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Saf


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Has anyone else ventured to this new 'ethical' cocktail and raw vegan cuisine emporium near Old Street (down the road from Bacchus)?

It's the first restaraunt I'm aware of in London that offers anything approaching serious cookery with exclusively raw and vegan ingredients (food along these lines: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Raw-Charlie-Trotte...2741944&sr=8-3) and I for one am rather pleased we now have somewhere combining this sort of healthy and unusual approach to food preparation with a fair level of gastronomic prowess. (although I'm not a vegetarian or vegan, I've very much enjoyed the vegetarian tasting menus at Greenhouse and Morgan M, but by the removal of dairy ingredients and any cooking at over 40 degrees c, Saf offers something really quite different)

Understandably, at the moment I'd say they are concentrating on winning over typical meat-eating restaurant goers -- the food is sufficiently filling that after 4 courses (starter, 'cheese course', salad, main) we were too full to order desserts, which is remarkable for raw cuisine which usually struggles to provide the calories. There's a lot of emphasis on imitating cooked food, with many dishes served slightly warm from the dehydrator (e.g. a main of a 'steak' based on raw mushrooms, dehydrated on the outside and moist in the centre to imitate a seared beefburger). A small selection of non-raw dishes are also offered, clearly marked as such on the menu.

The main I mentioned, although satisfying and well prepared (with v good glazed raw carrots also slightly softened by dehydrator), is a bit too reminiscent of conventional vegan cuisine to cause your average michelin restaurant any sleepless nights, but some of the other courses were more impressive. The 'caviar' starter showed something like mg influences, comprising small, soft jelly-like balls that burst when eaten to release a strongly chive-flavoured liquid, served with something like an onion creme fraiche (based on raw soaked nuts presumably) on a light biscuit made from dehydrated sweet potato... I don't know how appealing that sounds, but in fact it really was very impressive, and wouldn't have been out of place as an amuse at Bacchus. it was served with a streak of red harissa-ish sauce, which was an excellent counterpoint. presentation was suitably stylish and, with its strewing of tiny flowers, rather put me in mind of Maze... indeed the other starter we tried, raw beetroot slices forming 'ravioli' of a nut-based cheese, drew strongly on the similar cooked and dairy-based course that Maze (used to?) offer... not sure how it would have stood a direct comparison, but it certainly offered an interesting balance of comfort and freshness/vitality, and was impressively accompanied by some nicely dressed slivers of raw asparagus and some wonderfully dark, rich 'balsamic figs', reminiscent of some of the dehydrated taster courses at Juniper.

Bearing in mind that this is an informal bar/restaurant rather than a dedicated fine dining establishment (with low prices to match), the standard of the cooking (if that's the word) was pretty good by cooked-food standards and nothing short of astonishing given the constraints that raw vegan cuisine imposes. The shared cheese platter (a selection raw nut-based creations, some with additional flavours such as black olives incorporated, with some well-flavoured raw linseed-based crackers) is particularly umami-satisfying and miles off the raw green soups and sprouted seed salads you might expect of such worthy cuisine.

The cocktails are interesting and excellently prepared, and the service relaxed and friendly -- we had a 6.30 table but were warned in advance it would be turned at 8.30 (friday booking for a saturday evening table so fair enough) but in the event we didn't volunteer to move to the bar till gone 9 without any problems, and even though they'd given us advanced warning, we were unexpectedly comped a pair of rather superb cocktails to thank us for moving! The surroundings are pleasant and very fitting (I believe rather a lot of money was poured into the conversion) fairly but not overly minimalist, stylish without any particular excesses, with an open glass-screened kitchen and a nice open air courtyard to the rear of the building.

All in all I really hope this place succeeds, it could be instrumental in making this type of cuisine more widely available in time, both as a healthy option on supermarket shelves and as an influence on the menus of conventional fine-dining restaurants. If anything, their weakness from my point of view was trying too hard to emulate cooked food, to the extent of missing out on some of the distinctiveness and 'intense lightness/freshness' that raw cuisine can offer (epitomised for me by the effect of a shot of freshly juiced wheatgrass), but rather than being a fault I think this is a well-calculated decision that will improve the chances of commercial success of this rather unusual venture.

Nice website with full food and cocktail menus is at http://www.safrestaurant.co.uk/restaurant.aspx

Ian

I go to bakeries, all day long.

There's a lack of sweetness in my life...

