Good curries, great vibe
This Vietnamese eatery is well placed for foot traffic on lively Frith Street, the benefits of which become clear as the restaurant rapidly reaches capacity on an early weekday evening. That Cay Tre remains successful amongst the fierce competition in Soho is surely a good indicator of the standard of food – we hope.
The menu is alive with traditional Vietnamese dishes; plump summer rolls of wild shrimp, green papaya, and woody daikon are tightly wrapped in lettuce and a thin membrane of moistened rice paper. Accompanying yellow bean sauce is thick and full-bodied, and has been mopped up faster than you can say supercalafragalistic… well you get the point, it’s good.
Scallops are grilled with roasted peanuts and nuoc cham (fermented soybean sauce) and presented in their shells with orange roe intact. These are small for a starter, and although they are clearly cooked by an accomplished hand we find them less satisfying than the summer rolls.
The signature dish here is the La Vong Grilled Monkfish which is cooked at the table, no doubt in an attempt to add drama to the dining experience. In reality, we find that the portable grill is a clunky addition to an already crowded tabletop. The fish is pre-prepared and already placed in the pan, hidden under a mass of spring onion and dill and left to its own devices on the grill. The action occurs mainly with the noodles but, having seen it, I have to say that the addition of shrimp paste and nuts to vermicelli is a superfluous act that we really don’t need to witness. The whole experience misses the mark entirely, acting to disturb conversation rather than fuel it.
The butterfish coconut curry is in another league entirely to the rest of the food, consisting of substantial fillets of fish in a robust coconut milk and tamarind red curry. The well spiced curry revives both the egg fried rice and the wok fried noodles which would otherwise be quite bland.
Prawns are served with crisp wedges of chouchou (closely related to pear squash and cucumber), wok fried in oyster sauce, black pepper and fresh Vietnamese herbs. Chinese mustard greens with Hon Shimeji mushrooms, roasted chili and garlic add a fantastic fresh crunch, and tasting the Vietnamese kim chi with ginger pickle is like being whacked over the head with a giant spiked chili – actually quite an energising experience.
For drinks we try a soothing jasmine tea and mango lassis. Service is a stretched affair, and average price per person is £20.
Tube: Leicester Square