After numerous cosmetic delays, The Cinnamon Club opened almost a year ago a short distance from the diorama of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, in the Grade II listed building that previously housed the old Westminster Library. Inside vestiges of the library remain in galleried bookshelves running round the upper part of the main restaurant, though closer inspection reveals a good many leather bound Reader’s Digest condensed anthologies which I assume did not come from the original catalogue. I have a fondness for the earnest hush of libraries, having spent many of my formative years running one whilst staring out of the window dreaming of other things, most of which were twenty three and male. However, there’s as little sexual frisson in the Cinnamon club as there is good reading material. Despite the dosh spent on the renovations, it’s one of those handsome, pared-down, over designed, under-decorated spaces with gloomy lighting, lofty ceilings, too much air, and not enough atmosphere. The food is very upmarket Indian with ambitions to rival the Michelin starred fare of fellow smart Indian restaurants Tamarind and Zaika, but hasn’t quite pulled it off. Yet. Innovative chef Vivek Singh offers dishes such as Sandalwood flavoured chicken breast,
Sweet potato cake with crispy okra and spiced yoghurt or
Hyderabadi style biryani of goat. Otherwise, everything from barramundi to squab is gven the tandoori treatment – even eel, served here with tamarind potatoes. Mmm just the dish to send me screaming from the building. Consultant chef, Eric Chavot, from the 2 Michelin starred Capital Hotel has also added, somewhat bizarrely, a few classic French dishes for those peculiar enough to go to an Indian restaurant and not eat Indian food. Go figure.
Although the surroundings are more formal than fornicatory, four of us (married people do it in pairs) went along to sample their current Valentine’s Day promotion of a special his and hers menu. This features two exotic, purportedly aphrodisiac ingredients, especially flown in from far-flung places to inflame the moribund passions of fat-walleted Londoners. Lots of the spices traditionally used in Indian cuisine are supposedly aphrodisiac – mostly due to their warming and dilatory qualities, though nothing in my book (Aphrodisiacs £9.99 all good bookshops) beats a Jensen watch (the Mr’s Christmas present) a basin of caviar and a crate of Cristal, all served up in the hall of gratuitous flattery.
We started with a nondescript chickpea cake, of such woeful dullness that it made us long for poppadoms, which have been banished from all trendy, top-notch Indian restaurants. We could have done with them. Our food took so long to arrive it was like waiting for Viagra to kick in. According to popular literature, anyway.
Next up for the ladies was a chunky beetroot cake with a grainy texture, flavoured with cinnamon and served with sublime, pea-pod fresh asparagus spears. Though not wishing to draw too many gender stereotypes, it was an oddly butch thing to serve to the women while leaving the men to mince around with a poncey masterpiece of delicacy - a dish of morels stuffed with creamy cardamom flavoured spinach. They’ll be giving them their own range of make-up next. To follow, however, we very definitely got the girlie plate - a pale, milky breast of guinea fowl with a too sweet, mild as fairy liquid sauce. It was just a tad too effete for my taste, even with the addition of Himalayan ‘asphalt mineral’ ‘shalajit’; which in Sanskrit means ‘destroyer of weakness’ and is supposed to make women hot and steamy, if not the food. As destroyers of weakness go, I’ve found a withering look can work wonders. The chaps had lamb shank in a rich, spicy rogan josh sauce, which may or may not have benefited from the inclusion of the libidinous ingredient Kashmiri tree bark -‘ratan jyot’ but the flavour was intense and unashamedly robust.
Dessert was a stodgy date paste – somewhat like Christmas pud wrapped in a tough carapace of thin pastry for the women, served with a saffron sauce. The men got the absolutely sumptuous, worth going back for, chocolate mousse, spiked with cinnamon and a perky star anise ice cream. Now, who in their right mind would serve chocolate to the blokes when there are two women at the table, and call it an aphrodisiac? Especially given said blokes’ unwillingness to swap puddings, or even to share. My Mr. grudgingly left me one meagre spoonful at the bottom of his bowl, which went no way to inflaming anything but my passionate displeasure. My friend’s husband Robin Robertson, the poet, was no more generous. He once wrote about eating an artichoke during their first meal together with such eroticism that, frankly, if you want an aphrodisiac you should merely print up the poem and leave it on the plate. But if you can’t write poetry you could at the very least, please/italics/, pass over the chocolate.