Cinnamon Club

Old Westminster Library, 30-32 Great Smith Street, London, England, SW1P 3BU, United Kingdom

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The Cinnamon Club opened in March 2001 in what was the Westminster Library, offering an up-market take on the cuisine of India. With its cavernous dining room and approach to using higher-grade ingredients than was normal in Indian kitchens (such as Anjou pigeon or Romney Marsh lamb), the restaurant prospered. Almost fifteen years on it has had a recent refurbishment, keeping the library association by extending the bookcases along the walls to ground level. There is a bar to the left as you enter, and a smaller dining area upstairs to the right.

Vivek Singh, who trained with the Oberoi Hotel group on India, was the original head chef, and is now executive chef of the small restaurant group, the other branches being Cinnamon Kitchen and Cinnamon Soho. Rakesh Nair is now the head chef at the flagship restaurant. Rakesh has worked here since 2002, after previously working with Oberoi in India. The menu is appealing, with lots of unusual dishes. Starters ranged in price from £7.50 to £24, main courses £16 to £35, side dishes £5 to £7.50 and desserts £6.50 to £8.50.

The wine list is extensive, ranging in price from £20 to £2,800. Example bottles were Viognier Tabali Reserva 2012 from Chile at £30 for a bottle that retails at £8, Firesteed Pinot Gris 2010 at £48 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for £16, and Isole e Elena Chianti Classico 2009 at £65 compared to a shop price of £22. At the posh end of the list there were some bargains tucked away. The fashionable Coche-Dury 2010 Mersault was £230 for a bottle that now retails at £317, and Petrus 1979 at £1,300 has a current market price of £1,410.

A nibble of steamed rice cake with coconut and mango chutney came with yoghurt flavoured with mustard seeds and a dressing of lentils and spices. This was very pleasant, the coconut chutney bringing a pleasing freshness to this dish, the dressing balancing the inherent dryness of the rice cake (13/20).

My starter was “railway style” vegetable cake with beetroot, raisins and kasundi mustard, a sharp Bengali concoction made with green mango paste, chillies and garlic.  This dish, based on a snack served on Indian trains, had a trio of fried vegetable patties, the beetroot flavour nicely enhanced by the pungent mustard (14/20). Also pleasant was red kidney bean kebab with puffed lotus seed and a lotus root crisp (13/20). This was better than a tandoori king prawn with coconut and ginger sauce, where the masala was excellent but the prawn was a touch mushy (barely 12/20).

Halibut was char-grilled, served with spinach, tomato and lemon sauce and lime rice. The fish itself was excellent, but the spinach was a touch gritty and for me there could have been more lime and less salt (13/20). I preferred loin of Irish red deer cooked in the tandoor, served on a bed of fenugreek potatoes and a black stone flower (a spice with a woody aroma, also known as sea lichen) reduction. The venison had excellent flavour and the sauce with its distinctive aroma worked nicely with the richness of the meat (14/20). On the side, garlic naan was supple (13/20) and a black dhal was excellent, (14/20) reminiscent of the famous version at Bhukara in Delhi.

To finish, an Indian take on baked Alaska featured an ice cream with halwa, saffron and thandai (an almond flavoured drink) with spiced meringue that was flambéed at the table. This worked really well, the carrot and almond flavours and a few excellent pistachios nicely complemented by the gentle spices (14/20).

The suave Jean-Luc Giquel has headed up the front of house since 2006. A restaurant manager who used to run the dining room at Chez Nico back in the day, he has built a slick service operation that suits the up-market surroundings. The bill tonight came to £85 including drinks; if you shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head would be around £75. The place was backed on this midweek evening, with over 200 covers served in the 120-seat dining room. This was a very enjoyable evening, the odd inconsistency in the cooking the only off-key note that could be improved upon given the fairly high price point. 

Further reviews: 01st Jun 2007

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