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It's hard to think of a more perfect restaurant than Cay Tre. Our favourite branch of the two is easily the Soho one - all whitewashed walls, chic booths and minimalist colour accents and trademark Soho buzz. Helpful, friendly and knowledgeable staff ease the unfamiliar with the Vietnamese menu, a delirious Pandora's box of flavours and textures hitherto not experienced by the majority of the British public.
Vietnamese food has been quietly taking over London in the past few years - from the stretch of Kingsland Road in East London dubbed 'Little Hanoi' for its Vietnamese cafes, to high profile openings (like this one) and the desire to forge further afield after the ubiquity of Thai cuisine, the trademark South-East Asian flavours of salty, savoury, sweet, spicy and sharp are all present, with a cleanliness associated with the lightest of Thai dishes. Think Thai meets Chinese, and you won't be far off.
A bowl of pho is essential. Pho is the national dish of Vietnam and essentially consists of a deeply flavoursome light broth of beef with spices and fragrant herbs, with silky noodles and thin slices of beef thrown in for texture and a satisfying mouthfeel. Delicious. The fact you can customise the dish with extra beansprouts, herbs, lemon or chili also adds to the appeal, plus the pho here is one of the best in London so you can be assured you won't be getting a watered-down Chinatown version. The prawn pho is pretty good but our favourite is the generous beef cheek pho - meltingly tender chunks of slow-cooked meat, it has all the makings of a cult favourite.
In addition to delicious bowls of noodles, the restaurant also excels with its salads and grills. The term 'salad' in Vietnam is not synonymous with plates of limp lettuce or flavourless tomatoes; here they're an explosion of colour and flavour, with innovative use of ingredients and dazzlingly light, savoury-sweet dressings. Try the oddly-conceived spring roll salad - trust us, it sounds prosaic but it's delicious. Desserts range from generic to stunning - even ice cream is some of the best, which isn't surprising since it gets its supply from nearby Italian gelato specialists Gelupo.
While the mixture of sexy surroundings, genial service, delicious food and low prices (you can get dinner for a tenner if you're so inclined) make it a super-versatile spot, we'd mark it out as best for low-key dates, a quick pit stop or hanging out with a small group of friends. If you love Asian food, this might just be your new favourite restaurant.
Opening times: Monday - Thursday: 12:00 - 23:00, Friday - Saturday: 12:00 - 23:30
Cay Tre, 42 Dean Street, Soho, W1D 4PZView Larger Map
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