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Location: 152-154 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, in London. Moderate walk from Old Street or Liverpool St. Stations.

In a spacious chic-industrial space full of light, Saf's bar serves up some impressive and innovative cocktails. I drink a praise to England's Rhubarb Triangle, while C. is on the tarragon & tonic, and doctorvirago tries out the "Pick of the Garden Martini". A radish lounges on a floating leaf in her drink. Each cocktail is vividly complex, but with each element still distinct. This is superb teamwork on the part of the ingredients and the artfully performative bartender.

Dinner is thought-provoking, but we're not blown away the way we were with drinks. We have all three courses, starting with a vibrant sea vegetable salad, or a inadequately-varied set of tacos whose meat-replacement filling wasn't nearly as interesting as the sauces it came with. The salsify fettucine was visually lovely, but the comparison with fettucine was a distraction, with its flavor being less robust, more delicate than its namesake. Baked tofu really needed its dash of red pepper sauce to enliven it. The desserts were fine, but none of them were memorable for more than presentation.

Vegan fine-dining is a laudable accomplishment, but frequently, the dishes were, for all their visual elegance, not internally varied enough. We should have gone for more, smaller plates, perhaps a selection of appetizers. We also felt distracted by the names, with vegan dishes labeled as derivative of meat-laden versions we already knew. We wished we weren't burdened by those comparisons.

So: a pleasant meal, outside in the intimate little courtyard with twining pepper plants, fresh air and hard seats; friendly-but-uncertain service from a new waitperson; but the biggest active lure for a return trip is the cocktails. They really are awfully good.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 20th, 2010 08:01 am (UTC)
I saw the head bartender from Saf at Imbibe last week and he put together a rather excellent bespoke cocktail from stuff he'd picked from their greenhouse that morning. They also did the cocktail in the first (and best by a long way) room of Bompas & Parr's 'Complete history of food' spiced agave syrup mead with brandy. Nice.

Their first branch is just up the road from my office and I've still not visited. I should probably change that.
Jul. 20th, 2010 09:03 am (UTC)
So how did you hear about the "Complete history of food" in time to buy tickets?

(London technically has the third branch of Saf - the first two are in Istanbul and Berlin. Or were? I see they're only advertising Istanbul now.)
Jul. 20th, 2010 09:31 am (UTC)
I didn't see it until it had totally sold out. However, fimb did, bought tickets and then asked if I wanted to go - one of the benefits of being at home looking after a baby is that you get some time to browse the internets.

To be honest you didn't miss all that much - good cocktails and okayish food with some interesting presentation and a lot of rough edges. Saf's underground indoor sea with eels swimming around and a galleon was the highpoint for me, although the inflatable stomach room was also fun :)

Saf has two branches in London now - they just opened in South Ken as well as Curtain Road. I don't know which one you visited, but from the front the Curtain Road one has always looked rather unimpressive in comparison to what I've now heard about it, hence my being rubbish and regularly eating in the all-you-can-eat Korean place over the road instead...
Jul. 20th, 2010 09:38 am (UTC)
I have signed up for Bompas & Parr's mailing list, now that I see they have one. Perhaps that will help.

Yes, I knew what you meant about London Saf branches! We were at Curtain Road.
Jul. 20th, 2010 09:52 pm (UTC)
You NEED to eat the "cheese" platter there!

I love Saf. It's not perfect, but the food is mostly excellent and OMG, the cocktails...
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )