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Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The Cinnamon Club Celebrates 15 Years of Indian Fine Dining in Westminster

Name: The Cinnamon Club

Where: The Old Westminster Library, 30-32 Great Smith Street, London, SW1P 3BU, http://cinnamonclub.com/

Cost: Starters range from £7.50 to £24, mains from £16 to £35, and desserts from £6.50 to £8.50. We opted for the 8-course tasting menu at £85 per person. 

About: The Cinnamon Club first launched at the grade II listed former Westminster Library in 2001. For this 15th anniversary year, the restaurant has had a £1m refit, with a new menu for both the restaurant and the bar. It is known for imaginative, upmarket modern Indian cooking with an emphasis on fish and game. Vivek Singh is the Executive Chef of the Cinnamon group, and the current Head Chef at The Cinnamon Club is Rakesh Nair.

The main dining room is one of the more distinctive restaurant venues in London. Walls are lined with the original books of the former library. With characterful parquet floors, grey leather seats and white linen tablecloths, in a room buzzing with journalists and politicians from the Houses of Parliament next door, there is an interesting atmosphere to the place, unlike any other restaurant I have been to in London.

What We Ate: We opted for the 8-course tasting menu, which started with a carpaccio of home cured Shetland salmon and green pea chutney. The salmon was lightly cured, halfway between a salmon sashimi and smoked salmon, and was served with a jalmori (a spiced puffed rice snack from Bengal) and dainty cubes of spiced potato.

The Kerala-style seafood bisque flamed with brandy had a concentrated, spicy tomato stock with prawns, squid, aubergine and potato. It was presented with a separate chilled wafer of crispy lotus root and a crab salad. The combination of hot and chilled, smooth and crunchy was well conceived, although I found the chilli heat a little out of balance.

Next was a tandoori breast of Anjou squab pigeon, pumpkin chutney and peanut. Served with a delicious raita infused with smoked paprika, and an emerald-green coriander chutney, the pigeon was tender, medium rare and delicately gamey. My only quibble with this dish was its presentation which I felt was somewhat uninspiring.

The smoked Herdwick lamb escalope came with a galouti kebab mille feuille. Galouti kebabs hail from Uttar Pradesh in Northern India, and combine minced lamb, ginger and spices. The dish had a base of lamb mince, topped with filo pastry spiked with cumin, then lamb escalope, all topped with a paprika raita and finally the galouti kebab. With a garnish of mango puree and pickled onions, fresh and chutneyed coriander, this was an excellent lamb dish in three different textures, with crunchy vegetables. I enjoyed it very much, and although I really enjoyed the cumin-flavoured pastry, it was decidedly one, rather than one-thousand sheets thick.

After a refreshing green apple sorbet, we moved on to the tandoori wild Spencer Gulf king prawns. Spencer Gulf prawns come from Australia, and are said to be among the finest in the world. Marinated in red chilli powder, the prawns were meaty and well-seasoned, served on a creamy bed of coconut and ginger sauce, with stir-fried cabbage and kale.

The main event was roast loin of Oisin red deer with black stone flower and onion reduction. Oisin literally means young deer or fawn, and black stone flower is a fungus commonly used as a spice in India. The Cinnamon Club has a reputation for serving top quality game, and the fawn did not disappoint - tender, pink and succulent, it was very well made and the spice of the black stone flower was a first taste for me of the condiment.

Pre-dessert was carrot halwa spring roll in filo pastry, with clove ice cream, cashew nut, and a few swirls of caramel. The clove ice cream was intensely aromatic and heady with the warm spice, and the combination of clove and sweet carrot was a delight.

Dessert proper was green cardamom brulée with rose petal and pistachio biscotti. This was a very familiar French dessert enlivened by some typically subcontinental spices.

What We Drank: The wine list is extensive, and focuses on classic French and European wines, although there is broad representation from across the full range of New World wines. The entry level white is a Vin de Pays d’Oc (£25), while for reds it is an Italian Nero d'Avola at £26.

In the relaunched Cinnamon Club, the Negronis change with the seasons. As well as the obligatory gin and Campari, in the autumn they used Darjeeling tea, in the winter (when I visited) they used chestnut liqueur, and in spring it will change again.

We started with a couple of pre-dinner drinks in the bar. The Seasonal Negroni (£10.50) combined chestnut liqueur with gin and Campari. A glass of Franciacorta Brut DOCG, from Contadi Castaldi (£8.90) had fine bubbles, elegant structure and refreshing acidity.  

To accompany our tasting menu, we shared a bottle of Cuvée Marie Louise, Domaine de Gravennes, from the Southern Rhone (£53). A classic blend of Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah, this had plenty of damson and black cherry fruit, a hint of cracked pepper, and some very nice tannins - more than a match for the heat of the dishes.

With dessert, we had a glass of Saussignac, Vendage d'Autrefois, Gascony 2012, (£7 per glass). This had lovely honeyed fruit, with enough bracing acidity and depth of green fruit flavour to stop it from being cloying.   

Likes: The venue is charming, characterful and unusual. I particularly enjoyed the lamb three ways, the Spencer Gulf king prawn and the loin of baby red deer. The cocktails and the wine list are well thought out, and the sommelier's suggestion for our visit was spot on. 

Dislikes: I always feel that in any tasting menu, one of the first offerings should be a wow dish. For me, fortunately if somewhat belatedly, the level of interest and the wow-factor peaked halfway through the menu. 

Verdict: For modern Indian fine-dining in a stunning setting next to Westminster Abbey, The Cinnamon Club continues to be one of London’s best options. Recommended.

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