Opening their first, and so far only, restaurant outside of London on the roof terrace of the Westgate, Cinnamon Kitchen promised an exciting, contemporary menu from executive chef, Vivek Singh. We visited for their launch night but found it so crowded of Oxford’s great and good that we eventually decamped to Pizza Pilgrims for dinner instead of elbowing our way through to the canapes. The few bites we did get to try had us vowing to return once the dust had settled and we finally managed to schedule that for last week.
The restaurant itself is cool and stylish, with several different dining areas. There’s a long bench area which is great for groups, some more intimate tables, a private dining area, chef’s table allowing you to witness the action, bar seating and an outside courtyard with views of Oxford’s spires.
Visiting at lunchtime meant we were able to take advantage of the set lunch offer of two courses for £18 or three for £21. At first glance, the menu didn’t exactly inspire with just three choices for each course and we both agreed there was more dishes in the small plates section that were more appealing. However, we’d gone in for the set lunch and so that was what we focused on.
Starters offered a vegetarian option of raj kachuri, a mung bean and fenugreek filled pastry or two meat dishes. We decided on the achari lamb fillet on a spinach roti with anchovy chutney. The self confessed anchovy lover was impressed by the traditional pairing of lamb and anchovy, with the chutney a good foil to the sweet and tender pinkness of the lamb.
I went for the gluten free grilled chicken skewer drizzled with labna, a slightly sour yoghurty cream cheese and scattered with rose petals, pomegranate seeds and buckwheat. The chicken was exceptionally moist with a smoky coat and the contrasting textures of pomegranate and buckwheat worked very well in making the dish another level. There was also a hidden dollop of a coriander based green sauce, which was lovely and had me scraping the plate clean.
Next up came a garlic naan, £3.50 with a trio of dhal – yellow lentil, black lentil and chickpeas for two to share £6.50. The naan was light and absolutely perfect, far removed from the huge, thick and doughy slabs you get in most Indian restaurants. I would happily go back just for an unending supply of this naan. The wooden bowl it arrived in fascinated us as we tried to work out its folding mechanism!
Onto the mains where this was also a choice of three dishes. The old Delhi style butter chicken didn’t appeal on that day but I would go back to try it. Instead I selected the vegetarian Tandoori Trio – paneer tikka, achari cauliflower and padron peppers. It was actually a lot more than the trio as the plate had roasted onions, broccoli and peppers as well. The cauliflower had been roasted with traditional Indian spices, including fenugreek, cumin and mustard seeds being the dominant flavours to the sweet, smoky vegetable. Padron peppers can be something or nothing depending on the luck of the draw so I was glad to have the additional peppers as well.
This was my first time trying paneer and it was good. A cross between a cheese like halloumi and tofu, it had a solid but soft texture which took on the flavours of the tandoor really well, especially when dunked in the creamy tikka sauce.
Given that most of my Indian dining experiences have taken place on various High Streets, I was slightly surprised at the lack of rice but after finishing this dish, I was relieved there wasn’t any addtional sides. I am guilty, as I suspect many of you are too, of having poppadums and chutneys before even a starter, usually with a side salad, then a main dish with rice and a naan. then wondering why I eat too much and have to be rolled home with a doggy bag.
Cinnamon Kitchen focus on giving you a substantial, well balanced plate of food where you enjoy the varied flavours and textures and leave feeling pleasantly sated. Had there been rice too, it would have been too much.
On the other side of the table was kedgeree, also gluten free. A mound of quite intensely spiced rice with perfectly flaked smoked haddock and egg was again more filling than you’d expect.
After this we could barely handle dessert but our waiter suggested we try a sample of two of their dishes and so we had a dish of mango and cardamom kulfi with a mango salad and a chocolate slice. This was light and refreshing but the standout for us was the carrot halwa treacle tart with thandai sorbet.
A quick Google search tells me that carrot halwa is a traditional dish, usually made by sauteeing carrots in ghee until soft then boiled in evaporated milk until a puree consistency. The version here takes the traditional dish and merges it with an English favourite, treacle tart, by adding it to a pastry case with selected fruits and nuts. The thandai sorbet we had to ask what it was as we couldn’t identify the fragrant, sweet flavour. Thandai is actually a drink made of almonds, fennel seeds, watermelon seeds, rose petals, pepper, vetiver seeds, cardamon, saffron, milk and sugar which they then freeze into sorbet.
So many flavours on this plate and it worked beautifully. I’m not usually a dessert person but this was an excellent end to a very good meal.
This is definitely upmarket dining, but there are some great deals available.The lunchtime offer is perfect for a business meeting or a ladies who lunch affair and if you can, have a glass of pomegranate fizz! I’ll definitely be returning, either for the cheese and tandoori chicken toasted sandwich or to work my way through the full menu.
We dined as guests of Cinnamon Kitchen, but all views are our own.