Where: Cay Tre, Soho
With Who: The Poker Shark
How much: £15 a head without drinks
Come here if: you can't get to Kingsland Road, Rosa's is full and you've got a real craving for South Asian food.
Owned by the same group behind Kingland Road's venerable Viet Grill and Old Street institution Cay Tre, both of which I'm a big fan of, to say I was looking forward to this would be an understatement.
Something felt different on walking in. The other two feel organic, a product of their local markets and clientele but Cay Tre Soho feels different somehow; clean and crisp design but more corporate, more manufactured and a little soulless somehow... It's almost as if someone has bought a franchise and is planning a Byron / Wahaca style roll out. I should clarify this is definitely not a bad thing if done well.
The premise is simple, authentic Vietnamese dishes. There's a huge amount of choice on a bright and attractive double sided menu, shorter than the other locations but still full of promise. It picks up favourites of mine from the East (End), such as the legendary Shaking Beef, a garlicky wok fried rib eye and the steamed whole roast Tiger Chicken. They also hit the obvious bases with a good selection of Pho noodle soups. We attempted to share a portion of crispy pork spring rolls and a Cha La Lot. The former, deepfried vermicelli noodles surrounded a spiced, minced pork sausage, had been a little too long in the fryer, they arrived over hard and with a slick of oil. The latter, ground pork in betel leaves, just didn't arrive.
The Poker Shark had a Dong Du lamb chop curry, a deep and complex sauce thickly coating a brace of juicy chops. This was what I was hoping for, solid honest fare with a real bite. Sadly I went for a less impressive Com Saigon, missing the grilled pork chop, effectively just a lukewarm pork fillet with rice and an egg. Some spice came from the chilli sauce side but this wasn't accomplished cooking.
The staff welcome warmly on arrival but elsewhere were as as brusque as I've come to expect at the other branches - I certainly don't believe that the customer is always right, but calling someone a liar when they query a none arriving item isn't going to win repeat business.
I'll be back I'm sure. For the area it's been an under represented cuisine and I do fearsome love a good pho. It succeeds for me by proximity and I'll give them a lot of leeway for the heritage and respect I've got for the owners and what they've achieved before. I'm just going to let them settle in and calm down a bit first before I'm back though.