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Restaurant review: Saffron, Waterloo

Angie Sammons welcomes a proper Indian restaurant from the Black Country

Written by . Published on January 14th 2010.

Restaurant review: Saffron, Waterloo

THERE are many things to recommend living in Liverpool. An abundance of excellent Indian restaurants is not one of them. Sorry.

Conversely, Birmingham,100 miles away, has no particularly redeeming features on the face of it. Its charms remain hidden.

Cottage cheese. Yes, it is boring, and dressed up as paneer it is rarely any different. Here, as shashlik, it sounds like something the dog
would enjoy doing.

The aspirational rarely talk of locating there, and it never makes the Conde Nast list of desirable travel destinations to flock to.

On the subject of flock, some will remember that 1970s public information film sponsored by The British Heart Foundation. The action took place in a traditionally wallpapered curry house.

“Eeer, you're looking reeel flushed!” declares the lady to her hubby in the Black Country's finest timbre. Seconds later the tikka lover's ticker gives out and he falls head first into the crunching poppadoms, as the nee-naw-nee-naw of the ambulance kicks in.

Even then the Midlands was notable for one thing. And that thing keeps people happy there now. Top curry. Dangerously good curry. Well, in his case at least.

“Even the crappest-looking, poorest shop takeaway counter in Birmingham sells fantastic Indian food,” declares Yousaf, who I work with and who has been around the block a few times.

In Waterloo, on Bank Holiday Monday, the beauty of Birmingham was mine when I went to Saffron, Unremarkable name; auspicious find.

The owners are veterans at this. One, Krishna, had a similar enterprise in Solihull, a place whose subhead is “The Posh Bit” on the signpost leading the way off Spaghetti Junction.

“Fate brought me to Liverpool,” he says mysteriously. And family. With a couple of partners, one from Birmingham and the other from Warwickshire, and a Nepalese chef, Tiwari, who gets a whole page to himself at the front of the menu, they have opened up in Sam Browne's doomed Ceylon Spice Company in St John's Road.

How did they meet? Well that was many years ago when they all worked in a five star hotel in Dubai, he mentions casually. It was the dream of the team to work together again. And now here they are.

Blimey. This was boding well.

Cottage cheese. Yes, it is boring, and dressed up as paneer it is rarely any different. Here, as shashlik (£4.95), it sounds like something the dog would enjoy doing.

Don't be put off. It's what you do to an ingredient, that matters. Like tofu, another completely pointless invention left undressed.

Here they have taken cubes and marinated them in piquant spices that have left the most delicate residue. Then they have whacked them into a clay oven until charred away at the corners, and served them up sizzling with spicy onions, peppers and tomato. It's good.

As is Ms de Leng's reshmi kebab (£5.25), which the cheery chap serving us, also from Krishna's triumvirate,

says he's taken a shine to. It's not the only thing. The chicken, again given the long slow treatment in spices, with cashew nuts is tender, moist and excellent.

Saffron gives itself that “contemporary Indian food” tag line and I've never really understood what this means in practice, apart from modern furnishings (which this gaff, indeed has) and crisp fonts on the menu. They all still do rogan josh and bhuna and poppadoms. Again, as does this.

But you sense Saffron are raising the bar. They've employed a maitre'd, a chap from the North East for a start, who addresses me as “madam” and who had earlier startled me by explaining that there is no reduction in price on the takeaway menu, because “that's just the way it is”.

The menu is lightly populated by old Brit favourites in chicken, lamb, vegetable, balti and fish sections - dansaks and saags and the like - interwoven with a healthy smattering of many less familiar dishes from the Nepalese end, plus several “Saffron specials”.

Tawa lamb (£9.50) is cut from leg meat and cut into cubes, and could well be as disappointing and tough as the stuff that ALL our nearest takeaways lash out. No such thing. It comes in the “chef's unique recipe”. I'm not going to even hazard a guess, but he's certainly devoted a lot of care to it. It's melting, it's belting, packed with layer after layer of flavour. (Good) memories of living in London are starting to surface.

