I’ve just learned that Cinnamon Club opened at around the same time that we launched Mamta’s Kitchen, in spring 2001. This surprised me, as the head chef Vivek Singh and the restaurant have such strong reputations, I assumed it had been around much longer.
Cinnamon Club was conceived by owner Iqbal Wahhab, who dreamed of opening an Indian restaurant that could match the sophistication and service of Michelin-starred restaurants. It took him several years to bring the project to fruition, not least because some rash remarks resulted in his original investors pulling out and the loss of his original location not to mention the chef he’d originally brought on board, Vineet Bhatia, who gave up waiting and took a position as head chef at Zaika.
Eventually, Wahhab found new investors, a new (and arguably better) location and a new head chef, Vivek Singh, then working in India.
Born in Bengal, India, Singh was always expected to become an engineer, like his father though when younger, he was determined to join the Indian Air Force. Instead, inspired by Marco Pierre White’s ‘White Heat’ and a grand feast served at a catered wedding he attended as a guest, Singh decided to study hospitality and catering. On graduating, he was selected from thousands of hopefuls to join the Oberoi hotel group where he first worked in their flight kitchens (producing meals for airlines) before cooking in several of their prestigious hotels including their flagship Rajvilas in Japiur. That’s where he was working when approached by Wahhab.
Singh was fully in agreement with Wahhab about marrying Indian flavours with Western culinary styles to redefine the expectations and experience of Indian food in London.
The restaurant is located in the Old Westminster Library, just behind Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. The grand Victorian building is Grade II listed and retains beautiful original wooden panelling and parquet floors. It’s a very traditional setting, which no doubt suits the clientele – locally based lawyers, politicians and business men and women.
I admire the original features, but find it staid and a little overbearing. I much prefer the styling of younger sister, Cinnamon Kitchen.
On the service front, there are lots of staff, so easy to get attention and service throughout the meal.
The menu offers a decent selection of starters, mains and sides. There’s also an inexpensive set menu available at certain times only (£22/£24) , and a tasting menu for £75. At the moment, you can also order a special 5-course Chettinad menu showcasing dishes from the province for £50.
I’m a bit surprised that the restaurant has decided to cater for guests who don’t fancy Indian food by offering a European starter and main, both designed by Eric Chavot. I have never seen a restaurant that specialise in a particular cuisine doing this, and find it a bit strange.
We order from the regular menu, with our waiter suggesting some of the courses for us.
An amuse bouche of vegetable croquette with a yoghurt dip is mildly spiced, crunchy and soft.
Chargrilled Welsh lamb fillet with nutmeg, sweetbread bhaji and caper kachumber (£9.50) is fabulous. The lamb is really full flavoured, and gently spiced to let the quality of the meat shine through. It’s so moist and tender. The coriander and mint chutney is much like mum’s, simple and tasty and of course, mint is always a winner with lamb. The caper cucumber salad gives a nice crunch and tang. The sweetbread is also a delight, smooth inside against crisp crumb coating.
Tandoori breast of Anjou pigeon with chickpea and tamarind (£14.50) is also super. Robust tandoori flavours work well with tender and moist pigeon. Chickpeas are simply cooked, with good flavours.
Our waiter suggests we take a selection of breads (£6.00) with our starter rather than our main. The naan is pillowy soft and with a gentle smokiness. The multigrain roti is chewy and dense; I don’t like it at all. The potato paratha is mediocre.
Our waiter encourages me to try the Seared rump steak of Wagyu beef with Keralan spices, truffle potato puree. At £45.00, this is the most expensive main, with the rest priced between £16 and £32. I’ve not had wagyu before, and honestly, I am underwhelmed. The meat is far less tender than most restaurant steaks I’ve eaten in the last year or two, even cuts that are usually expected to be less so, such as rib eye and flank! The flavour is decent, but again, not as good as many far less expensive steaks I’ve enjoyed. The spices on top are lovely but I can’t see the benefit of the restaurant using expensive wagyu rather than regular good quality British beef. The truffled potato confuses me – it is pale green and tastes more like pureed brassica than potato. I can’t decide whether I like it, to be honest.
Pete’s Roast Cumbrian wild red deer saddle with corn and millet kedgeree (£32.00) is a far better choice. Not very gamey, the generous portion of deer tastes like good quality beef and in fact it’s more tender and with better flavour than my wagyu! The accompanying sauce is very tasty.
For our sides we have one portion of stir-fry of seasonal greens with ‘kadhai’ spices and peanut (£4.50) and one of marsala chicken livers with green peas (£7.00). The first is a straightforward dish; simple fresh vegetables and a pleasant crunch from the peanuts. The second isn’t really the kind of thing I’d consider a side dish, but I order it because it strikes me as unusual and I love chicken livers. It is indeed very tasty, but I stand by my feeling that it’s not really something to have on the side. Perhaps if I’d ordered a vegetarian main dish but fancied a little meat protein too? Very tasty though!
So far so good. But dessert is a serious let down. I choose dark chocolate and pecan nut pudding with garam masala ice cream (£8.50). The ice cream is fabulous, reminiscent of masala chai. But the chocolate pudding tastes awful and not the nicest texture either. It is so sweet it tastes like really cheap and nasty chocolate, though perhaps they used decent stuff and somehow killed it. I can’t stand it and leave the pudding un-eaten save for the two bites I took to give it fair chance.
To our waiter’s credit, I am asked if there is anything wrong and offered a different dessert when I admit that I don’t like it. I decline, because I am full, but appreciate the offer.
Pete skips a normal dessert and orders instead a Tiramisu Martini (£8.00) which he declares as utterly fantastic. All the flavours of a favourite dessert in a drink, this slips down very easily.
With my masala tea (not listed on the hot drinks menu, to my surprise, but available on request) we are given a little dish of sweet treats. The fruit jelly is nice, the chocolates are so-so and the miniature madeleine dried up beyond recognition.
A 500 ml carafe of red wine, selected for Pete by the sommelier, is fairly priced at £22.70. On the drinks front, Cinnamon Club has a decent wine list with many reasonably priced bottles, a small but reasonable soft drinks selection and an extensive and tempting list of single malt whiskies too, so Pete tells me. Of the carafe of wine, he says he wishes more restaurants offered small and medium carafes at reasonable prices. When only one is drinking, a bottle is too much, a glass too small but a carafe, rather like baby bear’s porridge, is just right.
The bill comes to £168.70 plus service, though we’re not paying for our meal this evening. That’s for 2 starters, 2 mains, 3 sides (including the bread), 1 dessert, 1 carafe of wine, 1 cocktail and no other drinks. Whilst we could have knocked off at least £30 by choosing less expensive mains, we could also have ordered aperitifs and a soft drink or two. This is an expensive meal.
Overall we enjoyed it, though there were issues with some dishes.
Having now eaten in Cinnamon Club, Cinnamon Kitchen and Cinnamon Soho, I would say that Cinnamon Club is my least favourite of the three. For similarly elegant dishes in a more open and airy setting, I would recommend Cinnamon Kitchen. For more standard dishes still cooked well, I’d suggest Cinnamon Soho.
Kavey Eats dined a as a guest of Cinnamon Club.