The Cinnamon Club calls itself “an institution in the world of Indian fine dining”, and as one of four London restaurants run by chef, restauranteur and author Vivek Singh I have to say the ‘Cinnamon’ brand has certainly become something of an institution.
Just around the corner from Westminster Abbey, down a very unassuming London street, The Cinnamon Club has made its home in the grade II listed Westminster Library. This is an Indian restaurant like no other, in fact, without seeing the menu you really wouldn’t know it was an Indian restaurant at all. Due to its listed status, the magnificent red brick building has remained very much the same since it was built in 1892, and it’s incredibly easy to walk straight past its large dark wood doors without noticing the small gold plaque, which is the only indication that it houses one of London’s best restaurants. The interior has also remained true to the buildings roots as a Library; the main restaurant is walled with large mahogany shelves filled with books, and large arches break up the dining space. The restaurant is also unusually light, owing to original overhead skylights.
The dinner menu is like nothing you’ve every seen before. As readers of this blog will know, I love Indian food, and I cook and eat a lot of it, however, this is Indian food like you’ve never experienced it. The menu is refined, and like most restaurants of this calibre, really doesn’t give too much away about the dishes, more of a list of ingredients than a detailed description. I’m very happy to say that whilst the restaurants challenges the norms of Indian dining in many areas, it stayed true to its south Asian routes in the fact that there were a variety of interesting vegetarian and vegan options to choose from (approximately three per starter and main).
To start I opted for okra filled with peanut and jaggery, curried yoghurt and green mango chutney (£10), followed by banana chilli filled with fenugreek, raisin and bitter gourd, green pea pilau and yoghurt sauce (£21). Both dishes were priced slightly higher than vegetarian options might be in similar restaurants around the city, but are still cheaper than the meat alternatives. However, it’s also important to take into account that The Cinnamon Club doesn’t levy the normal 12.5% service charge that you get everywhere else in the city, they also ass you kindly not to tip the staff, and instead give recommend certain wait staff to the management at the end of your meal instead, so slightly higher prices are already inclusive of service and tips.
The dishes were incredible. Both were very different in terms of flavour and presentation, and each seemed original and modern whilst using staple Indian ingredients. I can honestly say the banana chilli is one of the best dishes I have had recently, I was thoroughly impressed.
I rounded off my meal with something more familiar – kulfi. Although there was a good choice of desserts, ranging from classic Indian Mithi Chaat (a collection of traditional Indian sweets) to South Asian takes on the quintessentially British sticky toffee pudding, I had to have the kulfi. (Can you even go out for an Indian meal without ending with kulfi?) Like all of the other dishes this was a sophisticated, elegant, refined version of the kulfi we all know and love, served with a simple honeycomb and pistachio crumble (£9.50).
All in all the food was sublime, the difficulty for me came with choosing drinks. The drinks menu contains everything from interesting cocktails and vintage bottles of high end wines and champagnes, to the customary Indian-restaurant Cobra lager. The restaurant even has a gin trolley, stocked with wide variety of gins that they pair with garnishes and speciality tonics table side. It is strange to see such a wide variety of drinks being ordered across the restaurant. Usually, in a ‘normal’ French or British restaurant of this calibre you’d expect people to order a cocktail or two before their meal and then pair wine with food, and looking around the restaurant it seemed people were compelled to do the same despite the difference in cuisine. Personally, I can’t really see myself drinking wine with Indian food, I know there are full-bodied reds which people claim can hold their own against the intense flavours and spices, but wine really wasn’t what I was looking for. I opted instead for a cocktail or two. I must say that I would have ordered a GnT from the gin trolley, had the gins not been so horrendously overpriced compared to the rest of the drinks menu. I’m talking £15.50 for a double Tanqueray 10 (sans tonic). Don’t get me wrong, that’s how much you pay in some London restaurants for a double gin and tonic, and I would say the standard price for that particular gin is about £10, my problem with the pricing of the gin is that the cocktails at the cinnamon club are so much cheaper, ranging for £12 to £15, which is the price point you would expect. It seems that you’re paying more to have the gin poured and paired with a garnish at your table, and given that table side preparation is a trend I personally hate, I wasn’t prepared to pay extra for it. For me, this was the biggest and only downside to the entire experience.
I have to say I absolutely recommend you visit this restaurant, it truly is a unique London dining experience, and aside from the gin it’s actually pretty affordable, and especially great if you’ve got any vegetarians or vegans in your party.