Saffron is a modern restaurant specialising in northern Indian cuisine. The restaurant is located on Dong Ping Rd, right beside Shanghai Brewery and only a few blocks away from Glo London.
I was there for their Shanghai Restaurant Week lunch menu, which boasted 4 courses (+1 bonus palate cleanser) for only RMB78. I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that portions were generous and flavourful.
The decor is very comfortable and has a cozy ambience. Rustic elements of Indian culture is sparingly used in certain parts of the restaurant, while maintaining a stylised and designer look.
At 12:45pm on a saturday, the place was packed. That said, service was attentive and our food arrived without much wait. Being a Singaporean, I’ve literally grown up eating a mix of north and south Indian food every other day, be it from the school canteens or from coffee shops all over the island.
There are probably many intricate differences between north and south Indian cuisine that a maestro from each regions would debate on for hours, but here are a few of the more obvious reasons:
North Indian food is generally eaten with flat breads like naan, hence their dishes are less watery so it’s easier to scoop and hold with the breads. The flavour profile is less spicy in terms of both the cumin-type of spicy and chilli spicy. Meat is also eaten more, as Northern India is the birthplace of the Tandoori way of roasting.
South Indian food on the other hand is mainly eaten with rice. Expect more watery but much spicier gravys. Vegetable dishes are more common in the south, with a more liberal usage of coconut milk.
Enough theory, on with the food.
Quite a tantalising menu isn’t it? I liked the fact that Saffron had bothered to design and print out a decent menu for the Restaurant Week offering. It’s a small detail that shows that the restaurant cares.
First up were our soup starters.
Chicken Kofte Soup. The chicken kofte soup was essentially a chicken broth served with 3 pieces of fried chicken meatballs. The broth itself was quite light, slightly salty. Not a very full bodied type of soup, but tasty enough to open up your appetite for what is to come. The chicken meatballs were fragrant and only lightly spiced. They were once deep-fried as I could taste the savoury crust that is now softened from being cooked in the soup. 7/10
Pumpkin Soup. The pumpkin soup was the creamy full-bodied soup that many are used to, except with a subtle spice kick. I had a taste of one of my dining companion’s pumpkin soup, and the flavours were quite good. Go for this one if you are after something more rich. Go for the chicken soup if you are recovering from a hangover. 7/10
Tandoori Cauliflower. We chose 2 cauliflower tandoori starters, and 1 of the lamb. The roasted cauliflower had been marinated in vinegar, amongst other spices, giving it a unique sour flavour that we don’t usually associate with a cauliflower dish. While the cauliflower was cooked and crunchy, I personally didn’t like this dish very much because I couldn’t taste the smokey roasted flavour even though there were char spots, and I felt it could have used a stronger spice profile to balance with the sourness.The portions were very generous though. 6.5/10
Gosht Malai. The lamb starter on the other hand, was magnificent. Lamb and mutton are a big part of Indian cuisine, as such, you can expect a high level of expertise in preparing them. The Gosht Malai, a tandoori grilled lamb that had been marinated with cashew nuts and a whole bunch of other aromatics was very well prepared, and not unpleasantly gamey at all. It had a perfect balance of spice and a oh-so-subtle lamb
gaminess fragrance. As a non-lamb-eater, I actually found myself enjoying this starter tremendously. 8.5/10
Braised Chicken Leg. For the mains, we chose 2 portions of the chicken tikka masala and 1 portion of the vegetarian option. The chicken came with 2 drum-sticks per serving with lots of the delicious thick curry sauce. You could choose to pair your main with naan or rice. Rice was served in just a standard rice bowl serving, whereas naan came in 2 big pieces of naan bread per serving. All in all, portions as I have said before, are generous. We made the mistake of having a heavy breakfast earlier, and really couldn’t finish the even 1 plate of the chicken, after the starters. The chicken was tender, and not overly so; Something a lot of curries get wrong. If your chicken is falling off the bone when you pick it up, it is too tender. It should be just easy to peel off the bone with the fork, but still retain its muscular bond for abit of bite, and not melt in your mouth.
The chicken at Saffron’s chicken tika masala was also very flavourful, and had absorbed all the spices very well. Paired with the naan bread, it was awesome. People who can’t take much chilli will be able to accept this without a glass of iced water. I on the other hand prefer my curries to be more fiery. Interestingly, they scattered some fried shallots on top of the curries, which gave it an extra flavour boost. 8.5/10
Pea Bahji. The vegetarian main, a Pea Bahji with spiced cashew nut gravy was interesting. It tasted like a Japanese mixed vegetable tempura, and I thought it was more suitable as a starter, than a main course. The actual fritter was quite tasty, had bits of onions, spinach, peas, with added fragrance from the fried shallots. My only complaint was the texture; Everything was soft, paired with the creamy gravy, it was just one giant mash. It would’ve been great if the fritter was crispy, which would’ve paired nicely with the creamy sauce. The sauce had an interesting subtle mix of spices, which tasted quite complex. 7.5/10
Indian Granita. After our mains were done, we were served a refreshing palate cleanser. It was called a Indian Granita, which was essentially a lime sorbet. Sweet, slightly tart, 100% refreshing.
Caremelised Pineapple Trifle. Dessert was a lightly rose flavoured custard layered on top of marinated pineapples, and topped with a big slice of caramelised baked pineapple slice.
It was executed beautifully, and tasted the same as it looked. Custard wasn’t overly sweet and very smooth on the palate. The pineapples underneath had a bit of texture and mild sweetness, while the baked pineapple slice at the top was simple bursting with flavour. Very good.
A few mint leaves gave an occasional accent to the smooth creamy bites. This dessert would have been even better if it was served colder. I felt the ones we were served to be a little close to room temperature, maybe because we had just finished eating the lime sorbet. 9/10
The Caipirinha I had was a bit of a disappointment, quite poorly made. The cocktail was bitter throughout, and had a lot of undissolved sugar at the bottom of the glass. Not enough ice was used, and as a result, it was a glass of watery mess, midway through our meal.
All in all, I felt the restaurant week lunch menu at Saffron was a very good deal, featuring decent north Indian food refined to suit a modern restaurant. There were some hits and misses, but everything tasted above average. I can tell that the restaurant is trying to be conservative with the spices in order to suit a broader range of diners, but in doing so, I think they ended up losing a bit of their cuisine’s identity.
The decor and plating is more refined and upscale than the other place I tried, Lotus Cuisine at Tian Zi Fang. Taste-wise, I think Lotus has the upper hand, because their dishes had that spice kick which simply transported you back to the streets of Mumbai.
Shanghai Restaurant Week lasts from 4th – 14th of September 2014, you still have time to book a table now, at http://www.restaurantweek.cn