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Saf Reviewed

Xanthi Barker road-tests the 'vegan morgue'

Written by . Published on October 11th 2011.

Saf Reviewed

HAVING spent too much time walking through Shoreditch, I had walked past Saf dozens of times before I made it inside. Actually, I didn’t know it was a restaurant at all until I went to eat there. The bare, grey front and small print sign led me to assume that it was an office of some sort. Perhaps the HQ of some probiotic revolutionaries or the palace of a crazed plant-human? It wasn’t until I asked my friend to have dinner there that he put his finger on precisely what is off-putting about it. “What?” he said, “you mean the vegan morgue?” That is exactly what it looks like. And we all know vegans aren’t fond of death (at mealtimes anyway). But reassured by the flash, leafy website, I decided to forget all paranoia and surrender to Saf’s charms. With that many awards, it had to be at least edible.

There was caviar, seaweed and a forest full of mutant mushrooms. The word ‘dehydrated’ was made to sound appetising, which has to be an achievement in itself.

‘Saf’ is an acronym for ‘simple, authentic food’, but this did nothing to stem my doubts. Acronyms are for charities and computer geeks only, surely? Maybe the food thing was just a cover up after all. But I should get over this prejudice. Inside, everything was clean! Spotless. Not a coffin in sight. It was more like vegan heaven than a vegan morgue – in the sense of inner peace and harmony. That’s what you get when you don’t cook food over 48 degrees, obviously.

mushroom gyozamushroom gyoza

We were led outside to the garden, where Saf grow a lot of their own ingredients – not what you expect just an arm’s reach from the fumes of Shoreditch High Street. We were presented with a piece of card covered in fantastical descriptions of vegetables doing gymnastics. This was more like a study in the versatility of vegetables than a menu (compulsory reading for those who cry “but what do you eat?” on meeting vegetarians). Flaxseeds were crushed, skinned and wrapped. Nuts were turned into ‘cheese’ and served with accompaniments that Toad of Toad Hall would’ve admired. There was caviar, seaweed and a forest full of mutant mushrooms. The word ‘dehydrated’ was made to sound appetising, which has to be an achievement in itself.

macadamia cheesemacadamia cheese

I nearly had a break-down trying to decide what to eat, at last choosing the Macadamia cheese (£8) with my head in my hands. My date chose the cooked dish mushroom gyoza’ (£6.50) – tofu and shitake mushrooms wrapped in rice pastry. They looked like miniature triceratops with their legs cut off, but tasted much more delicate than that. The macadamia cheese could’ve easily been mistaken for some high class chèvre, only without that glutinous, dairy texture. So far, so good. A couple of vegan cocktails did nothing to reduce the impression that we were enacting a scene from Brazil – a Gin + Milk (£9.45) that resembled the bottom of a fish-tank and a Sgt. Pepper (£8.55), that was pink and dotted with the frog-spawn of even pinker pepper corns.

gin and milkgin and milk

Seduced by the luxury of saffron, I chose the samphire tortellini (£13.75) for a main course and was presented with a bowl of mustard yellow cream and more of those pink peppercorns. One of Saf’s nice touches is that every dish appears to have it’s own crockery, as if arriving from a particular and distant planet. In this case, however, I will sadly have to accept my xenophobia and admit that I much, much preferred the spaceship to the aliens. I know creamy textures are the final reserve of the dairy industry, and creating them dairy-free is a real achievement. But a whole pint of cream, dairy or not, would make anyone’s dinner a queasy affair. The bowl, however, was beautiful.

samphire tortellinisamphire tortellini

A little overpowered by my rich dinner, I stared jealousy across the table at my date’s rainbow fresh plate of tacos (£14.45). Tomatoes, guacamole and pineapple filled three raw taco shells in testimony to the perfection of unadulterated vegetables. No human will ever come close to the avocado plant in producing that texture, at once creamy and refreshing.

rainbow tacosrainbow tacos

Not even nausea could keep me from the dessert menu, that read like the menu at Willy Wonka’s Wise Uncle’s Fantasy Pudding Parlour (a mouthful, maybe, but you should read the menu!). We chose a rose, fig and mint mousse with apple granola and candied hazelnut crust (£9.50) and a sour cherry trifle with cashew cream and chocolate cigars (£6.95). My brain bubbled, but the physical reality was less eye-gorging - they were both tiny! The mousse tasted like my grandmother’s living room and was none the worse for it. The trifle confirmed my aversion to cream. But the details on both were extraordinary - a mouse would’ve been over the moon.

cherry trifle with cashew creamcherry trifle with cashew cream

So vegan morgue, Saf was not. And hopefully not vegan heaven either – I’d like to think living a life of such morals would lead to a slightly wilder afterlife. Perhaps more like a teleological argument for the existence of gourmet vegan chefs. An argument which, like it’s theological equivalent, is unexpectedly hard to refute.

152 – 154 Curtain Road

Food - 6/10

Service - 4/5

Ambience - 3/5

Total - 13/20

Follow @XanthiBarker on Twitter!


Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1 – 5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6 – 9 get a DVD, 10 – 11 if you must, 12 – 13 if you’re passing, 14 – 15 worth a trip, 16 –17 very good, 17 – 18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.


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