If you looked up Safar Restaurant on Google Maps you would be forgiven if it did not appeal in the least. But you would be mistaken, located right in the middle of an industrial estate, no stranger to large rumbling lorries and the deserted quietness of the end of a busy day, Safar was a surprise and very pleasant find.
In the valley of a Y-junction, the building is a simple single storey with a patchwork of rustic extensions that hark to busy days and times. A large bellowing elephant, covered with lights, a deck complete with beer-garden tables and several water features and many green plants represent the owner’s efforts to bring a little reminder of their home countries (Sri Lanka and the Philippines) to Dorset, UK.
Run by a husband and wife team, he cooks while she mans the front of house, Safar (which is Arabic for travel) is a welcoming restaurant with clean, modern interiors and an attention to detail that makes the dining experience memorable. It was quiet when we arrived, possibly because it was midweek but also maybe because at 6.30 pm it was actually quite early for dinner. However, we were not the only guests with two other couples already seated at their tables. As the evening progressed, a couple more tables were filled but it was not heaving and they did seem to have a bustling takeaway service.
The menu options are not significantly different to the many Indian restaurants all over the UK, there is the standard fare of tikka masala, butter chicken, the vindaloos, briyanis and the madras curries. What Safar did offer, that was slightly different was the puri. They also had a number of chef’s specials which sounded really tasty although we were really there for a taste of the standard fare.
- Poppadums and Dips
The poppadums although much like the poppadoms in other Indian restaurants were large, light and crisp. They were complemented well by the dips that were slightly different. The achar packed a punch in its spice and saltiness while the mango chutney was a little disappointing. Still it was only something to tide us over before the main courses arrived, so we were not too invested.
Although the Chef’s Recommendations did look like excellent suggestions, we were really only after the standard British Indian curry fare so we ordered:
- Lamb Vindaloo
- Butter Chicken
- Chicken Biryani
The lamb vindaloo, as all vindaloos are meant to be, was spicy and hot. Safar’s vindaloo though was not just a culmination of the hottest chillies around. Although it was hot, the undertones of the aromatic spices still carried the dish beyond just lamb in chillies. It was fragrant and tasty and the gravy thick and very fulfilling. The nuggets of lamb were cooked to perfection with an almost melt-in-your-mouth softness. The curry paired really well with both the naan and the pilau rice.
The butter chicken was pretty similar to the standard butter chicken, with a slightly thicker, richer gravy, sweetened. It made a good contrast to the vindaloo. This too was very rich and the helpings of chicken generous.
Chicken Briyani is a great test of an Indian curry house’s ability to get one of the most basic dishes right. While the best biryani’s are slow-cooked in an immense sealed pot, most curry houses do not accommodate that many number of biryani orders so tend to make them individually, as was the case at Safar.
The most exciting thing about the briyani was how it was served, a cube of biryani on a triangular plate, accompanied by a generous portion of vegetable curry. Taste-wise, the briyani was ok. It was cooked well, sufficiently flavoured and spiced and generous in its serving. That said, as standard fare, the biryani passed. There was nothing huge to shout about, which was a shame as I really wanted it to be amazing, given its presentation – still it was passable as meals go.
The Sundries – Puri, Naan
The South Indian puri is a flat piece of dough (made with atta flour) that is deep-fried until it puffs up. Eaten like many of the different rotis found throughout the Indian sub-continent, it goes well with the gravy of a good curry. The puri offered at Safar was slightly different – it was filled with a couple of different meat options, mince, chicken.
Although I was enamoured with the idea of a puri, but not one that was filled and the chef was kind enough to make one for me. Alongside a keema naan, a plain naan and one serving of Pilau rice, that served us well. Both naan were soft, billowy and fresh and perfectly puffed up. The puri although a little more deflated than the one that I knew traditionally was flaky, and soft an almost perfect in between of chapatti and paratha.The pilau rice was a little on the lighter side colour wise, but was well seasoned and spiced.
Safar Restaurant Interior
Safar’s interior is bright and vibrant and off-set well against the glass table tops and velvet dining chairs. The finishing touches – green house plants, tribal art, and paintings made the place feel much more homey, warm and welcoming.
The service at Safar was attentive and very considerate. We were impressed that the chef went out of his way to make something slightly off menu – even if it was just an unfilled puri. I’m sorry that we didn’t ask their names as it felt like we had made new friends in a different part of the country.
Would we go back? If we are the in area, yes, we would. This time we would probably try the Chef’s recommendations. The food at Safar was fairly standard fare with the typical offerings of most good British Indian restaurants. The portions were tasty and generous but what made the experience special was how kind and friendly the team were. For that alone, it would be worth another visit.
Address: The Old weighbridge Building, Woodmead Rd, Axminster EX13 5PG