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.


CâY Tre on Urbanspoon


Silverbrow said...

I'm one of those who loved it. I'd strongly recommend trying it again. Either you got them on an awful night or you chose badly - unless they have completely nosedived.

Every time I've been the flavours have light and clear and the staff relatively charming.

Chris said...

There's a chance I chose badly, although I have been before and had a similar experience. Their "house specialty" monkfish fried at the table consisted of horrible dry monkfish with a really unpleasant sandy texture. And the waitress doing the frying didn't smile or look up once. Nothing was out of the ordinary and I can't see myself going back.

emailwig said...

Unfortunately, I have always found it the case that when it comes to seafood in restaurants like this they will always disappoint.

Anonymous said...

I am one of the restaurant fan and actually, I live just right the corner. I am sure that you have chose badly because for my understanding. scallop is not realyy popular in Vietnam. But if you try the Oven baked Markerel, the Cognac "luc lac" shaking beef, a the Grill meat parcel, I am sure that you will change your mind. The strongest key dish of Vietnamese cuisine is noodle soup. Perhap you should start with a small Bun Bo Hue with crap to freshen u up. Then try their Lotus salad, which in unusual but really nice. The service is quick, althought their waiters/waitress harly smile. I think this is because they have to work too much every night because they are so busy.

Annemarie said...

Mmm. I've been burned by a couple of the restaurants in that row. I do love vietnamese food, though, so looks like I'll continue being a blind glutton for punishment.