New Year’s day is a day of false promises. Across the country, thousands swear that they will give up cake, convince themselves that they will become an athlete by February, or – like myself, promise to be a nicer person. All of which, is in vain, as everyone soon realises that cake is delicious, getting into shape requires a little more long-term dedication, and nice people are absolutely revolting. New Year’s day is also my Dad’s “official birthday”. I use the word “official” in hyphens, because in rural, 1960’s Bangladesh, nobody kept a record of their child’s date of birth (though you’d better believe they recorded the date, time and weather conditions of the day they purchased their herd of cows). Thus, dates of birth were “randomly allocated” at school by lazy teachers who couldn’t be bothered to look beyond the first day of the calendar. Alas, such is the tragedy of my father, who knows not his true birthday. Nonetheless, to mark his hypothetical 54th birthday, we headed to Saffron Kitchen – a highly popular Indian and Fusion eatery in the heart of Leyton. All the meat here is halal.
To begin our feast, we ordered a “mixed chaat platter” to share, which consisted of a selection of dahi puri, paani puri, bhel puri, sav puri, and chaana papdi chaat. If you are not South-Asian, do not worry – I have no idea what half of those words mean either. This platter is suitable for around two to four people. Each chaat item delivered a fantastic set of crispy, crunchy textures and mild, savoury flavours, but the bhel puri was the real highlight. With a sticky, glazed texture that contrasted well with the inherent crispness of its constituents, it was both addictive and delectable.
For mains, I opted for a portion of Saffron’s renowned lamb chops, a portion of masala chips, and a mango lassi. The lamb chops were fairly large in size, and nothing sort of exquisite. Each piece was of a high quality, and consisted of thick, soft, and succulent lamb, which – (for a South-Asian restaurant) – was remarkably well cooked to medium, with nothing less than a mild hint of pink peeping through the centre of the meat. Moreover, each chop was brimming in flavour, owing to a plentiful helping of marinade, which was both sharp and mildly spicy. Whilst this completely drowned out the inherent flavours of the lamb itself, the sharpness of the flavoured coating went hand in hand with the tender texture of the chops, tickling the palate with satisfaction.
Following suit, the masala chips were truly special. They arrived in a rather deceivingly-designed bucket, (you’ll have to order one to see), but were thick-cut, large in size, of a good quality, and generous in number nonetheless. The chips came with a superb, glazed, masala coating, which created an excellent, sticky surface texture, softened their entire structure, and delivered a mild, sweet flavour that was truly addictive. “The Mistake”, as per usual, had made a mistake, by ordering plain chips instead, which were an instant source of regret for her once she had tasted the masala chips that Mother and I had ordered. Make no mistake – the plain chips were pleasant, as they consisted of thick potato within a crispy skin, but the masala chips were undoubtedly, far superior. My mango lassi meanwhile, possessed a very thick, smooth, and creamy consistency, was well-balanced, and delivered a rich, soothing flavour to the tastebuds.
Mother had opted for a portion of lamb steaklets, whilst The Mistake’s main course of choice was the chicken roulade. Father had opted for a portion of beef chow mein (as you do when you visit an Indian restaurant), which is not featured in this review, as I was far too full after hoovering up everything else to try it out. (Plus, it was his birthday. I don’t steal people’s food on their birthdays. I steal their cakes instead.) The “lamb steaklets” consisted of soft, tender shreds of lamb steak, which sat on a bed of crunchy roast vegetables. The steaklets were well-cooked and possessed a fair amount of flavour, but overall, the dish lacked significant presence, and was a little too greasy as a result of the puddle of oil upon which it resided. The Mistake, as per usual, took one bite of the chicken roulade before it was passed on to me. The roulade was, in every essence, a giant piece of chicken tikka masala. The chicken breast was fairly tender and moist, and worked in harmony with the thick, creamy masala gravy to deliver a rich and sweet flavour.
