I sat down with Sarno just over a month after Saf (meaning ‘pure’ in Turkish) had opened its doors, a busy man, he sits down with a smile and a glass of water and within seconds he’s yawning. Apologizing, he explains that everyone is overworked; they didn’t expect to be so popular straight out of the gates. Already they’re booked out each weekend and turning people away on a regular basis.
The popularity has attracted much media attention with most reviews talking about bandwagons, buzz words and the latest fad.
‘They can’t bash the location, the restaurant or the food,’ says Sarno. ‘So they attack the veganism.’
However, he’s wary of affixing a label to his restaurant because he says by calling Saf vegan, (raw-food, green …) he’s welcoming the next review to focus solely on one of his servers wearing leather shoes and ignoring the food completely. He says it’s a bonus if the people wanting to work with him are vegan as it shows their commitment, but he’s not going to turn away talented people just because their personal ethos differs from his own.
Ask Chad Sarno what Saf’s all about and he’ll tell you it’s all about health. Sarno saw it as his challenge to create a menu, made from organic, locally sourced ingredients, that tasted good for meat lover and the meat aversive alike. All the while escaping the feeling that something was missing. Something like unnecessary fats and oils, processed foods or animal products that people have learned to associate with a complete meal.
‘Just because it’s vegan,’ he says. ‘Doesn’t mean it’s healthy.’
Sarno explained that with the rise in obesity, heart disease and diabetes he wanted there to be a place people could go to experience what good, simple, wholesome food could taste like. It doesn’t have to be bland and boring to be healthy. And having been vegan himself for the past 13-years, Sarno saw a diet free from animal products to be one of the leading components to a healthy diet and lifestyle.
The media’s focus on Saf being part of a growing trend, a fad, they’re overlooking the fact that Saf London has been in the works for over two years. In that time Sarno, and his partners at Turkish based Life Co, have worked to get everything just right. Sourcing non-toxic paint for the walls, finding paintings produced on recycled canvas, ordering recycled floorboards, low flush toilets, energy efficient fridges and non-toxic dishwashing liquid.
That’s before we even get to the food. Almost everything, from the macadamia cheese to the mushroom and truffle croquette is made in house with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Having developed relationships at local farmer’s markets and with neighbourhood providers, those few things that are made out of house are made fresh within the same neighbourhood as Saf’s Shoreditch location. The bread, ravioli, tofu and dumpling skins were the few items that Sarno couldn’t put his stamp on. They have also gathered into their wine cellar a selection of over 100 organic wines.
Going into the menu details would be misleading, as the menu is set to change fortnightly, to keep pace with the changing seasons, to keep the Saf experience dynamic and, I think, to feed Sarno’s passion for developing new, healthy, spectacular dishes.
And to top it off, while they were perfecting their London location, Sarno and company opened 4 other Saf locations, three in Istanbul and one in Munich. And the opening of Saf London is just the beginning, Sarno says. With plans to open a health food store at the Shoreditch locations, as well as opening additional restaurants in different London neighbourhoods are all in the works.
But for now, he’s just working on keeping pace with running a popular, top restaurant in London.