Saf restaurant's 100% vegan menu may not be the ideal choice for the avid meat lover, but it offers an exciting dining experience to be found nowhere else in London, says Kerstin Kühn
Vegetarian dining has never been more popular. London has just seen the arrival of a number of vegetarian restaurant concepts including the launch of Swiss group Tibits and Vanilla Black, which earlier this year relocated to Holborn from York.
Saf restaurant in Shoreditch, which launched in the spring, takes things a step further. Its menu is not just vegetarian, but vegan. It is 100% plant-based, with no dairy, eggs or animal products, and much of the food is raw or cooked to less than 48°C.
Saf stands for "simply authentic food" but also means "pure" and "innocent" in Turkish. Owned by healthy living group the LifeCo, there are already three Safs - two in Istanbul and one in Munich - with another slated for west London.
All of the food at the 60-seat Saf is not only organic, but completely unrefined and unprocessed, with everything on the menu prepared on site. Executive chef Chad Sorno, originally from Boston, USA, says the menu aims to offer its diners the "best possible option".
"We source our ingredients in a pyramid structure, starting from local organic, to local British organic and European organic depending on what is available," he says. "The principle is to utilise the purest ingredients and highlight the nature of seasonal vegetables. We also want to highlight the intersection between health and gastronomy. The foundation of our menu is health, but we want to offer a dining experience that customers are used to."
Sorno oversees the kitchen together with head chef David Bailey, formerly at Notting Hill's E&O, and although the menu comprises 60% raw and 40% cooked food, it's not alienating by any stretch of the meat eater's imagination.
Next to healthy salads such as kale and avocado with pea shoots, sweet pepper, lemon oil and candied pecan (£6), and a vegan Caesar salad made up of Cos, Kalamata almond croûtons and dulse (£5.50), starters include dishes found in non-vegetarian restaurants, such as spinach dumplings, which come paired with a black vinaigrette (£6), and gazpacho with avocado, Merlot pickled onions and chilli oil (£5.50).
In between starters and mains are the so-called "cheese" courses, which are made from crushed nut milk. Sorno explains: "Nut cheese is made in much the same way as normal soft cheese in the sense that an enzyme and a probiotic are added, but instead of dairy we use nut cream."
Soft cashew, almond and macadamia cheeses are on offer - the last, served with dehydrated tomatoes and basil oil (£6.50), having a remarkable moist texture and a nutty-milk flavour that goes well with the acidity of the tomatoes.
Main courses are predominantly raw, including an unusual cold lasagne dish made up of a high moulded round of layered courgettes and a rich walnut bolognaise with sage pesto, mushrooms and a pine nut Parmesan crust (£11). The signature Buddha Bowl, a generous serving of jasmine rice set off by sweet, smoky tofu steaks, garlic greens and chilli-flecked kimchee cabbage, beautifully harmonises sweet and spicy flavours.
Desserts include a delicious but heavy chocolate, espresso and raspberry cake made from chocolate, espresso cream and raspberry jam (£6), as well as a refreshing pineapple rose sorbet served with a mountain berry broth, strawberry-vanilla bean pearls and lemon crisps (£5.50).
The menu at Saf is complemented by a wide-ranging drinks list, overseen by sommelier and mixologist Joe McCanta. It features freshly prepared juices, organic and biodynamic wines, organic spirits and an extensive cocktail list.
What's on the menu
- Beetroot ravioli: cashew herb ricotta, tricolour carrots, balsamic figs and pumpkin seed oil, £6.50
- Vegetable maki: cauliflower rice, shiitake mushrooms, avocado, shiso and shoyu, £6
- Spinach dumplings: spinach, fried onion, date, water chestnut and black vinaigrette, £6
- Lasagne: courgette, walnut bolognaise, sage pesto, mushrooms, olive relish, pine nut Parmesan and pepper coulis, £11
- Buddha Bowl: green tea-glazed smoked tofu, organic jasmine rice, garlic greens, home-style kimchee, gomasio and sambal, £9.50
- Mushroom croquette: truffle cream and rosemary-marinated baby spring vegetables, £12
- Chocolate, espresso and raspberry cake: chocolate, espresso cream and raspberry jam, £6
- Chocolate ganache tart: raspberry sorbet, berry compote and balsamic cocoa, £5.50
Saf Restaurant & Bar, 152-154 Curtain Road, London EC2A 3AT. Tel: 020 7613 0007.www.safrestaurant.co.uk