A nice slab of seabass hides below what is described as a thin sauce (excuse me, look at the picture) in the “Mangolian” fish curry (£9.95). This avalanche of whizzed onion, mango, chilli and mint lends it a sweet-and-sourness that, in amateur hands, would suffocate the fragile flavour of the bass. But no. It was delicious.

Lemon rice (£2.95) was yellow and average, no more; dainty quarters of garlic naan (£2.50) were everything they should be: completely unnecessary, hot and puffed up in blisters (you can't keep a good naan down) and the house plonk white was perfectly fine at £13 a throw.

They'd even bothered to make an effort with the trays of pickles back at the start.

Thank you for opening, I want to tell them. In fact I may well have done.

It's only been here a month but, on this early show, Saffron is worth a punt of anyone's money on a trip up the northern line.

Think of it as a bit of a destination restaurant. After all, it's not like I'm sending you to Brum.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: Fine dining against the best fine dining, cafés against the best cafés etc... Following on from this, the scores represent: 1-5: Saw off your leg and eat that; 6-9: Get a DVD; 10-11: Only in an emergency; 12-13: If you’re passing; 14-15 Worth a trip; 16-18 Exceptional; 19: Verging on greatness; 20: Does it get any better? No.

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28 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

anon2September 11th 2009.

to anon : I opened a tin of peaches last night.

scrittipolittiSeptember 11th 2009.

Angie, smart review as usual but can you take a vegetarian with you next time?1) Indian food is primarily vegetarian in India (apart from fish in coastal areas) and better for it.2) Your taste for dead animals is not representative of your readership -- tofu may be pointless to you but some of us think that battery raised chickens are a pointless (and incredibly cruel) invention. Join the 21st century and maybe Liverpool will join it too...

Voice of experienceSeptember 11th 2009.

Come on folks, let's hear it for Saffron. THE best Indian restaurant by a mile in Liverpool.

DigSeptember 11th 2009.

If I have a moan about Elude is there any chance of a free dinner there?

DigSeptember 11th 2009.

Alright, you tell me where to moan about for my free dinner. Anywhere except an Indian.

Mike HomfraySeptember 11th 2009.

Went here for the second time last night. It is excellent. Incidentally, northern Indian and Nepalese food is less vegetarian than the rest of India, and tofu is an abomination.

AnonymousSeptember 11th 2009.

We were really looking forward to eating here and have 'phoned three times over the past few weeks to check the opening hours for a Saturday lunch. (They told us 12-2.30pm and 12-3pm on different occasions.) We called this Friday, referring to both 'tomorrow' and 'Saturday' when making the booking. Today, (Saturday) running a bit late with our new baby and his diabetic grandma, we spent 45 minutes redialling their 'phone number, trying to get through and let them know we were on our way. Ready to be apologetic, we couldn't get through however, and arrived at the restaurant to find it shuttered. It turned out, calling the mobile number displayed at the restaurant itself, there is no Saturday opening at lunchtime... We'd driven over 25 miles, round trip and then also had to pay to park in the city centre instead as Grandma needed to eat. OK, it might have been a simple matter (three times) of misunderstood days of the week by staff whose first language is not English, but it didn't seem to bother the man answering the mobile 'phone enough to offer an apology at least for the fact that we'd been assured we had a booking for Saturday lunchtime. We'll probably visit one of the Nepalese restaurants in Manchester instead now, which is a shame, we'd far rather support business more local to us and not have to travel so far.

EditorialSeptember 11th 2009.

Anonymous, you are in luck. Just spoke to the management at Saffron and they are going to treat you to lunch. Email editorial@liverpoolconfidential.co.uk on the same address that you signed up with on here, and we'll sort you out. Result!

Angry DinerSeptember 11th 2009.

Perhaps he needs to be kicked out of here too. I bet he looks like that obnoxious twerp Nigel Slater.

AA Grill's doctorSeptember 11th 2009.

Great Food, friendly service but surprisingly empty last Friday evening early doors. Hope it survives. Must ask Sam where that big Buddha statue went, always made me feel I was in good company.

netraSeptember 11th 2009.

