It’s one of the most decorated restaurants in Shropshire. Café Saffron has won more awards than Jose Mourinho has won football trophies. Its walls are lined with plates and accolades, from those conferred in Shropshire to those provided at a national and international level.
Its menu recognises that commitment to excellence. While other curry houses have pages and pages of speciality dishes from some far flung corner, Café Saffron has a page of dishes that have won awards, from mains to a particularly good rice dish – more of which later.
The awards recognise the good work of a settled and happy restaurant team, which has more than 40 years experience in Indian restaurants. They can turn on the style to win prizes for judges – or, more simply, offer a warm welcome and tasty food for regular customers visiting their Hill’s Lane restaurant.
The restaurant has been a multiple winner of Shropshire Council’s Curry Chef of the Year Award and has grown from a bijou 35-seat concern to one that caters to more than 100. For a while, it enjoyed the bright lights of TV, when it featured on John Bishop’s Britain and when it’s chef was offered other opportunities to feature on the small screen.
It’s frequent competition wins means it’s seldom far from the headlines. From local curry competitions to being crowned victorious at the Taste of Britain Festival in Slovenia and HM Ambassador Andrew Page, Café Saffron is a winning machine.
The restaurant is located just off a public car park, in Hill’s Lane, where a ground floor reception leads to a first floor private dining room and a larger, upstairs space. It’s modestly lit and there are colourful artworks on the wall – as well as that bulging trophy cabinet – to provide a point of focus. Its staff are courteous, polite and efficient. They quickly seat guests, while ferrying pints of lager or glasses of wine. Tables are packed in reasonably tightly, though that adds to the atmosphere. Café Saffron is a restaurant that’s full of hustle and bustle. Like the National Grid, it’s a high energy institution where food is quickly brought to tables and guests can be as expressive as they wish.
I called in for a Sunday supper, eating three courses of their finest before settling a modest bill at the end of a pretty decent dinner.
Proceedings began with the obligatory poppadoms – though they were a tad mediocre. The two should-have-been-crisp slices of fried flour and water were a little soft. Stale poppadoms is never good and the chutneys didn’t compensate for an unappealing start. The onion salad was finely chopped and served with a cooling, refreshing yoghurt dip while the mango was a little sweet and lacked chunks of fruit.
The starter was much, much better. A saffron chicken chaat featured delicious pieces of tender, moist chicken that was served with two dips and a small salad. Simple in concept and uncomplicated in execution, it made for pleasant eating. There are restaurants where chaat dishes swim with oil: thankfully, this was not one of them. The flavours were delicate but pronounced, the cooking on-point and the plate made for good eating.
My main was reasonable, with a great side, though not as appetising as the starter had been. A chicken pathia featured large pieces of tomato but lacked some of the heat and sourness that might have been expected. A little bland, the chicken was well cooked: it just needed more oomph. The rice served alongside it was magnificent. An award-winning dish featuring honey, chicken and chilli, it was packed with flavour and texture and would have made a meal on its own, with just a little sauce. It showcased the creativity and invention of the Café Saffron chefs and showed the restaurant at its best. If the poppadoms and main had been as enjoyable and memorable, it would have been a mighty fine supper.
Café Saffron doesn’t have ideas beyond its station. Unlike some restaurants, it doesn’t pretend to be a bastion of fine dining, nor does it suggest it’s a temple to haute cuisine or Indian fine dining. It is, to all intents and purposes, a rock solid neighbourhood curry house that offers cheap and cheerful dishes with a little twist here and there. Those help to elevate it above the ordinary. They give it a point of difference with others vying in a competitive field.
For Shropshire has more than its fair share of curry houses – during a recent on-a-whim trip into our County Town in search of sustenance, my friend and I passed five within walking distance. Most diners have their favourites, whether that’s for Bangladeshi, Nepalese or Indian food – or whether it’s to eat a favourite dish for the umpteenth time.
At Café Saffron, the front of house staff make a difference. Their frequent visits to the table, their exceptional management of the dining room and their hawk-like eyes in picking up on those customers who need a refill or a side order is commendable.
My dinner was undermined a tad by the poppadoms – it’s a simple thing that should be right every time – while the main didn’t set my pulse racing, but otherwise it was a decent effort with a great starter and winning side-dish.
Café Saffron has carved out a niche over many years and is a firm fixture on Shropshire’s dining scene. Judging by the happy faces of diners during my latest visit, that’s likely to remain the case for many years to come.
Read more at https://www.shropshirestar.com/entertainment/dining-out/shrewsbury-restaurant-reviews/2017/10/16/food-review-caf-saffron-shrewsbury/#U8xIqMu7ScR5LWse.99