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Have you eaten at Saf?
A stylish and buzzy Hoxton spot, with good cocktails and a buzzy atmosphere, but where the vegan fare is a decidedly acquired taste.
'How about a trip to Hoxton', we said to our friends, brightly. 'There's this new, er, vegan restaurant we'd like to check out. And they pride themselves of barely cooking much of the stuff. It will be' great.'
Funnily, no matter how much conviction we put into it, there were no takers, so off we went on a proper restaurant-reviewer's solo visit, with just a newspaper for company.
Initial signs were surprisingly hopeful. This basic but comfortable-enough glazed-fronted spot right at the top of Curtain Road - very much the Hoxton groove zone - was buzzing nicely as we walked in on a Friday evening. Too buzzing, in fact. Full.
'Well, you could sit at the bar', the helpful lady said. Phew! It would just have been too cruel to be deflected at that point. And so we sat down, and chose one of their botanical cocktails - rather good concoctions, made exclusively with sprits from fancily-labelled premium bottles - and the world started to look quite rosy.
Decent nuts too, as part of a £4 selection of appetisers.
Thereafter, we'd love to say that we could see the point of the food, and of keeping out the dairy products, and, by and large, not cooking it, but we just couldn't.
For main course, for example, we ordered one of the seemingly-safer bets - the menu, as you'd expect, is not entirely known and usual - which was mushroom croquettes. Now, being very fond of both mushrooms in all varieties, and croquettes in pretty much any style we've ever tasted 'em, this seemed the safest of bets.
What arrived was a sort of lukewarm, slightly mushroomy patty, which we managed to eat, but could not say we enjoyed. A salad seemed a prudent choice too - complete with flower petals, it was one of the prettiest we'd ever seen. But the dressing, for our taste anyway, did nothing for the leaves and petals.
But the biggest disappointment of all was the recommended cheesecake. One of the reasons puddings are almost invariably satisfying to some extent is, when you think about it, dairy products. We'd tried to pre-adjust our tastebuds, but the synthetic taste and texture were really just rather vile. That was obviously our fault, though - the waitress was clearly genuinely surprised (and concerned) to see it had not all been eaten.
So, all-in-all, this turned out to be a thoroughly good - if not particularly inexpensive - canteen-style restaurant, with one rather important proviso - you must like undercooked vegan food.