My (future) restaurant is still mostly a puzzle. I make up my own fantasies and dine at other people’s dreams, searching for help with my puzzle. A week ago I found a piece.
Never before (not even at my perma fave Dishoom) have I looked at a menu and wanted to order nearly every single thing. I have never been to Vietnam but if the real deal smells even half as delicious as bustling Cây Tre on Soho’s Dean Street, then I want to book that trip very, very soon.
Cây Tre is definitely loud, so depending on your mood you will either find this cosy, candlelit restaurant noisy or lively. Fortunately for me, every single one of the three times (in the same week) I visited the restaurant I was in a good mood. The room is bright, the staff is cheerful and I couldn’t wait to dig into the menu. I am no expert, least of all on Vietnamese food, but I have eaten at enough restaurants to know when someone is compromising authentic flavours to suit the foreign country they are serving their food in. Cây Tre thankfully makes no such concessions. Everything tastes fresh, delicious and when they say spicy, then mean spicy (yes!).
• Grilled aubergine with ground pork (£6) – sublime; the delicate aubergine glistens in a delicious sweet and savoury broth and I ate this dish in one go. I ordered it again; and again.
• Grilled calamari and okra (£8) – luscious calamari; I still don’t like okra.
• Crispy salt and pepper soft shell crab (£7) is better than the crispy salt and pepper frog’s legs (£7.50) contrary to what the tips on FourSquare say.
• Mahi mahi coconut curry (£9.50) is toe-curlingly fabulous; and evoked memories of malvani fish curry from India. It is served with rice and delicate steamed rice pancakes… almost like a neer dosa!
• Roast pork belly stuffed with sweet curry leaves (£10) is succulent with proper crispy skin.
• Com Saigon – a lemongrass marinated pork chop with fried egg & rice (£9) – which I ordered at the waitress’s recommendation was the only disappointing dish. The pork was dry and flavours very common.
Each dish arrives with its own nước chấm (Vietnamese dipping sauce) – the kitchen doesn’t cut corners by bulk producing one type of sauce and forcing it to match every dish on the menu. The Kim Chi (£4.50) is very good and bursting with ginger.
I found the wine list average and the desserts didn’t impress either. I had the coconut ice-cream (£3) the first time but stayed with the Vietnamese Iced Coffee (£2.90) every other time. The coffee is lovely and strong but could do with still more condensed milk.
The more I think about it the more I want my restaurant to feel like the perfect first date. A date when you can’t recall specific details but walk away knowing that everything was just right. The menu will give you butterflies of anticipation, the music will romance the design, the service will be flirty, and when you take that first bite it will be love. For that moment at least.