTre really is great value for money. I guess one differentiating factor would be in the drinks – some of the restaurants on the Kingsland Road allow you to take your own drink (including Mien Tay) which keeps the cost down. This isn’t the case at Cây Tre, and actually the only thing I felt was a little pricey was £4 for a bottle of lager. But they do have quite a cheap wine list if you so choose. Overall, this place just keeps getting better and better in my opinion, and I would never hesitate to recommend it to people who happen to be in the area.