Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Cinnamon Club

After coming into a little money some time ago, I wanted to take my best pal Andrew for a blow-the-budget feast and invited him to take his pick of any of the capital's finest diners. Having heard good things about it in the Westminster corridors of power through which he daily struts, Andrew chose haute-Indian The Cinnamon Club, in the old Westminster Library on Great Smith Street.

We were impressed from the off as we were ushered into one of the most beautiful dining rooms either of us had seen in London. The library's wood panelling and high-rise shelving has been largely preserved, and a mezzanine overlooks the main room and its enclosed, private dining offshoots. Even at just after 7.30 the restaurant was very nearly full and within a short time every table was occupied (one close to ours by a gaggle of screeching Americans, sadly) and the atmosphere buzzing. Whilst perusing the menu we enjoyed a cocktail from the cleverly put-together list; the cocktails, somewhat like the food, are familiar European favourites given an Indian twist and my Spice Martini, with its hint of cardamom, was fantastic.

Food was difficult to choose given that everything sounded absolutely mouth-watering. Despite being relatively compact - nine starters, eleven mains and a couple of specials and tasting plates - the menu covers all bases in that it offers meat, poultry, fish and vegetarian choices all of which tempted us enormously. (NB: for those unable to decide, or feeling particularly adventurous, or both, there's an eight-course tasting menu.) On top of this, you're also able to choose from a small selection of 'showcase' dishes from another high-flying restaurant, in this case superstar chef Eric Chavot's two Michelin-starred The Capital. I loved this idea, one I'd never come across before, and so I opted for Chavot's crab risotto with truffle cappuccino to start while Andrew went for seared scallops with stir fried mushrooms and coconut and mussel broth. Both were superb, proof of the extremely high quality of the seafood used in each dish being in the eating. My risotto was perhaps a little heavy on cheese, but the pan fried king prawns it came topped with more than compensated for this.

Staying with a seafood theme for his main, Andrew chose grilled wild African prawn with tomato lemon sauce and coconut rice, while I went onto dry land and (blocking out all memories of Bambi) went for roasted saddle of Oisin deer with pickling spices. Both were gold-star, merit badge, top of the class standard; Andrew's 'prawn' turned out in fact to be three huge prawns each the size of a small lobster and gorgeously smoky from the tandoor, while my deer, cooked perfectly pink, tasted deliciously spice-hot and tart. Confident that desserts would be as good, we both ordered the coconut plate and loved the 'three ways'-style treat with which we were subsequently served; a scoop of creamy coconut ice-cream, a miniature brule and a warm, fried donut-y beignet.

It wasn't only the food that delighted us; service from the moment we sat down, throughout every course, and as we left was a joy; warm, courteous and very respectful, but without a trace of the stuffiness one might expect from a restaurant known by some at lunchtime as 'The Commons' Canteen'. The bill...well yes of course at the end of all this, what with cocktails, three courses, moderate wine (honest!), coffee and service, was none too pretty at £180-ish, but the night had always been planned as a special celebratory treat and it fitted that purpose exactly. Eating at The Cinnamon Club will never be a cheap night out anyway, with starters ranging from £7.50 to £15 and mains going as high as £32, but if it's bargain Baltis you're after then there are tens of thousands of local Indian restaurants who will very happily oblige. If, like we did on the other hand, you want a very special meal and to experience something new culinarily, then the Club should certainly feature highly on your list.

The Cinnamon Club, The Old Westminster Library, 30-32 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BU Tel: 020 7222 2555

Cinnamon Club on Urbanspoon

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