Sunday, November 01, 2009

Saf: please 'cheese' me

My friend Lindsay has suddenly become a very tough woman to please, dinner-wise. She's always been prone to the odd bout of smoothie-making, but this time she's gone into hardcore detox mode. She's been feeling a bit rough recently, which she puts down to eating crap, drinking too much, and occasionally buying an Upper Crust baguette to eat on the train home from work, and then lying about it. According to her new tough-love regime, she can now effectively only eat raw vegetables. So when I met her for dinner in London last week, there was only one place for it: Saf.

Saf opened a while ago in Shoreditch, so all the London critics have been and gone and left it for the proper people. I can see why they like it; it's long and dim and quietly stylish, with a pretty garden, or at least the illusion of it, visible through floor-to-ceiling windows at the back. The staff don't all know which table is which, but they're willing.

The menu is all vegan and 50 per cent raw which, when you think about it, means not many carbs either (bread, rice and potatoes need cooking, of course). There's soy milk in the coffee, a lot of cashews pounded into 'cheese', and not nearly as much tofu as you might imagine. There are a lot of facsimile items (nut ricotta, vegetable noodles, parsnip rice). Anything that's been cooked is marked with an asterisk. Danger! Warm food! We kept getting whiffs of the Thai green curry, which is cooked and smelt fabulous, but seemed a bit like cheating.

By the time we'd all assembled there was only time for one course. Lindsay had the pad thai, which uses ribbons of courgette and carrot instead of noodles and a drizzle of chipotle sauce for flavour. Cold, of course, as was Natalie's lasagne, a very pretty stack of various pulverised vegetable pastes and layers, served on a nails-down-the-blackboard slate. Good, with individual flavours on show, but oddly heavy.

I had a long, elegant tasting plate, with two kinds of the fabled cashew cheese, with olives and sun-dried tomatoes, with flaxseed crackers to spread them on with satisfactory results. Little beetroot parcels stuffed with cashew ricotta (pictured above, courtesy of Saf) were lovely, as were the soy-spiked seeds and nuts. Vegetable maki, stuffed with parsnip chipped into rice-like bits, tasted too much like parsnips. Dolmas, which they forgot to put on and arrived later, after enquiries, were stuffed with cauliflower rice and flavoured so heavily with cinnamon they reminded me of American apple pie.

How much did we like it? Just enough. It meant we could have an interesting dinner together like normal people, despite what Lindsay is doing to herself, and I like to think of London's vegans being able to do the same. I'm just starting to feel the baby move, like little bubbles popping, and he was fizzing away happily in appreciation of such a healthy dinner. Although if he's his mother's son, he would have been equally delighted by a bag of Cadbury's caramel Nibbles.

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