I’m a huge fan of the Old Street branch of Cay Tre and have been since it opened. I will happily wait for a table, and have done, many times. Not here. Pho has just opened on Wardour St, and knowing their Brighton branch, Cay Tre Soho seriously needs to up its game. It’s not their fault that I had some braying trustafarians modelling rugby shirts next to me and discussing spring chicken as though it was their girlfriend, but on a simply ambient note, the combination of them and the unnecessarily loud music did make it rather like going to a rave at Henley with like, uh, ethnic catering.
Food wise, in the same way that you can judge a good Thai by its tom yum, you can judge a Vietnamese by its pho and if you’re going to make a big play of the rib-eye steak on the menu, it’s probably best not to serve it with gristly shavings. I like my pho quite hot – so I usually add some chopped chilli and then remove it as I’m eating. Pernickety and slightly OCD I realise, but when you’re presented with one unchopped chilli to add, and a slice of lemon (shouldn’t it be lime?) it’s very hard to cut it up with chopsticks. I asked for some chopped chilli, which never arrived. As a bit of a pho snob (add your own -ing) the broth was watery rather than the comfortingly aromatic variety you find on Old Street. Not much marrowbone here. Maybe the stock needs longer, or they could borrow a meatier one from round the corner. It is Soho after all and…too…many…jokes.
I quite liked the kimchi – pickled Korean cabbage – although my girlfriend didn’t, but that’s a matter of taste, and at least it wasn’t ludicrously overpriced like much else on the menu – eight quid for beans? Really? My girlfriend is, however, very wise, and when I mentioned I was writing this, did ask me to add the words ‘shit’, ‘overpriced’, and ‘cold’ to my review, and she’s head of department for an English faculty so I felt I had to. Her Dong Du curry was quite tasty, but I think she counted two mouthfuls of actual lamb, which, for a tenner, seems a little steep. I even mentioned it when the bill arrived, and normally I’m like both of the old ladies in Fawlty Towers, so it must have been a bit shit, overpriced and cold.
I’ve got a meeting in Soho tomorrow, and I’ve already arranged to meet at Cay Tre. I would say I’ve booked a table, but no one was answering the phone this afternoon. I’ll be trying other things, but they’re going to have to be really good or next time I’m eating in Dean St, I’ll be trying other things.
24 May 2011
Ok, as a postscript, at lunchtime the music was quieter, as was the whole restaurant, unsurprisingly. We shared some very good prawn summer rolls to start – zingingly fresh with a gutsy chicken liver and peanut paste to dip them into. We then moved on to different phos – mushroom for him and venison for me. He is almost as big a snob as I am and declared his to be excellent – quite light, but in a good way. Mine was far from light, but also in a good way – succulent strips of venison in a broth that came very close to grabbing you by the lapels and taking you outside for a good kicking because of what you’d said about its mate. Fresh tomato and cucumber added a pleasing freshness, and I finished with a burning tongue and a new found respect for Cay Tre’s Soho incarnation.
However, with a bottle of water, the bill still came to just over thirty pounds. I know this is the West End, but for a shared (and traditionally inexpensive) starter and what were, after all, two bowls of soup, that still seems rather a lot. One of the joys of the Old Street branch is how they manage to cram that much flavour into that much great food at such a reasonable price. That might be a lesson their sister restaurant can learn from, because right now, I think it’s worth spending the difference on the bus fare down there. Actually, come to think of it, you could probably afford a taxi.
26 May 2011