TRE VIET: SO SORRY TO HAVE BOTHERED YOU
Ever been to a restaurant and felt like your presence is a bit of an inconvenience? Ever felt like the staff resented you daring to set foot in the place, as if the very act of crossing the threshold was some insult from which they might never quite recover?
It doesn’t happen very often these days, thank God. The current economic climate means that there are lots of people who could take the job of a surly server and the worst I can say about some restaurants recently is that their wait staff have been friendly but clueless.
However, during a recent lunch at Tre Viet, one of the Vietnamese places that dot the length of Mare St in Hackney, it was hard to escape the thought that our choice of their establishment for a meal was all a bit of a faff and that they were hell bent on doing the best they could to get us out of there as quickly as possible so they could return to their own lunch at the only other table where bottoms were touching seats.
We arrived just as they opened and, as HP rightly observed, the lengthy menu should have given us pause. But, we had walked all the way, braving Columbia Road Flower Market en route and deserved at least a decent meal. So,we navigated the plentiful options and soon placed our order.
Fast food is one thing, but it took less than one minute for our first dish to turn up, a cast iron platter of goat meat sizzling along with lemon grass and chilli. It looked harmless enough but its arrival was slightly disconcerting given that we had also ordered four dishes from the section in the menu marked “starters”
Now, I am no expert of Vietnamese culture, but my understanding of the word “starter” is that it implies something to begin the meal and not, as began to happen, the random appearance of dishes at five-second intervals until everything you ordered was on the table at the same time.
More dishes arrived in rapid succession and in no recognisable pattern, including one we didn’t order.
“Yes you did” argued the waitress, looking over her shoulder at the staff table where her soup had been placed and where she would obviously much rather have been.
“No we didn’t I replied” looking at the plate of sesame prawn toast in almost complete certainty that I had not even eaten such a dish since the mid-80’s and certainly would not have been ordering one in a Vietnamese restaurant in Hackney.
She took it away with a sigh and then joined her colleagues, already enjoying their lunch. A great pity then that they were the only ones in the restaurant to be doing so. The roulette delivery system might not have mattered so much had our food been as good as theirs obviously was, but it was patently prepared with as little care and attention as it had been served.
Summer rolls were tired and lacked freshness, beef in betel leaves the same and even the usual fail safe way of gaining DH approval, deep frying did not manage to persuade us to finish a plate of oily frogs legs in enough turmeric to cause a panic in New Market, Calcutta.
Add to this a droopy green papaya salad and the fact that in her rush our waitress brought us plain rice rather than plain rice noodles and our meal took its place as the most dispiriting Vietnamese we have experienced since we last went to Song Que Café on The Kingsland Road.
Twenty-five minutes after arriving, yep a whole twenty-five minutes, we managed to attract the staff’s attention to get the bill of £44. For once, we both decided that we would not leave any tip for service. We never do that usually believing that a bad meal is rarely the fault of the server, but in this case as we had not received any service at all did not feel obliged to acknowledge it. We just left while they continued enjoying their soup and they paid us as little attention as they had during the meal.
I doubt the owners know or care what a bad experience DH had in Tre Viet , but if they do by any chance happen upon this blog can I just say, I am really terribly sorry we disturbed your staff’s lunch.
Don’t worry, it wont be happening again.