When I started working in the City in the '90s, the form for Friday night was to go to the local pub and sink a dozen pints before heading off for a cheap Indian meal, usually down Brick Lane. Nearly every restaurant offered a mix of floral wallpaper, equally colourful curries, faux black tie service, '70s disco, and most importantly, a venue to continue drinking.
I absolutely loved it.
The idea of a ‘posh Indian’ meal in a restaurant that was the destination, rather then the after-party, was a contradiction in terms. The Cinnamon Club in Westminster was the a famous exception, but it was seen as the preserve of high-flying business people and politicians.
However, a few years back, the Cinnamon Club’s Vivek Singh decided to open a City version – Cinnamon Kitchen – in the historic East India Company spice warehouses which has been transformed into the Devonshire Square development. Cinnamon Kitchen and the cocktail bar, Anise, were an instant success, but they didn’t quite work. Anise’s nightly happy hour might have driven up the number of punters, but it definitely lowered the tone. While the restaurant’s food was superb, the Cinnamon Kitchen lacked ambiance and personality. It was nice, but bland.
What a difference a year makes. When the Northerner and I visited recently, Anise had dropped the happy hour, and by default (or design), shifted the clientele upmarket. Meanwhile, Cinnamon Kitchen looked like it had undergone a Gok Wan-style makeover. Cast hexagonal floor tiles, hanging globe lights of silver-plated brass, dark sheesham wood tables topped by cleverly placed mirrors and candles created an intimate ambiance bordering on romantic. Unheard of for a City Indian restaurant.
The waiting staff are notably not Indian or Asian, but European – with our two gentlemen from Poland and France. They were charming, knowledgeable, and very professional, although it felt odd that they weren’t Indian. (But perhaps that says more about me.) The clientele is City with a capital C, from large tables of colleagues to smaller groups of…colleagues. But the ambiance is buzzing rather then boisterous, and the diners are fun and frivolous, rather then overtly drunk.
We started with the galouti kebab of lamb, paprika raita and the wild african prawn kadhai lababdar. The former was succulent and nicely seasoned; the latter was lobster sized and sweet, balanced rather then overpowered by the spices. For mains we shared the ‘murgh korma’, style tandoori free-range chicken breast and the kolhapuri spiced saddle of kentish lamb with pilau rice. The tandoori chicken was technically perfect, if not a little ordinary. The lamb was cooked as well as your favourite Sunday roast, and the spices were balanced and enhanced the meat’s flavor.
The recent tweaks have clearly paid dividends, as Cinnamon Kitchen complements rather then jars with its Westminster sibling. It's not cheap, and it is classy. Who knows? The Posh Indian, huh. Whatever next?