The Cinnamon Club opened in 2001 and was one of the first Indian restaurants in London to offer a modern interpretation of Indian cooking. It has become immensely successful, filling its large space with customers at both lunch and dinner (and now offers breakfast as well). Its great asset is the room, which has retained the panelling and even some of the bookshelves of the old Westminster library, which gives a vast airy space in which to eat. There is a trendy basement bar playing Bollywood movies.
The executive chef Vivek Singh's background in the Oberoi Hotel group gave him solid grounding in classy Indian cooking but he long had an interest in French cooking, and this interest shows through in the menu here. The actual cooking is done by chef Hari Nagaraj, another Oberoi veteran who has been here since the restaurant opened. Some traditionalists don't like to see Indian food "messed around with" but no cuisine is static: Indian food, after all, had to do without the chilli until it was imported from South America. The thing that I like most about this restaurant is that it has learnt from the French and recognised the importance of high quality ingredients, whatever the cuisine. Hence the pigeon here is from Anjou, the chicken was French blackleg chicken, not some generic tasteless bird that is sadly the norm in Indian restaurants. The menu is genuinely different, with dishes such as Cumbrian milk fed goat, and tandoori Barnsley chops.
Service seemed a little inconsistent at earlier visits but is now under the tutelage of general manager Jean Luc, who used to be maitre d' at Nico at 90 in Park Lane in the glory days of Nico Ladenis. Jean Luc is a charming and very capable manager, and with him at the helm I expect to see any service wrinkles ironed smoothly away over time. The wine list is a serious affair, and contains many offerings that are fairly priced and are a sensible companion to spicy food.
I started with what is usually a main course, a pigeon breast cooked pink and offered with a ball of fried lentils and peas, as well as a little raita on a salad leaf. The pigeon itself was extremely good and would put some French restaurants to shame, tender and cooked just right; the lentil ball had crispy texture and well-controlled spicy taste (easily 14/20). This was better than pan-seared black cod, which was surprisingly bland, offered with a tomato and lemon sauce that could have been much spicier given that cod is not inherently a fish with a strong flavour, though the stir-fry ball of mango and lime added a welcome bite (12/20). A side dish of black dhal was excellent, the lentils retaining their texture and having an astute blend of spices (14/20).
A middle course was an excellent sir-fry of crab with roasted coconut; here the spices were distinct and vibrant, but not so much as to overwhelm the crab; a single prawn in its shell was also tasty (14/20). My tandoori prawns were excellent, cooked through very well despite their considerable size, served with a well-made saffron sauce and served with a little heap of pilau rice (14/20). Again this was better than the sea bream main course, served as a fillet with the same tomato sauce and a ball of coconut noodles, which were OK in themselves. For me, this dish again was too tentative with its spices to lift the fish out of the ordinary. There seems to be a tendency here to overcook fish, which is odd given how well prepared the prawns and pigeon was (12/20). A kulfi of mango and pistachio is home-made here and had very good flavour (13/20). Breads were good, with a fluffy naan and a nice paratha (13/20). Starters were £7.50 - £10, main courses £19 to £29 for fish or meat main courses, with side dishes weighing in at £5 for dhal and £2.50 for a naan.
Further reviews: 08th Oct 2015