Ignore the City boys and concentrate on the skilful, modern Indian cooking.
Indian food has become so popular in Britain that it’s almost become a caricature of itself. Thankfully there are plenty of enterprising chefs and proprietors willing to innovate with the curries and grills that we’re all so familiar with and give us something a little new and unexpected instead.
The Cinnamon Kitchen is an off-shoot of the Cinnamon Club. While the Club, a mere stone’s throw away from Parliament Square, is full of snivelling lobbyists and B-list politicians, the Kitchen is tucked away in a hidden courtyard in the City, not too far from Liverpool Street station. It was therefore no surprise that, on the weekday evening I was there with the Bastard, it was full to the rafters with City boys – both the youthful braying frat boy type and the older, port snorting, beady-eyed variety. If smoking was still allowed in-doors, they’d be lighting cigars with sheafs of the Dead Sea Scrolls while pinching the arses of passing waitresses.
The Kitchen’s decor is an odd mix combining intricate lampshades and comfy leather seating with bare floors, exposed industrial pipes in the ceiling and giant, fake wooden doors. Somehow it all comes together and works giving the place a classy, but not ostentatious feel.
Service was polite, informative and efficient. Unlike every other restaurant serving Indian food I’ve been to, the waiting staff took the effort to point out when we had ordered too much – good advice that we heeded. The front of the house clearly needs a bigger wardrobe though – instead of offering to take my coat, I was instead told to hang my coat on a wall stand coat rail near the door.
What’s with the giant, fake wooden doors?
Of all my dining companions, I have the most concern for the Bastard. Left to his own devices he’ll end up at some dreadfully average chain restaurant like Benihana, so I was keen to ensure he had at least one good meal in his life lest he die prematurely from gastronomic boredom and mediocrity. The changing menu at the Cinnamon Kitchen seemed like a good antidote to such a fate.
The amuse bouche was a potato fritter topped with some unidentifiable green mush – pleasing if unremarkable, tasting like a grease-free potato version of a bhaji.
I’m not quite sure what the green stuff was supposed to be.
To start, I opted for the intriguing aubergine and peanut crumble. It was quite unlike anything I’ve ever tasted – the crunchy (toasted?) peanuts were in stark contrast to the soft, smooth, slightly smoky aubergine. It was an odd combination that I enjoyed, but it didn’t seduce me enough that I’d order it again next time.
The Bastard played it safe with grilled chunks of prawn and salmon which turned out to be a better bet. Chargrilled to perfection, both chunks of seafood were firm and delightfully smoky.
Small but perfectly formed
Our starters were accompanied by a bountiful selection of fluffy naans and slightly chewy rotis. You have to try pretty hard to screw up Indian breads, and thankfully they didn’t.
I like seafood for many reasons, one of which is that I can’t really cook it at home without making a mess or screwing it up. I therefore especially enjoyed the Bengali-style seafood curry of barramundi, mussels, prawns and squid. It was a well-balanced, interesting yet filling dish. The sauce was mildly spiced and creamy, but not so much that it was too milky and heavy. It went well with the meaty, yet flaky barramundi and the bitingly fresh mussels.
Barramundi is one ugly fish, but it looks really good in a curry.
I ordered the smoked aubergine crush as a side dish. Although the large serving of aubergine was smooth and slightly sweet, there was a distinct lack of smokiness and paled in comparison to the richer, more complex Levantine versions of the same dish, such as muttabel.
For some reason the Bastard went for another prawn dish as his main – stir fried prawns served in a spicy sauce. Apparently the dish was pleasing, but too similar to his prawn starter. Well, he only has his own lack of imagination to blame.
Look at those big, fat juicy prawns…
The true highlight of our meal was dessert. At my cajoling, the Bastard went for a three-piece chocolate indulgence which used revered Valrhona chocolate as its base. The fluffy caramel-coloured fondant was a true delight. It was very soft, almost to the point of foaminess, yet it somehow managed to hold different layers of sweet, creamy flavours within its small size. The rest of the chocolate dessert wasn’t quite as spectacular, but it was still pleasing with the denser, nuttier almond biscotti-like rectangle and the gooey, rich souffle providing a good contrast and compliment to the foamy fondant. Excellent.
I worship at the altar of Valrhona
My dessert was an unusual combination of star anise-flavoured ice cream paired with a poached pear and payasam, a Keralan rice pudding. Poached pears are close to becoming a cliche in the world of posh restaurant desserts, but the sugary sweetness was offset well by the unmistakably distinctive taste of the star anise ice cream and the creamy payasam. The payasam wasn’t quite as satisfying since it was served uncharacteristically cold.
It’s time to move on from the poached pears people.
The Cinnamon Kitchen isn’t cheap at around £50 a head, but it’s a price worth paying given the proficient, skilled execution of many of the dishes from the barramundi curry to the chocolate pudding. There are a few missteps, but for an inventive, modern take on Indian food, the Cinnamon Kitchen is well worth seeking out.
Name: Cinnamon Kitchen
Address: 9 Devonshire Square, London, EC2M 4YL
Phone: 020 7626 5000
Opening Hours: Weekdays 07.00-00.00; Saturdays 06.00-00.00; Sundays private functions only
Total cost for one person: £50 approx.