Wednesday, 5 March 2008
Cây Tre, Old Street
Ah, niche ethnic restaurants - don't you just love them? Vast, incomprehensible menus, grumpy staff, bizarre decor. Cây Tre has all this in spades, but warranted a visit from me due to some favourable reports in the right places, and even a recommendation from a friend who had raved about their soft-shelled crabs. Soft-shelled crab isn't something you see very often in this country, although it is quite popular abroad, particularly the States. Maybe the British just need a little more convincing that you really can eat the whole thing, shell and all. I admit even I was dubious the first time - it's a bit like drinking a cup of coffee and then eating the cup. Takes a bit of getting used to.
Look at this menu - it was actually double-sided and there were just as many dishes on the back as well. It's what Gordon Ramsay would call "terrifying", and although large menus seem to be the norm in most East Asian restaurants, this was even more frightening than most, especially when you started to read it closely - "Crab-Asparagus soup", "Wicked crispy Fog", "Sea snail with knotweed" jostled for attention on the laminated pages. In the end, we crossed our fingers and ordered the soft-shell crab, the scallops, some noodle dishes and the king prawn Summer Rolls.
First, the good. The summer roll was cold (I would have preferred it warm), but contained enjoyable texture contrasts (soft on the outside, crunchy in the middle) even if it was a little bland in flavour. The soft-shell crab was lovely, juicy and pretty to look at and matched well with a strong soy sauce. But things went rapidly downhill after that. The scallops were almost definitely not fresh and came in a horrible gloopy grey sauce that brought to mind cheap Chinese takeaway. Something called a Vietnamese Pizza looked impressive enough on the plate but was dripping with grease and actually pretty bland once the novelty factor wore off (which was almost immediately). There was another nondescript plate of fried veg, and a little tray of OK noodles, but nothing so interesting as to be worth lingering over. Even the prawn crackers were bog-standard.
After I'd stuffed my face with as much wobbly gluey scallops and fried noodles as I could keep down, I decided to admit defeat, with quite a bit left on each plate. So, the portions are generous, but what's the point if the food is a chore? Cây Tre, the odd "house speciality" aside, is little more than a mediocre high street Chinese and I'm baffled as to how it's won over so many admirers.