For dessert, we ordered a “fried ice cream” to share, and it was as peculiar as its name would suggest. This fried parcel of ice cream came covered in a sweet, milk-chocolate sauce, and was surrounded by strawberry pieces. The mildly sweet batter which encased the ice cream was thin and very crispy, and could be easily cracked open to reveal the ice cream within – which sadly, was a bit of an anti-climax. The ice cream was of an average quality, possessed only a mild flavour, and surprisingly, needed some thawing, as the entire scoop was stiffer than Bruce Willis’ eyebrows. Overall it was a very mediocre dessert, and not nearly as exciting as one would have hoped. What is even more disappointing, is the fact that South-Asians are renowned for their ability to fry things. Whether it’s samosas, jalebis, or the living room rug, South-Asians are supposed to be the world’s leading experts in dipping objects in batter, throwing them in boiling hot oil, and laughing in the face of death before it comes back to kick them in the cholesterol levels, and Saffron Kitchen really should have pulled off this deep-fried dessert.
Value For Money: 2.5/5
The mixed chaat platter cost £9.95 and the lamb chops cost £11.95, whilst the masala chips and plain chips cost £3.50 and £2.50 respectively. The Mistake’s chicken roulade came in at £12.95, Father’s beef chow mein cost £13.95, whilst Mother’s lamb steaklets cost £15.95. The fried ice cream and mango lassi came in at £5.95 and £3.95 respectively. This amounted to a final bill of £88 for four people, excluding service. Generally, starters range from £2.50-£10, fusion main courses range from £10-£15, mixed-grills range from £15-£30, curries range from £7-£11, sides from £2-£5, and desserts range from £5-£7. Relative to the location of the restaurant, the quality, quantity and satisfaction gained from the food, some of these prices are fairly steep, and it’s rather difficult to justify them. Reflecting on each dish that we ordered, the lamb chops and masala chips were the only exemplary items which were worth every penny, whilst the others were a little expensive for what they were. You can certainly expect to find decent food at Saffron Kitchen, but whether you’ll pay a decent price is questionable.
Saffron Kitchen is well staffed with numerous waiters and waitresses to cover the large restaurant space. However, whilst staff members are mildly friendly (and I mean very mildly), they are also relatively inattentive, and it can take several attempts to flag them down for simple requests.
The restaurant is as mentioned, rather large, with two main dining areas and a number of private rooms. Wooden tables and chairs cover the majority of the two main dining areas, and cushioned, booth-style seats line the far wall of the second area. Both areas are lined with an assortment of decorative features which occupy both the walls and the ceilings, all of which are basked in ambient lighting. It’s a fairly attractive restaurant, and perfectly spacious enough for family meals and gatherings. The restaurant is a 15-minute bus ride from either Walthamstow Central, or Leyton Midland stations, and there is a large car-park for customers, located behind the restaurant. Though when I say “car-park”, I mean a small field that turns into a muddy WWI trench if there’s so much as a drizzle of rain. Parking can also be found on nearby residential roads.
Saffron’s spacious surroundings make for a very large and open feel, but also create a sense of dull detachment from the restaurant as a whole. Aside from the dynamic lighting, which changes from pink to purple to red every few minutes, there really is nothing exciting or spectacular about the ambience.
Since its launch, Saffron Kitchen has gained somewhat of a cult-following in the East-End. As is the case with any popular restaurant, its critics can be divided into two camps – those who swear by it, and those who consider it to be grossly overrated. Whilst usually, with most restaurants, I would be inclined to vehemently agree or disagree with one of these groups, on this occasion, I would say that both groups are correct. With a mixture of traditional Indian dishes and novel fusion twists at hand, it’s easy to see why Saffron Kitchen is so popular with patrons of all ages, and it is certainly a great family restaurant. However, for all the greatness that can be found in certain dishes, there is an equal amount of disappointment to be found in others, and Saffron Kitchen certainly falls a little short of the expectations that come with its reputation – particularly when it comes to secondary aspects. That said, as far as Indian restaurants in the East-End go, Saffron Kitchen still sits a bar above the majority, and that’s reason enough to give them a go. That, and the fact that if you ever develop a craving for succulent lamb chops and sticky masala chips that will not (or should not) disappoint – this is the place to be.
Address: 300 Lea Bridge Rd, London E10 7LD
Telephone: 0208 988 1446