Got a familiar ring about it? London has been called many things in its long and sometimes illustrious history. Londinium given by the Romans, and Old Smokey in song lyrics; and now it’s Cinnamon Town due to the delicious flourishing of Cinnamon restaurants including Cinnamon Soho!
This is the latest in that small chain and found in Kingly Street and its location is perfect for diners who find themselves in that characterful corner of London. It’s just a short walk to the classy shops of Regent Street, Oxford Street and the iconic Carnaby Street, and the Carnaby shopping neighbourhood includes Kingly Street.
Carnaby Street came to fame in the swinging sixties. In reality that decade only swung for a few, but those days gave that area, and London in general, a reputation for trendsetting. Carnaby Street was filled with boutiques displaying tie-dye shirts, Indian jewellery and velvet trousers. The smell of incense gave an exotic ambiance. It now houses smart fashion stores and rather expensive accessories but it’s still a Mecca for those who want to splash the cash.
But this area of London dates back much further than the 20th century. It was still open ground in the 16th century and was used for hunting. The remaining open space is now called Green Park. The huntsmen would shout “Soho” instead of tallyho as a hunting cry and that’s how it got its name.
Vivek Singh is the Executive Chef and CEO of The Cinnamon group: the original Cinnamon Club in Westminster, Cinnamon Kitchen in Devonshire Square, and now Cinnamon Soho. Diners who have frequented his Club and Kitchen will recognise the same flair and imagination and undoubted quality in this newest branch.
Cinnamon Soho has tailored its menu and style to its location. It’s a more casual restaurant than the other two and will appeal to the passing tide of those who want a lighter meal, smaller plates. Perhaps Cinnamon Soho will help to dispel the myth that one can’t eat Indian food at lunchtime and expect to keep one’s eyes open during the afternoon.
Cinnamon Soho has two levels, the whole restaurant having 75 covers. The ground floor has dark wood tables and a few banquettes. The bar offers a comfy perch from which to watch the expert mixologists shake striking and exotic cocktails. The lower floor offers a quiet dining area with a window on the kitchen world. One has a glimpse of the bustle that is the culinary hub of any fine restaurant. Ramachandran Raju is Head Chef at Cinnamon Soho – having worked in both Cinnamon Club and Cinnamon Kitchen his credentials are impeccable.
Nicolas Digard is Manager at Cinnamon Soho and he is French. A good man to ask for advice about food and wine pairing, and he is well versed in the Cinnamon Soho fare. He also won the National Award for Excellence for Great Customer Service in 2010. Nicolas suggested that a vibrant cocktail would set the scene for the evening: Spicy Berry Martini – gin infused with figs, Naga bitters, lime juice, Framboise and raspberries. The heat comes from the bitters made with the world’s hottest chilli, Naga Jolokia, which are said to sear to as high as 250,000 Scoville units. A good Naga bitters will only contain two ingredients: Bourbon and the famous Naga Chillies. A spiced cocktail should never be over-spicy. It’s not a competition and surely the objective should be to present the diner with a delicious and memorable beverage with distinct yet palatable flavour. Spicy Berry Martini had the anticipated kick but that was tempered by the fruit liqueur. Do try this.
I mentioned that Nicolas is French and we are all aware that we sometimes have a strained relationship with our Gallic cousins. That little stretch of water separates us from those with whom we have the closest of ties in Europe, but there has always been an element of one-upmanship and banter and I did wonder, when I asked his advice, if the aforementioned French manager might be taking some kind of personal revenge for some past rugby trouncing or some long-simmering unhealed diplomatic wound. He suggested Bheja fry-Lamb Brains in mince curry as a starter.
Now, I am passionate about food, that’s obvious, but I am not a sophisticated culinary guru. I have broad tastes and like almost everything apart from a slab of liver, but I have never tried brains. Let’s be honest, you don’t see them on many menus in the UK although they are popular in France and other European countries and are available in all good supermarkets there. Chef Raju was bound to present the most intelligent brains around and the opportunity to lay a culinary spectre was tempting. A revelation, and a delicious one. The notion is daring but the reality isn’t one bit edgy. The brains were offered as crunchy-coated nuggets on a spicy sauce – they had a delicate scrambled-egg texture inside and a mild taste. You don’t have to have elevated taste buds to appreciate this: it’s just good food and surely we should be eating every bit of an animal that has given its life for our epicurean satisfaction. It’s a signature dish that I would order again – undoubtedly Indian but with a certain little je ne sais quoi.
All other dishes at Cinnamon Soho have much less taxing main ingredients, although presented in contemporary style. There are traditional favourites with a twist: my companion’s starter was Tandoori Salmon with green pea relish. A good size portion of flavourful fish with a fresh sauce that was aromatic with mustard oil, I think. This alone would make a light and quick lunch with perhaps an Indian bread alongside. A real taste of Spring and I am sure the weather will catch up with that season in the near future.
Vindaloo has had a bad press. It’s a much-abused dish that revives memories of curry houses filled with lads who were correspondingly filled with pints of dubious lager topped off with a searing “Vindaloo”. But a real Vindaloo is a glorious dish spiked with spices and the tang of vinegar, a legacy from the Portuguese who settled in Goa. Those spices should not combine to give heat sufficient to melt the enamel on one’s teeth. A balanced flavour is the goal and Vindaloo of Ox Cheek offered that along with meltingly tender meat. Robust and flavoursome.
Keralan Seafood Pie stayed with the southern Indian theme. Well, OK, so it’s the “Keralan” element that’s Indian. Pie is pure British but the marriage of succulent seafood and delicate crust is always unbeatable. Add a creamy and thoughtfully seasoned sauce to bathe the fish and an otherwise humble dish is transformed.
Here you’ll find some moreish and sweet confections: Cinnamon Soho has a pud menu of spice-laced treats. Chocolate and Cumin Cake with pistachio ice cream was my guest’s choice. A classic combination but no worse for that. I chose the slightly more traditional Carrot Halwa, with cinnamon ice cream. You will know halwa from Indian restaurant menus across the land. The Cinnamon Soho version offers a classy twist. Much more visually appealing than the original, these pastry-wrapped rolls contain a filling of both orange and red sweet carrot purées. Not as avant garde as it first seems. The hybrid orange carrots that have become commonplace are rumoured to have been ‘designed’ in homage to King William of Orange; the darker vegetables were the ancient forerunner. Gardening aside, this was a sweet and fitting end to a memorable meal.
Cinnamon Soho will, in a very short space of time, become an institution in this part of Cinnamon City.
5 Kingly Street
London W1B 5PF
Phone: 020 7437 1664
Visit Cinnamon Soho here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018