Monday, January 16, 2017
Review: Cinnamon Bazaar, Covent Garden
For as long as I can remember, Chef Vivek Singh's collection of restaurants in London - Cinnamon Club, Cinnamon Kitchen, and Cinnamon Soho - have ranked high on my frequently recommended list.
Cinnamon Club was my first foray into this world of modern Indian cuisine: I was taken by the beautiful setting of the former Westminster Library and the high-end aesthetic, which felt like a real treat when I was still new to London.
In the City, Cinnamon Kitchen is where John and I regularly meet after work for a Friday treat. I go crazy for the breads (a selection of potato paratha, garlic naan and plain naan with a delicious set of chutneys) and cocktails, while the grilled appetizers always appeal to John.
Finally, Cinnamon Soho (near Carnaby Street) is best enjoyed outside in the summer, when the evening is balmy and awash with the setting sun's glow.
Last week, I was thrilled to be invited to Chef Singh's newest restaurant, Cinnamon Bazaar, which opened in Covent Garden in December.
Featuring signature house cocktails created by award-winning mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana (AKA Mr Lyan) and Chef Singh himself, the colorful, buzzing vibe of Cinnamon Bazaar is inspired by the same bustling atmosphere of the bazaars of India.
Indeed, the decor reflects this, with the orange fabric downstairs draping the sky-lit ceiling, and the green shutters, images of plants, and fans adorning the colonial-inspired dining room upstairs. The doors and panelling on the restaurant's bar have been hand-painted with pretty, but playful images of elephants, horses and palm trees. Of the four restaurants, this feels the most intimate and "boutique" and consequently (despite having only paid it my first visit so far) the one that appeals to me most.
If there's only one cocktail to try at Cinnamon Bazaar, make it the Masala Coke Float: aged rum, Karma Cola, and a generous scoop of the restaurant's homemade masala ice cream.
We began the evening with some delicious canapes, including Calcutta spiced crab and beetroot in chickpea batter and chana masala hummus on carom seed papdi.
But the highlight for me was the chaat - mini platefuls of delicious snacks typically served roadside in India, which had been reinvented and presented to us by Chef Singh as appetizers. As he explained, the wonderful thing about chaat is that it "can be completely customized". Some people might prefer more lemon juice, or salt, or spice, for example.
As I excitedly speared a piece of pressed watermelon with amaranth seeds, date chutney and masala cashew nut onto my fork, I remembered the chaat served at the wedding John and I went to in Bangalore last year. We tried everything - each of us going in separate directions before meeting in the middle of the banquet hall with our tiny plates, marvelling at the explosions of taste with every bite. The heat of the spices and the sweetness of the watermelon were at once, complex and extraordinarily pleasing to the palate.
I'd be hard-pressed to name a favorite, but I could have easily had the papdi chaat, crisp wheat with tangy tamarind, yoghurt and chickpea vermicelli - all to myself.
And, as it is with all the Cinnamon restaurants, the plates themselves were pleasing to eye as well - the hues of red, orange and green all reminiscent of the bright and vibrant colors found in Indian fabric shops and markets.
I didn't love the texture of the lamb galauti kebab, but I had a third helping of the curry leaf and cracked black pepper fried shrimp (and couldn't resist stealing a prawn from Udita's plate when she was too busy socialising to notice), which I'll be ordering on my next visit to the restaurant.
I wanted to save room for the mains - I really wanted to. But the chaat and the appetizers were so, so good, I couldn't practice too much restraint.
Still, when the tandoori Kentish lamb fillet and Lucknow style chicken biryani arrived at our table, my appetite magically reappeared.
The last time I ate biryani, it was at Udita's aunt and uncle's gorgeous house in Bangalore, and it was like no other biryani I'd ever tried: homemade, perfectly seasoned, and just ... fresh. The Lucknow style chicken biryani at Cinnamon Bazaar was exactly like this homecooked biryani I enjoyed in India. Even Udita gave her nod of approval across from me, citing the fried onions on top as a sign of "the real deal".
I knew we were in for a treat when dessert was announced: carrot halwa roll with clove ice cream. The outer pastry was so thin, it resembled (and tasted quite similar to) an egg roll. The crunchiness of this shell, when paired with the softness of the sweet carrot and intoxicating clove ice cream, made it a moreish after-dinner treat. I'm eager to try the other desserts on the menu, however, given that I was addicted to Indian sweets by the time we left Bangalore. In particular, the kulfi is calling my name, especially as we almost always order it at Cinnamon Kitchen.
Have you been to any of Chef Vivek Singh's Cinnamon restaurants? Which one's your favorite? If you live in London, or if you're just visiting, I'd highly recommend stopping by Cinnamon Bazaar.
Thank you to Cinnamon Bazaar and Roche Communications for being such generous hosts! All opinions are my own. Cinnamon Bazaar, 28 Maiden Lane, London, WC2E 7JS.