Keeping it in the room: health, happiness and living in Berlin
Going out for an Indian is traditionally associated with a night out and a beer and then ordering the hottest thing on the menu.
Cinnamon isn’t like that. Their first branch, in Westminster, is well known in foodie circles as a posh place – somewhere to have business meetings or for politicians to discuss their second homes with lobbyists and colleagues. No baltis or tandooris here, thank you, for this is smooth, shiny, modern cuisine.
Executive Chef & CEO Vivek Singh has opened two more branches since the original in 2001: Cinnamon Kitchen in 2009 and, a couple of years ago, Cinnamon Soho. The new one is more in keeping with its edge-of-Soho location: casual, accessible food designed for enjoying with friends as much as for business meetings.
We arrived at around 1pm, expecting it to be busy with lunchtime workers enjoying the Monday afternoon sunshine, but in fact it was completely empty. It only got busy a little while afterwards, when people had begun to leave their desks.
It’s on a pedestrianised street, so we took the opportunity to sit outside and absorb some rays.
As with many other restaurants in central London, they’re trying to attract people out of their offices or away from the shops with a quick and cheap lunchtime menu: two courses for £9.75 or three for £11.75. They also do a super speedy grazing menu for £10, where you get five small dishes; and an ‘express menu’ – basically, a short a la carte menu with dishes from £4.80.
Feeling decadent, we went for three courses, starting with steamed chickpea cake with coconut chutney; grilled sea bream with green mango chutney; and stir fried beef chucks with red onion and pepper cream.
Already we began to see why Cinnamon is so popular. Food was carefully served, the waitress turning the plates round so that the food would be served just as the chef intended. Food was delicately spiced – enough so you’d notice, but not enough to upset.
Sadly, the chickpea cake didn’t work for us as a starter – the light, fluffy, bread-like texture of the cake was delicious, but would probably have been more apt as a dessert.
The sea bream, meanwhile, was moist and delicious, served in a pool of rich, spiced – think tingly, rather than hot – tomato sauce.
Mains included pan-seared plaice with tomato sauce and lentil salad, Orissa style chicken curry with pilau rice, and rogan josh shepherd’s pie.
Again, everything was just perfectly spiced, so that you knew it was there, but, unless you have a serious aversion to anything spicy, wouldn’t be too upset by it.
For dessert, we had sticky ginger toffee pudding with banana ice cream, Thandai panna cotta with almond crumbles and yoghurt and lime cheese cake with tamarind glazed strawberries.
We felt a bit like Greg and John off Masterchef when the panna cotta arrived: just as we can’t eat cake in a café without first turning it over and examining it for a soggy bottom, we couldn’t help shaking the plate to see if it wobbled. It was, as we expected, perfectly set. The almond crumbles were just as expected – crumbly and almondy.
The banana ice cream, meanwhile, was a triumph. Normally, we avoid anything banana flavoured, because it’s so often ruined by tasting almost completely unlike banana. This one was different. Banana is, surprisingly, a delicate flavour, and easy to get wrong, because so much of what you taste in a banana is related to texture and smell. This ice cream, however, was beautiful – smooth and tasty, with subtle hints of just ripe banana. Amazing.
The yoghurt and lime cheese cake was a little sweeter than we’d expected, and a little disappointing. But the tamarind strawberries were great – simple but effective.
Service varied from attentive to entirely ignorant of us. Sometimes the waitress was just hovering out of eyesight so that she knew exactly when to come over – but more often, she was nowhere to be seen, and we had to hunt for her. At dinner times, this might not be a problem, but lunch times are often limited, and if they’re trying to attract the office crowd, they need to be more careful to keep an eye on the customers.
We didn’t mind, because we didn’t have to get back to work, but our meal took over an a hour and a half in total – fine for a leisurely catch up with friends, but not great for workers with just an hour away from the desk. Perhaps the trick is to eat more lightly – a course or two would shave off at least half an hour.
The restaurant was spotlessly clean throughout, but sadly, no-one seemed to have noticed that a light bulb in the corridor leading to the toilet had blown (or perhaps there was never a light there in the first place?). This meant that it was more a lucky guess whether you entered the ladies, gents or security cupboard. Seeing as the cupboard with all the highly expensive CCTV, hifi and computer equipment was wide open, we thought about swapping the music for something surreal – but decided it was too early in the day, and we weren’t nearly drunk enough.
This was despite the wonderful cocktails we’d been drinking, of which our favourite was ‘burning with passion’ – vodka with rum, passion fruit and strawberry purée.
The rum was served poured into the empty passion fruit skin, and we had to blow out the flame before the waiter tipped the remaining alcohol into the drink with the straw. Sadly, outside in the bright sunshine, a lot of the theatre was gone, since the flame was totally invisible.
Cinnamon Soho isn’t the kind of place you’d go to every day in place of your lunchtime sandwiches, but it’s definitely one to head to if you want to treat yourself or your colleagues every so often. And if you wanted to hold a quick business meeting, you’d definitely win that contract – and if they’re still not sure, soften them up with another cocktail!
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