To be frank, I don’t often don a dress and heels for dinner. If you’re dressed up to the nines dining kerbside from a streetfood stall or scattering sequins into your bowl of Bangladeshi brains, you tend to get some funny looks.
But a call from Curry For Change finds me fine dining somewhere smarter. I still get funny looks, only those I receive this evening are in response to me juggling with jelly shoes and stilettos as I strap on the latter in a Westminster doorway. A couple of doors down, this unwitting clown finds herself in The Cinnamon Club with her (almost) suited and booted Incredible Spice Dad.
We’re immediately outdone by the foxy femmes on the front desk and the slickly-attired waitstaff, but hey, at least we tried. The primary purpose of our visit is to try the dish The Cinnamon Club has put forward for Find your Feet’s Curry For Change campaign, with £1 from each portion going to the cause.
It’s evidently proving an effective marketing tool, because we’re immediately informed it’s sold out. Oh. No matter, though – squid is the substitution and manager Hari tells us that this chilli-ed cephalopod is selling swimmingly. Apt, then, that The Incredible Spice Dad selects something with a seafaring sound to sip whilst we await the first of our fare – a Blackbeard Crusta.
The Cinnamon Club is old school – well, actually, it’s an old library if you want to get technical. There are almost as many waiters waiting as diners dining; when you leave for the loo your napkin is refolded to hide the stains uncouth digits have left on the linen and your water glass is always more than half-full.
In accordance with that style of service, the drinks list misses the missus who craves a cocktail and lands in the hands of the man at the table. But it soon makes its way to the right recipient, and a refreshing Fresca follows suit. Following a birthday blowout I’m more than mindful of the mantra, ‘one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, FLOOR’, so, despite an instinct to the contrary, I slow my sipping.
Besides, a nice little nibble has landed – a cocktail stick spearing a breaded spiced veggie sphere with a smear of mint yogurt. A bite of the cherry-sized ball of Bengal amuses my bouche; the haunting flavour of panch phoron – the Eastern state’s signature spice mix – never fails to make me smile.
A galouti kebab starter bears its very own happy expression, the plate graced with a grin of green chutney. The Moghul meat patties smell like the best biryani, that aroma arising from the kewra water that so many royal dishes are redolent with. Were I a toothness Nawab no doubt I’d give a gappy grin, although I don’t know how I’d tackle the honey-glazed rye bread beneath.
Or chomp on the chilli squid, for that matter. It’s probably our fault for lingering over the lamb, but we take a while to properly chew through a few of the rings. The smoky chilli oil adds earth and fire, but a little lift from coriander, curry leaves, or the two together could elevate the dish from enjoyably edible to excellent.
But then some scallops are set down. It seems chef Raju has managed to rustle some up from somewhere so we can complete our Curry for Change mission. The seared specimens sit atop a grated cauliflower ‘cous cous’ whose sour-salty sumac flavour is balanced with a sticky-sweet apple chutney.
That jam-like condiment belies Vivek Singh’s Bengal birth-state just like the amuse bouche we began with – as does the main course prawn malai on the menu. It truly tempts, but my malai has to be Asma Khan’s. So we go to Goa with a vindalho; Kerala with a fish dish and Rajasthan with rare desert beans.
We’ve also ordered a rarely-seen side of masala chicken livers and peas. I’m awfully pleased to see offal on the menu, although the big bowl of beautifully-cooked innards seems more suited to single-person stomach-filling supper than an add-on to a dinner-a-deux.
The saucy Goan-Portuguese vindalho has fire AND flavour, just as it should; although I’d personally prefer the pork pieces to be less lean – the addition of melting bits of belly meat would have make my mouth water as the gravy got it aflame with its pleasant piquancy.
The stew is served alongside a stack; spiced fondant potato, wilted spinach, and Iberico pork presa. We’re less impressed by the sprinkling of muri (puffed rice) that crowns the curry devoid of its signature snap, crackle and pop; made sad and sodden by the sauce.
The verdant green mango and coriander concoction saucing our char-grilled fish is far livelier and very lovely – and comes in a quantity as generous as the hunk of halibut it accompanies. Stripping the thing of its skin before sitting it on that ace paste would make it the plate greater, but the combination of green sauce, flaky fish and Southern-style lemon rice sits well with me.
They might only have side dish status, but those Sanghri beans are standout. These Rajasthani desert delicacies are seldom-seen-beans in the UK; strange, stringy, and splendid-tasting, especially cooked in a thick rich gravy like tonight’s. The plate is scraped and I’d happily have another helping.
But a dinner without dessert is a dinner only half eaten, so it’s onto sweets. And why have one when you could sample all Morsingh Jakhi’s puddings on a single plate? Or platter, for that matter – this baby’s big. It’s also clearly created by a chef whose savour for sweet tastes is inimitably Indian.
Much like a tranche of traditional mithai, this little lot will send your blood sugar levels stratospheric. I am unashamedly a Pudding Person and could happily and single-handedly polish off the biggest box of Diwali delights, but even I opine that these super-sweet treats would be more delicious with the judicious addition of something sharp or a bit bitter.
Don’t get me wrong, I get stuck right in with gusto – after all, creamy kheer, sticky toffee sponge, chocolate mousse, lemon tart, ice cream and pannacotta are all calling and it’d be rude not to respond. Much to my shock, I won’t need to call into the chipshop on the way home – for the first time, fine dining has succeeded in satisfying my stomach.
Far less satisfying is the fact that 1 in 8 people go to bed each day with their stomachs unsatisfied, having no hope of dining finely or otherwise. Find Your Feet’s Curry For Change campaign aims to change that, and The Cinnamon Club is supporting the cause throughout June. So go, dine well, and be satisfied that in doing so you’re helping someone else do just the same.
- The Cinnamon Club, The Old Westminster Library, Great Smith St, SW1P 3BU
- To learn more about Find Your Feet and the Curry For Change campaign, click here.
- To read about some great Curry For Change supporters, click here.
- For a recipe you can cook to support Curry For Change, click here.