As I got a little windfall from work last month, I decided to treat Andrew to dinner. I was expecting him to request steak (I had my eye on Hawksmor or MASH) but he wanted Vietnamese for dinner, which I was very happy with as well!
We used to live in Islington and adored Viet Garden, but on our last visit a few years ago it became the first and only restaurant we had ever walked out of. The service was abysmal, the food arrived after 1.5 hours wait, for me but not for Andrew. I sat with my dinner cooling in front of me for around 15 minutes when they suddenly took it off me and plonked it in front of the girl at the table next door (with no explanation or apology). They and we asked for our drinks bills and left (refusing to pay service, which they seemed not to understand). I hoped it was just one bad day, but the more recent reviews on tripadvisor suggest that it has not improved. So instead I booked a table at Cay Tre in Soho, and for pre-dinner drinks I booked The London Gin Club at The Star at Night, also in Soho. Both had been recommended to me by a friend, and Andrew had heard of neither.
The London Gin Club
If you like gin, definitely give the club a go – it’s not cheap, and it’s tiny so I recommend reserving a table, but anywhere which has a 4 page gin menu is worth a look in my book. We both had gin cocktails to start (Tom Collins for Andrew and a Gin Mash for me – it was a kind of gin mojito with sugar, mint and citrus). Mine was a tad on the sweet side so I turned to their G&T menu and picked my next drink purely on the garnish – a Millers gin with tomato and coriander garnish. Andrew had another cocktail – I forget the name but it came with a sugar coated glass and a lemon twist. He loved it, but the size of my G&T was very appealing to him, so he managed to squeeze one in before we left – made with Ish (because he had never heard of it) and garnished with juniper berries.
The G&Ts were served in glasses which resembled fish bowls, filled with ice smashed off a large block, and my tomato and coriander garnish was very unexpected but certainly added a flavour to the gin which complimented its dryness. I was less fond of Andrew’s G&T which was on the bitter side, although I certainly could have drunk it (understatement).
We left the bar feeling pleasantly pissed, and agreeing that we had certainly found our new favourite bar in Soho. Frankly it was lucky we had a dinner reservation, because another G&T could have finished us off for the night / weekend.
Cay Tre Vietnamese
I was told when they rang to confirm the booking that the table would need to be vacated within 1.5 hours, which I do find a little bit annoying but she said that service is quick and efficient so it shouldn’t be an issue. It ended up being perhaps a tad too enthusiastic – bringing my main course 5 minutes before Andrew’s was ready, and clearing my half of the table the moment I put down my chopsticks while he was still eating. However, the food was delicious, authentic and good value for money, so we will definitely go back.
Having not had Vietnamese for ages, but fondly remembering our tour of there in November 2011, we greedily chose 3 starters between us – pork and prawn wontons (huge!), squid stuffed with confit duck in a spicy sauce, and pork wrapped in betel leaf. For my main course I chose a Tiu Bowl of noodles in a sour sauce with chicken and pork, and Andrew had a spicy beef Pho. Both were fantastically flavoured and almost impossible to finish (possibly because of our earlier greed). We were finished in less than an hour and desperate for a walk in the fresh air to help our digestion. Including beers and service the bill was just over £50 – okay the prices aren’t authentically Vietnamese but what do you expect for central London. We’ll certainly go back, and would recommend it to anyone.