I was Kid Clean
She was Anne de Siecle
SAF (Simple Authentic Food). As a restaurant name and acronym this must rank among the most annoying. It’s a name that you would like, if it were possible, to punch repeatedly. Which is probably not what the owners had in mind. Although, to be fair it also means pure in Turkish.
Owned by the sinister sounding LifeCo - reading their website I was sure they were the culinary branch of the Scientologists - SAF is a chain which has branches in Istanbul and Munich. Apparently, the London branch in fashionable Shoreditch is to be their flagship although why you’d put it on the rather scruffy Curtain Road beats me. The other more relevant factoid about SAF is that it’s a vegan restaurant. So that means no meat or fish produce (obviously), but also no dairy either (equally obviously). Leather fanciers don’t have to worry as there isn’t a dress code.
So HP in a vegan restaurant. Say it isn’t so Hermano. Well, yes I love my animal-based protein but not all the time (just most of the time). And if London is going to cement its - in my opinion dubious - reputation as one of the World’s best places to eat out in it should embrace all types of cuisine. Vegetarian and Vegan places are especially under-represented in the capital although the arrival of Beatroot and Rootmaster and the imminent opening of Vanilla Black show the times they are a-changin’.
The room at SAF is very pleasant, all light and modern and unlike anything around these parts which tend to be grim watering holes – although the kids up from Clapham seem to like them. The front half is the place for drinks and the restaurant is a bit squashed in at the back. There’s also a largish outdoor space which I’m sure will come into its own in the Summer.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the food, my only experience of Vegetarian or Vegan food being a visit to Mildred’s over a decade ago (I was young, I was I love) and the occasional South Indian meal or a bowl of dhal at home. As it turned out it was a bit of a curate’s egg (non-vegan).
After a cocktail and some workaday nuts and olives I started with the Spring Dumplings (main ingredient: Nettles from “just outside London” thank goodness). The dumpling dough was a bit thick and doughy but the filling was quite pleasant in a non-specific vegetal sort of way.
Since there weren’t any inverted commas I assumed my Cauliflower Risotto would be just that. I’m still not completely sure what I ate and neither was the server but it appeared to be some sort of pureed cauliflower with some un-processed bits on top of some sage polenta. There were a few baby Spring veg like carrots and a turnip dotted around and a smudge of an intense parley emulsion. I wasn’t enamoured with the cauliflower – odd texture, under-seasoned – and the sage polenta was probably as good as polenta is ever going to get i.e. not very, but the vegetables were great and the mushrooms were magic (I didn’t recognise the variety). This dish as a whole though sort of worked and was really quite interesting to eat with decent flavours. I also ordered a side salad which looked the part but was severely under-dressed and yet again there was not enough seasoning. Slightly damp mizuna is never a good idea.
A dessert of Brownie Sundae was a valiant attempt at pud but I missed the mouthfeel of dairy fat in the ice cream. The brownie, a sort of brown inert slab, was pretty tasteless. The cocoa in the form of some squidges and a little stick was nice and I was surprised by a smear of mint sauce - something I usually associate with a nice piece of roast lamb.
All the above comes at a price. Expensive bits of meat or fish may have been removed from the production line but the prices are still steep and the portion sizes on the small size. My Cauliflower ‘Risotto’ would have been a starter anywhere else and I thought £6.50 was excessive for four little dumplings.
I also felt the cooking could have been pushed a bit further. It was all a tad ‘polite’. If you’re going to start off by excluding certain categories of foodstuffs from your cooking then you have to work that bit harder and be more inventive to come up with something good and tasty.
I might visit the bar at SAF again but I’m not sure I’d eat there. In fact, the only reason I visited in the first place was because the large list of cocktails caught my eye. That and the fact that I heard that vegan chicks put out, especially to sad sacks like me. I’m joking of course – no way am I a sad sack.