Freelance travel writer and Policy Adviser for the UK government living in Brixton. View my blog www.my-big-fat-carbon-footprint.blogspot.com for ethical and budget travel inspiration
Published October 19th 2012
This powerhouse of vegan and raw-diet following friendly food can be found on the top floor of Wholefoods Market; my personal favourite store in the entirety of London. Saf is totally vegan, and when I took my mother the other night, we were greeted by a terrifyingly healthy looking person who bounced up to us and lead us to our tables with discernable glee.
'If I end up like that after eating one meal here, I'm out', my mother grumbled. She is an unwilling vegetarian, eating plants, shoots and pulses because it was 'ethical in the 60s' and never really considered vegetarianism to be interesting or healthy. For her, brown is good.
Hating the idea of eating slushy grey beans, I thought Safs would be the perfect place to bring a vegetarian in need of a good sprucing up of culinary ideas.
The menu is varied and for a glorious few moments I realised that as a super-allergy sufferer, I could eat practically anything from this menu.
Food choices range from 'trio of pizza' to Malaysian Laksa, and, for starters, it's possible to eat raw vegetable chips with guacamole and little oriental dumplings. The prices are quite steep: this is not your pop in after work on the day before you get paid jobbie. Main courses can set you back up to £14 and the starters all hovered around the £4 mark.
We also ordered 'mocktails', partly because the alcohol menu was prohibitively expensive, but partly because we agreed that it wouldn't be very healthy to match such nutritionally heavy morsels with wine, however organic and vegan it was. The mocktails may have been a step too far for my mother. She ordered a 'pina colada' which was liberally laced with 'Lucuma' powder. This may have been the equivalent of a truckload of leafy greens, but it gave the drink a bizarre dusty taste and a lingering flavour of what you find in the bottom of your leftover muesli container. I am of the mindset that food should be tasty first, healthy second, and never the other way round. My elderflower pressé was crammed with mint leaves and tasted just like a mojito.
We abandoned our £4.50 mocktails and set upon the chips and dip like a pack of ravenous rabbits. The guacamole was superb. It was slightly too heavy on the garlic, but otherwise it was excellent, flavourful and I can see myself making my way back to Saf simply to nibble on raw chips (cooked below 48 degrees centigrade of course) and creamy, tangy guacamole. My mother was impressed.
This guacamole is beautiful'. I pointed out that even in deepest Mexico Guacamole wasn't anything other than a dish suitable for the most ardent vegans and it would have been difficult for Safs to have messed it up. Possibly only by adding Lucuma powder to it.
When the mains came however, I was in no mood to make smart-Alec remarks. I hadn't eaten pancakes or any food that tasted yummy since I was diagnosed with Coeliacs and a dairy allergy. In front of me sat a pancake made from gram flour, stuffed to the gills with beautifully roasted courgette and asparagus. It was served with a beautifully dressed side salad, and was accompanied by a scoop of creamy, tart vegan cheese. I barely looked up from my plate. I was in culinary heaven. I was eating food of the type I used to cook and love before I was diagnosed with the devils curse. For that reason alone, you should go to Safs. I was practically bouncing on my chair.
My mother on the other hand had chosen the 'pizza trio'. I was intrigued to see how pizza could be made vegan and gluten free and still be tasty. Unfortunately we had both neglected to see the words 'raw' next to it.
Three 'bases' made from sprouts and grains which disintegrated as soon as they were touched were topped with a stack of green olives, a stack of mushrooms, and for some reason known only to Saf chefs, a stack of pineapple. In the Wholefoods store right below, there exists a plethora of vegan melty mozzarella cheese, fresh tomatoes, succulent basil leaves and tangy olive oil. I am certain beyond belief that this meal could have been made significantly more delicious for my poor mother had Safs not been mainly about eating healthily.
If you want to eat sprouts, grab a handful of seeds and sprouts and put them in your work snack bag. Please don't make pizza out of it. I had been really quite excited about seeing a treat I had been denied transformed into succulent, dairy free, gluten free joy. But it was not to be.
Saf is a perfect restaurant for those who have recently been diagnosed with an allergy and are wondering how to deal with it. It's also great for people who put healthy food before taste and vegans who are frustrated about not being able to find food at conventional restaurants. For me, it ticked many boxes, and some of its offerings were tart, tangy, sublime. But through the eyes of a cheese eating, egg munching, milk slurping mother, it's probably not the best place to bring a companion who also doesn't share your eating habits. I found myself apologising on behalf of the restaurant and was even nice enough to share my beautiful pancake.
We shook our heads to desert, and the final bill came to £34.40, which really wasn't that bad. Even if you don't feel ready to try a trio of raw pizza, it's definitely worthwhile to mosey in and swipe some chip and dip. Beautiful.