" The management of the new Saffron restaurant take any criticism seriously. We are constantly monitoring feedback from our customers and striving to improve. We apologise to the anonymous reader who thought they had made a booking for Saturday lunch and arrived to find it shuttered. It is true that initially we were open for lunch every day but we have recently modified our opening hours in response to demand. We no longer open for Saturday lunch.Should the anonymous reader decide to visit us we hope to prove that he will not need to travel to Manchester for a great meal. The Saffron Management"

Vegan VicSeptember 11th 2009.

As Scrittipolitti has nothing to but expound vitriolic opinions of Liverpool and its inhabitants, why is he here, whining and moaning all the time? Has he been kicked out of everywhere else?

kimSeptember 11th 2009.

My point was that different food tastes different around the world. the man at the restaurant said "the idea of this restaurant was to bring a unique menu that imcapsulated diffrent dishes from north indian and nepal, using local produce". we went to the restaurant last night and the food and service was wonderful

VestaSeptember 11th 2009.

Didn't we all. You just can't get proper curries any more with sultanas in them.

DigSeptember 11th 2009.

My point was that different food tastes different around the world depending on produce, preperation and the individual tastes of the natives. A Chinese in France is completely different to how it is here. Compared to the British versions you couldn't be sure you were eating a Chinese. I'm sure it's the same with Indian food around the world.

DigSeptember 11th 2009.

Was that a review of an Indian restaurant in India? Reviewing food as it's served in India would be even less representative of the readership of LIVERPOOL Confidential wouldn't it?

DigSeptember 11th 2009.

Individual tastes of the natives.....

wappingSeptember 11th 2009.

It's getting increasingly difficult to find battery raised chicken products to complain about these days.

mona lisaSeptember 11th 2009.

I can now happily say that Saffron is my favourite place to eat. I am one of those so called boring, no sense of humour veggies, but I must say that the dishes I have tried so far have been fantastic, full of flavour, fresh and clearly distinguishable. The quality of the food and service is great, we are always made to feel welcome. My husband and I have been back a number of times on our own, but our favourite time to go is the Sunday lunch time buffet with our ten year old daughter, there is even plenty of dishes that she can eat! I just cannot get over the quality of the dishes that are served on the buffet, having been to other all you can eat buffet that are let down by the quality of the food, but definitely not so for the Saffron. I can and do highly recommend a trip to The Saffron.

AnonymousSeptember 11th 2009.

Love this new place. The food is better BY A MILE than any Indian in Liverpool

Liverpool wagSeptember 11th 2009.

It was probably because you told them you were taking your own naan

Angie SammonsSeptember 11th 2009.

Scrit, I'm hurt! But I STILL hate tofu and always will, having been forced, way back in the 20th century, to consume it while living in a tofu-loving country. Don't confuse ordering a lamb curry with a love of battery farming. To reassure you, no one loves a well cooked veggie biriyani more than me (see review of the Samrat), and the Egg cafe ditto. And you should see what I can do with a lentil. Harrumph!

NICKSeptember 11th 2009.

A truly excellent restaurant, my advice is if in doubt ASK! all the staff are experts and are more than happy to advise. The Lamb Tawa is beautiful, and the hand made Nann breads are the best i have ever had.

EditorialSeptember 11th 2009.

No chance.

AnonymousSeptember 11th 2009.

I had a curry once.

Jezb89September 11th 2009.

The point is that the north western palate for Indian food is crap. Eat in the Midlands or London and you will find a very different curry experience where even the most basic shop will serve something delicious. This is because there are large Asian communities in these places. In Liverpool there is no such thing so the Indian food is generally rubbish, save for a couple of places that cater for doctors coming out of the Royal, like the Maharaja. The world in one city. How that makes me laugh

scrittipolittiSeptember 11th 2009.

fruit and nut case, kind of like saying scousers are all natural comedians . . . but less funny.Dig, no you are right we don't want authentic Indian food here, we want a version that won't offend McNugget and Kebab eaters, especially designed for the subtleties of the North Western palate... I'm glad you spotted that. It all makes sense now.

fruit and nut caseSeptember 11th 2009.

Vegetarians are nutcases with no sense of humour unfortunately.

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