Cinnamon Soho - Vivek Singh's third Indian restaurant in London- has eschewed fine dining for a more casual approach. James Stagg reports
Having taken Indian cuisine to new grandiose levels at the Cinnamon Club in 2001, executive chef Vivek Singh followed the long lunch formula with Cinnamon Kitchen in 2009 in the City, catering for the same business crowd.
Now the chef has loosened his tie to cater for London's more casual diners with Cinnamon Soho. The restaurant is a departure from the fine dining that has delighted the politicians and public servants of Westminster, with an accessible approach designed to appeal to a younger target market.
"All the dishes are a reflection of the environment that they're in," Singh says. "Soho has this footfall and traffic throughout the day. It runs seamlessly through lunch to dinner so we have an all-day selection of easy, simple and accessible dishes."
Head chef Ramachandran Raju and his six strong brigade prepare Indian dishes with more than a nod to British influences. The all-day menu is split into small plates, large plates, mains, a selection of kichri and pies, sides and desserts.
"The idea is you can eat something any time of the day and almost have a one-dish lunch for £5, or a couple of small plates and a drink and walk out with change from £10," Singh explains.
Among the small plates, Naanza (£4.80), an Indian spiced pizza of curried paneer crumble with cheddar, spiced with onion, peppers, chillies, and finished with tamarind chutney, has proved popular, as has the burnt chilli chicken (£4.80), described as an Indo-Chinese stir fry.
The large plates include a number of British favourites with an Indian twist, including tandoori salmon with green pea relish (£5.50), and curried cullen skink (£5.50), a Scottish staple spiked with Indian spice. But the Bheja fry lamb brains in mince curry have been the biggest hit. Instead of simmering the brains in mince, as is traditional, here they are fried so as to be more appealing to British palates.
"We've taken the same flavour and made a play of textures by curing the brains in a marinade of ginger and garlic paste, turmeric, fennel seeds and coriander stem and lots of lemon juice," Singh says.
"We then wrap it in a Japanese breadcrumb coating with garlic and coriander chutney and fry it before serving with the lamb mince and some kachumber made from carrots, cucumber and onion spiked with capers. The saltiness of the capers cuts through the creaminess of the brain."
Among the mains, the vindaloo of ox cheek (£15.50) gets plenty of interest, cooked in a traditional sauce that is made more sticky and gelatinous by the presence of the ox cheek. Meanwhile, the smoked saddle of Cumbrian lamb (£17) is surrounded by a crust of masala cashew nut for extra richness and coupled with a sauce of slow-cooked onions, tomato and garam masala.
The wine list isn't as extensive as the Cinnamon Club but there are still about 50 to choose from. "Wines are doing well, as they always do," Singh says. "But what I'm finding interesting in Soho is the amount of cocktails. It's a sign of people having a good time."
5 Kingly Street, London W1B 5PF
0207 437 1664
Sample dishes from the menu
Green pea kachori fritter £3.80
Haleem with saffron pao £4.80
Cumin and coriander-crusted mushrooms on toast £5.50
Coorg pork stir fry £6
Tandoori king prawns, Alleppey curry sauce £17
Lucknow-style Black Leg chicken biryani £14
Roganjosh shepherd's pie £12
Mango and cardamom brûlée £4.75
Chocolate and cumin cake, pistachio ice-cream £5.50