Tel: +44 (0)20 7431 9888
Address: 116 Heath Street, Hampstead NW3 1DR
Cuisine Type: north African
Men are one-track minded – and transparent with it. “Ooh, look, there’s a belly dancer,” remarked The Bloke as we drove past Safir, a new Moroccan restaurant in Hampstead. For someone to whom the word “observant” would not normally be associated, he had only managed to see past the pedestrians and into the darkened recesses of the rather inconspicuous exterior, whilst driving, to see the semi-clad dancer performing some serious hip gyrations. He was very insistent that we should try the restaurant for dinner. And who can blame him? With her exotic looks, model proportions and tantalising dancing, she had all the male diners transfixed. A female review of Safir should therefore be more impartial (and no, I don’t suffer from the green-eyed syndrome).
The décor is fantastic – opulent drapes, ornate furniture, tasteful ethic-looking ornaments – and there is a slightly smokey atmosphere redolent of opium dens, an impression reinforced by the some of the clientele smoking hookahs. Staff dressed in Aladdin-esque outfits led us to a table at the back, right by the loudspeakers. The music was far too loud, and we asked to be moved. As the restaurant wasn’t full, we were given a nicer, but wobbly, table that the waiter stabilised with some cardboard under the leg.
We were brought a bowl of olives. Just as we were tucking in, we saw the waitress tip the olives left by other tables into a fresh bowl, ready for the next customers. I have often suspected behind-the-scenes recycling of food by restaurants, but to see it done in front of us was rather off-putting.
We ordered a starter of chicken livers (£5) between us. They were good – creamy in texture, delicately flavoured, and a good contrast to the accompanying crunchy vegetable salad. For mains, The Bloke had lamb tagine (£12), a sizeable portion of lamb with potatoes and olives, served in a traditional tagine. I ordered prawn bastilla (£15). When it came, I honestly thought that they had brought me the starter version by mistake. The small rectangle of filo, enclosing a filling of tiny plankton-sized prawns (the frozen variety that would even have been too small for any self-respecting prawn cocktail) and what looked like crab stick shreds (which shouldn’t be an ingredient for anything other than bowls of cheap Japanese noodles), was disappointing to say the least, particularly at that price. Desserts also failed to impress. A selection of traditional pastries from an (uncovered) stand were okay – but nothing more.
When the bill came, we noticed that 25% had been taken off the total. On inquiry, we were told this was a special discount for the first week of opening. This might excuse the patchiness of the service, the misjudged volume of music and the fact that wobbly tables haven’t yet been spotted, but not the random pricing and mediocre food. As we left, the belly dancer was swishing her hips to a tacky version of “Happy Birthday to you”, which rather detracted from her mystique and charm. Ha, that’ll teach The Bloke to choose a restaurant on such a superficial basis.