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I'm the same nikkib - was incredibly suspicious at first but really won over by the food. Since my first visit I've been back twice and each time has improved. I can particularly recommend the 'TLT' (tofu, lettuce and tomato) which has lovely crispy smokey tofu that really does taste like bacon! An extraordinary achievement, I have no idea how they can make something that tastes JUST like a BLT out of vegetables.

And yes the cocktails are superb. Next time you go, try the Gin and Tarragon one.

My full review here:

http://cheesenbiscuits.blogspot.com/2008/0...shoreditch.html

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And yes the cocktails are superb. Next time you go, try the Gin and Tarragon one.

I've a suspicion I did, though it was far from the first and my memory's not 100% clear... they seem generous enough with their measures to undo any of those worrying health benefits the organic cocktail ingredients might bring :)

I particularly liked the spiced apricot martini, which had a lovely sort of buttery/anise-spice richness to it, and the Safia, with a nice gin/basil/lime combination with a subtle note from the chamomile syryp.

Incidentally, I should have mentioned that I do recommend the book I linked, even if you've no interest in the questionable health claims in its evangelical introduction, some of the recipes it contains are impressive and are doing much more than merely imitating non-raw dishes -- there are a few that would make an unusual and effective addition to a conventional meat-based multi course menu, and imho would stand up gastronomically to their bretheren.

Edited by adt (log)

Ian

I go to bakeries, all day long.

There's a lack of sweetness in my life...

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Hmm... I suppose that subjective reactions are likely to vary more wildly with a new, generally 'unknown' cuisine of this sort, just as they do at some of the worst/best excesses of mg/culinary constructivism.

I also wonder how much my having prior experience of eating and preparing raw vegan cuisine influenced my interpretation of the dishes...

e.g. Jay and I have pretty much opposite subjective reactions to the chive dish -- I found the 'caviar' to have a strong chive flavour, and the overall effect to be a much cleaner and more pleasant treatment of onion-based flavours than, for instance, the rather nasty warm balloon of onion murk encased in a too-thick and overly-persistent skin that they serve down the road at Bacchus, but about which I have read positive comments in reviews... but it's hard to deny that the thought "how did they manage to get raw sweet potato to be like that?!" was foremost in my mind when eating that much-derided component of the dish.

As for the suggestion "if you want cheese, eat real cheese", I enjoyed the cleaness and freshness of the nut-based 'cheeses' not as a substitute for real cheese (try some of the cooked vegan "imitation cheeses" from health food shops for something really horrific) but as an different, enjoyable food in its own right, just as when I eat houmous I don't lament that it's not real curd cheese, etc. Perhaps if they dropped the label "cheese" it would help, but there are sufficient commonalities, particularly with cream cheese, for it to be understandable that they use the term.

Ian

I go to bakeries, all day long.

There's a lack of sweetness in my life...

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Hmm... I suppose that subjective reactions are likely to vary more wildly with a new, generally 'unknown' cuisine of this sort, just as they do at some of the worst/best excesses of mg/culinary constructivism.

...

Perhaps if they dropped the label "cheese" it would help

Or perhaps if they just put it in inverted commas! I agree - it tasted nothing like cheese but was nice anyway. Somewhere as wildly experimental and different as SAF doesn't need to make any concessions towards suspicious meat-eaters, in my opinion. Having said that, I don't think I would have tried that brilliant 'BLT-substitute' had it not been called a TLT...

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  • 2 weeks later...

We've been too - I find Saf a welcome addition to the area and a place I intend to return to with curiosity to see how the menu changes with time. It's meant to be seasonal so I would hope there is enough diversity and seasonality in the menu to keep me interested. Unfortunately we'd just returned from a trip to Napa & Sonoma Valleys just before Saf opened so when we ventured to Saf in opening week, it paled in comparison to Ubuntu (which is a fabulous vegetarian restaurant in Napa town itself). Having said that, Saf is a breath of fresh air for East London and proof that vegan cuisine *can* be satisfying and interesting to carnivores like me.

I too was a bit dubious about the nut cheese but found it quite tasty - like a ricotta in texture. It appeared on our cheese plate as well as my ravioli so I was a bit cheesed out by the end of the meal, but I'll blame that on my ordering skills rather than anything else

The cocktails are reason enough to return, though don't overlook the food on that account! The wine list is interesting also, with a good selection by the glass. My only criticism is of them serving champagne in the flat bottomed cocktail glasses. I ran out of fizz in no time. Serves me right for moving away from the cocktail list....but no matter - I wound up rolling myself home, hiccuping all the way so it must have been a good night! :raz:

Anyone been back and noticed menu changes?

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