Eating Out: Derry Indian Saffron 'has a lot going for it'
2 Clarendon Street,
028 7126 0532
I HAVE only been to Saffron once before, and that was an age ago, so I'd quite forgotten what a lovely place it is. Sitting towards the bottom of Clarendon Street, it is a beautifully designed restaurant – open, spacious, and warm, with a clever mix of materials from deep woods to the odd industrial flourish. Saffron is a place where you feel relaxed and settled.
Four of us met up midweek for an early dinner, joining the families, single diners, and couples who were already there. Saffron may well get livelier later in the evening and towards the weekend, but it's also the place for a quiet bite and a catch-up.
The menu is big, and there's a lot on it, but it does feel a little limited in some ways. Basically, for mains, you get a choice of lamb, chicken or prawn, and then select from a range of curries or sauces to go with your selection.
According to the chilli guide alongside each curry, they generally seem on the mild side, although there's a leap to a three chilli madras and four chilli vindaloo.
The side dishes are restricted to basmati rice, naan bread, chips, and chapati, which come with each meal, as well as a selection of various special naans and parathas, which are extra. However, I should add that there's a long list of vegetarian curries available, which, I guess, makes a welcome change compared to most restaurant menus.
There is no doubt that, throughout the entire week, Saffron offers great value. From Sunday to Thursday, two courses can be got for just £16.95, and this offer applies to Friday and Saturday too, albeit from 4.30pm to 7pm only.
I've often thought that the best thing about Indian restaurants are the starters, and, for me, this was the case with Saffron. The menu offered the usual suspects – you probably won't find anything you've not seen before – but they were very good.
The tandoori drumsticks were well-cooked, the chicken moist and tender, and the flavour subtle and delicate. The vegetable samosas seemed to hold mainly soft potato, but had a hot and powerful taste. The pastry was perhaps a touch thick, but satisfyingly crunchy, nevertheless.
The onion bhajis were terrific – big, crispy bundles of barely contained onion, sweet and soft and delicious.
Before the starters came, some unasked-for but greedily accepted poppadoms arrived: the chutney was a bit too sticky and immobile, there was a spicy tomato concoction which didn't seem to belong, and a really lovely raita which more than made up for the faults of its fellow dips.
Having had chicken to start, I chose the lamb biryani for my main. In a way, I wish I hadn't. Don't get me wrong – I quite enjoyed it, but in retrospect, I feel maybe one of the vegetarian dishes would have offered more.
The lamb was soft and plentiful, and the rice well-cooked, but the masala was a bit sluggish and dark. Though it carried a decent flavour, that flavour lacked depth and length. The tandoori chicken shashlik was a little disappointing, too. The flavour was there – cleverly blended spices and tomato – but the meat itself was on the dry side.
There were no complaints about the other two mains, however. The chilli chicken was very good. The meat was tender and soft, there was a lovely blend of spices and the heat of the chilli was very well controlled, creeping up and tapping you on the shoulder just when you were wondering where it was.
Though much milder, the chicken korma was just as nice. Again, the chicken was excellent, and the sauce, while a touch thick, was deliciously creamy and mild, with a gentle coconut sweetness.
I mustn't forget the paratha. Moist, crispy, chewy, savoury, a hint of sweetness – excellent.
I definitely had one or two reservations about the food, but I definitely wouldn't dismiss Saffron: it has a lot going for it. The service is terrific, the presentation is done well, the atmosphere relaxed, and the set-up full of style.
Not top marks, but it wouldn't take much.
THE BILL (Prices for four)
Two courses for £16.95, including choice of rice, chips, chapati, or naan
Tandoori chicken drumsticks
Vegetable samosas x 2
Tandoori chicken shashlik
Mixed salad £2.95
Diet Coke x2 £5.00