I’ve been a fan of the Cinnamons for a long time. I was taken to Cinnamon Club first by a friend about 15 years ago. Even though he’d raved about how wonderful and special it was, I was still completely awed by it. Here was Indian cooking as I’d never experienced it before. This was incomparable to popping down to your local Indian on a Saturday night. This was fine dining and the food was exquisite.
Indian dining has come a long way in the years since and there are other excellent modern Indian restaurants, including a great local in Twickenham – Tangawizi – which is even in Michelin. I hadn’t been to the ‘Club’ or ‘Cinnamon Kitchen‘ – which became a favourite – for some time but kept passing Cinnamon Bazaar in Covent Garden and thinking I must try it. So when Annie and I were last discussing where to eat when we next met up, I suddenly remembered the ‘Bazaar’ and suggested we went there. Fifteen years on from my first ‘Cinnamon’ experience, would it still be special? Would it still stand above other Indian restaurants?
Situated a few doors down from Rules (London’s oldest and most famous British restaurant) in Maiden Lane, Cinnamon Bazaar offers something very different to ‘traditional’. Indeed it’s a lot less ‘traditional’ than the slightly stuffy Cinnamon Club and sophisticated Cinnamon Kitchen. The clue is in its name: bazaar. It aims, it says on its website, to mix ‘real Indian heritage with urban London’ and give you a dining experience that ’embraces the democratic spirit of a bazaar’. It’s an all-day place for a snack, lunch, dinner, or a drink and some chaats (small plates) with friends.
The exterior is colourful (top photo) and you enter through some beautifully painted double doors.
We were seated on the first floor (which did require climbing a very steep flight of stairs). Our waiter assured us it was the nicest place to sit; quieter and calmer than the bar area on the ground floor. It was certainly attractive in a relaxed, almost café style and the decoration did indeed speak of an Indian bazaar with colourful silk ceiling hangings and strings of lights. I liked it a lot. It felt a great place to relax and this was helped not only by my good friend’s company, but the friendly service.
We were there for the Set Dinner (available Mon-Sun 5.30-6.30pm and after 9pm). Two courses at £21; 3 at £24 and including a Cinnamon Bellini. I have to tell you that you absolutely cannot go to a Cinnamon without having one of their fabulous Bellinis!
There were 4 starters, 4 main courses and 4 desserts to choose from. All the mains included a side of House Black Dal.
Annie began with Crab & Beetroot Bonda – Calcutta spiced crab and beetroot, chickpea batter. They were delicious – she gave me a taste!
I chose Dhokla Chaat – Steamed chickpea cake with spiced yoghurt and coriander chutney.
It looked so pretty as it was put before me and tasted wonderful – such a gorgeous combination of flavours and textures from soft chickpea cake to crunchy pomegranate seeds.
For her main, Annie had Methi Murg – Chicken Leg Curry with Fresh Fenugreek. She said it was very good and offered me a taste, but as I was eating a fish curry I decided against it.
My fish curry – Malabar Boatman’s Cobia Fish Curry – was fabulous. It was also very hot, maybe too hot for some, though fortunately OK for me. But this is just meant as a warning to check if you don’t like your curries too hot.
There was a delicious and generous dish of dal. I’d ordered some naan which I used to soak some of this up.
And a rice side came with my curry.
There was a good selection of wine by the glass and I had a glass of white. Neither of us wanted dessert; the portions had been quite generous and we commented on that as a plus point, for early evening set menus too often serve up measly little portions. We both had coffee to finish. By now – almost 2 hours since we’d arrived – it was busy and the noise level was inevitably rising but there was a good, vibrant atmosphere; it was a fun place to be. There was no sense of being rushed and throughout the meal our waiter checked whether we were ready, firstly to begin after our Bellinis, then whether we wanted a gap before the main. This really is excellent service given how too many London restaurants are wanting to rush you through a meal nowadays and even demand tables back after an hour and a half.
And the food? Was the Cinnamon’s cooking as special as I’d remembered finding it all those years ago? Was chef Vivek Singh still serving something truly special in his restaurants? We thought, Yes. Most definitely. The meal was really great; we loved it. And I also loved the relaxed, informal ambience. So I’m planning to go back very soon!