It was bad enough when I told people I went to a vegetarian restaurant at the weekend but when you say the words “vegan restaurant” to someone, they generally give you one of those disdainful “glad it’s you, not me” looks or make some throwaway comment about how going out for “rabbit food” is not a proper night out. I beg to differ.
When a friend snapped up a Groupon deal for a vegan restaurant, I leapt at the chance to be his vegan restaurant guinea pig. So last Saturday night, we headed out for an evening of organic, plant-based deliciousness (for just £12 per person!).
Saf Restaurant & Bar is located in the classy London suburb of Kensington, just above
heaven a huge Whole Foods Market. On first glance, I was actually a little disappointed as it kind of looked like it was just part of the (albeit, classy) food court but once we’d picked a table around the corner by the bright floor-to-ceiling window, shielded from the rest of the floor by a colourful partition, it felt relaxed and comfortable.
The Groupon deal was for the set menu, which was a bit of a tease but in all honesty, made it much easier for me, the world’s most indecisive restaurant goer. With a choice of three starters and three mains, I narrowed it down pretty quickly. For my starter, I picked the Pesto au Poivre, a cashew ‘cheese’ with a strip of basil pesto and a pink peppercorn crust, served with raw flaxseed crackers and a rocket salad, drizzled in balsamic vinegar. It was lush. The cheese was not really like cheese at all; it had a similar consistency to pâté, so it spread perfectly over the crackers and held the rocket topping in place. It was super-tasty and I was impressed with the flaxseed crackers that I needn’t have worried may taste a bit like cardboard.
They had run out of the Dolmades that were part of the set menu, so we were offered a replacement of Thai Vegetable Gyoza – grilled vegetable dumplings with a ginger sesame Hoisin sauce. My friend opted for these and they came in a a generous five-piece serving and were wonderfully fresh and flavoursome.
The mains were a little harder to choose between but in the end, I couldn’t go past the Slow Roasted Asparagus Farinata – a chickpea crepe filled with roasted asparagus tips and courgette strips, topped with a lemon-tarragon aioli.
My friend opted for the Saf Pad Thai where the ‘noodles’ were made of mange tout, carrot and courgette. These were served with sprouted lentils, mung beans, enoki mushrooms, and cashews, with a chipotle almond sauce and fresh chilli.
This was one of the raw dishes and to be honest, when the bright and colourful sky-high dish was put next to my beige crepe and pile of lettuce, I had massive food envy. But after one bite of the warm, fluffy crepe with tangy aioli, my jealousy evaporated. The only other time I have had a vegan crepe is on a long-haul flight and I likened it to eating rubber. Saf’s crepe, on the other hand, was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.
The Pad Thai was more like a giant, fancy salad than any Pad Thai I’ve ever seen but the tangy sauce and red chillies gave it a great flavour. Although he enjoyed it, my friend did comment that he wished he ordered my main… sucker!
Though two of our four dishes were cooked, Saf actually serves mostly food that is raw or cooked below 48 degrees Celcius to preserve taste and nutrition. They also have an impressive drinks menu full of fresh ‘power’ juices and ‘super food’ shakes (all made with almond milk), that I am keen to go back and try. As we had the set menu, we were served the (vegan, of course) house white wine – a Lucia Airen Blanco – with our meal, which was light and easy to drink. Pretty good for a house white… Probably because it was priced at £22 a bottle, so of slightly better quality than the house wines this cheapskate is accustomed to!
Overall, the atmosphere of the restaurant was relaxed and casual, which made for an enjoyable evening out. With friendly service and beautifully presented, tasty and exciting dishes, Saf is sure to keep any foodie – vegan or not – happy.
And if ever I wanted to persuade someone into vegetarianism, then Saf is where I would take them for dinner.
UPDATE: As of January 2014, Saf has permanently closed.