Raw food at its best: this is what Saf is all about. But how does the concept of a pricey and elaborate vegan restaurant measure with the Whole Foods food court?
Taking up a large chunk of the first floor of the Whole Foods Market, Saf has found an appropriate new home on Kensington High Street. But intimacy and a bit of quiet are what Saf is lacking in this location - despite the screen separating the restaurant from the floor (which is a vast, canteen-esque eating area) nothing can be done to properly seclude the space, so expect plenty of noise pollution to interfere with your pure raw food. The décor is simple and elegantly minimal, to leave mental space for the food, no doubt.
Several notches above the healthy fast food service of the food court, the staff at Saf are friendly but not overbearing: the idea is to make you feel like you're in a restaurant rather than in a food hall, but the bustle may nevertheless induce you to think you are wasting your money on restaurant service as you hardly see the normal comforts.
The wealth of Kensington is visible more at the tills downstairs than in the eating area, but some bourgeoise are found here every day. The mixed crowd includes plenty of raw food fanatics, but also couples and small groups looking for a more private lunchtime bite whilst shopping in the market.
Saf is famous for being a raw food restaurant, yet the seasonal menu may lead you into more uncharted territory than you thought. The lunch menu (£10) is a good way to test your options before committing to a pricier full meal. However, it may disappoint you if you are looking for raw food only. The butternut squash soup with toasted crostini has been heated above 48 degrees, but it's not worth spilling tears over this: it's smooth with a distinct, clean flavour, and with its drizzle of powerful basil oil it tastes reassuringly good. The mushroom farinata is also cooked. It's healthy in preparation but comforting in flavour, it is a good winter warmer, although serving it lukewarm is not a good move. The a-la-carte menu includes starters (£6.50-£8.50), familiar mains like pad Thai and risotto (£13.50-£14.25), salads (£7.50-£8.50) and desserts (£5-£6). The latter are a good introduction to raw food, so opt for these if you are unsure.
Defying the stereotype of the teetotal vegetarian, Saf serves biodynamic wine, fizz (£8.50) and botanical cocktails (£7.50-£11) that include doses of Cointreau, Corvoisier and Chartreause, although scotch, Bourbon and gin are organic too. Cocktails here are not your usual Martinis and Cosmos. Although most fall into the usual dry, fruity or milky categories, there are also intriguing, outlandish concoctions like Deserved Decadence (vanilla Courvoisier, cognac, porcini and blackberry, white pepper, balsamic reduction) making Saf a to-be-tried drinking spot. Fresh juices (£4.50) are predictably available but rather than a Green Monster (cucumber, spinach, parsley, kale), opt for a Green Bar Mocktail (£5) like Lavander Mule (a lavender ginger beer made with ginger, lavender, lemon and sparkling water).
The Last Word
Food and drinks are interesting and far from unappetizing but this branch of Saf lacks in atmosphere. If you are after the full raw experience, the Saf mothership in Shoreditch is where you want to go.