Thursday, 25 August 2011

[Restaurant - Modern Indian] Aacha!; Cinnamon Club of Westminster

Location - Westminster, London [UK]

Influences. Objects, occurrences, people, vegetable, minerals, pamplemousse, all with the ability to move and create intent in an individual. Seemingly lately also, my downfall, as the merest whiff of an influence is enough to get me convinced/concede on impositions of any type. I am obviously proud of my willflower. Yet again this time, I was drawn in by the mellifluously-type sweet nothings on a menu, and some rather enticing, beautifully taken, almost edible pictures posted of the eatery's creations from bloggers. Damn them and their knowledge of my weakness. With the crux of this latest display of backbone desertion stipulated, the feeble justifications shall follow.

I had been meaning to dine at the Cinnamon Club for a while, but most recently, and perhaps the ultimate culprit for the eventual dinner, was a recent "Specials" Menu. The restaurant seems to do a monthly theme, and the sheer innovation and "the hell is that?!" 'ness of their "Mango Madness" menu really did much to waken the beast of incessant needs. My stomach really approved. However, trying to fit this restaurant in to our schedule of exploration, when there are such a myriad of choices to get our greeds over relegated it to an upcoming date. Then I witnessed the latest of special menus. It had to be consumed. The more deliberation that transpired, the more I needed to sample Cinnamon Clubs' offerings. DONE. It is happening. What was on the menu? Bah, of little importance, it is to be. And on the day I had envisioned this taking place, I was deserted by my eating partner on the tail of next day flight plans. This would not stop me, and he was duly replaced.

Another motivation, if any were required, was that I have further never sampled a decent, nay, above substandard Indian eatery in the UK, ever, having made do with the abominations known as take-outs or Pub-fare atrocities, obviously not by choice. This being frankly an insult to my 1/8th Indian heritage. I was however slightly troubled by the notion of "Haute" Indian cuisine, as the bold, loud flavours inherent in such would seem contradictory to the refinement and delicacy of a modern, haute setting. I also very much require my food to be significantly spiced, particularly of the Indian variety, a factor I feared haute cuisine may dull for the sake of decorum of the eater, as I would not think a face engulfed by flames is very becoming. I like hot food. This decision as well was not taken lightly, as I was aware it would take place after a long day of shopping, gorging at the shopping location, and trudging through the perpetual wretched bane of my existence that is the M25. Forgetting for a moment the financial strain of the aforementioned. Though in saying that, a day of financial excess may as well be ended with more financial strain. MOAR!

With this in mind, the plan was set. Afternoon Tea in Oxford concluded, arrived in London in good timing amidst uncharacteristically benevolent traffic. Parking of my car a good distance away to allow for a 40 minute skipping to my loo to further my blissful naive notion of dousing the calorific annihilation of the day/forthcoming, and it was time to feast.

~ Starter ~
- Amuse Bouche

First to arrive at the table, we started off with this amuse bouche - it was not amusing, but really rather quaint. As per usual I did not pay much attention to what was described, though not by dint of being sabotaged by a ruthless aperitif, I think it had some combination of potato. Something else may have been included. Biting in and. Still quaint. Essentially a croquette of sorts, which even the blind amongst you can quite obviously ascertain, I am not sure what it contained other than there were a variety of textures, but it melded well with the mellow cream sauce. The sauce itself had a light hint of fenugreek. Not much else to recount. Enough of the teasing, I need food.

- Seafood Soup with Melon & Rice Wine

Awaiting something extravagant, the first of the courses were presented to us. It certainly did not leave too much to the imagination, essentially comprising of 4 or so visible ingredients, with the broth being poured in separately, much to the impressing of my friend. Sampling the ingredients separately bolstered that staid image. The soup was rather meek, quiet in flavour, strength or much else, providing if anything though just a savoury note. Likewise was to be found in the morsels of the seafood, having been simply boiled and rather amazingly, tasting as such. Hmph. 

The melon on its own, rather enigmatically also tasted of melon, though warm in this example. Combining everything together though rather improved the forecast of this turbid outlook. The savoury and slightly salty note from the soup itself blended well with the sweetness of the melon, which itself brought out some flavour out of the seafood. It made for a compelling mixture of flavours, but ultimately was rather light-hearted and not particularly distinct. Not that I was expecting to be romanced by the inclusion of "rice wine" in the heading, hoping to be swayed off my feet by my Prince in shining Sake. I realise that rather puts my sexuality in question. Sake seems to have that effect of surreal movement on me. The soup however lacked any noteworthy or exalting flavours, perhaps suiting best as a pallet cleanser. Except nothing has thus far been consumed to warrant that. NEXT.

- Coriander Cruster King Prawn with Shrimp Stuffed Lychee

Receiving the second of the starters, I was getting a bit preoccupied with the portions. Granted I've been gorging like a black hole of late, and should be contented considering there were yet three more courses. Observing my friends' conscious coma, I was made aware that he was certainly approving. Starting with the shrimp stuffed lychee, or rather, a higher class breaded popper, I was too pleasantly surprised. First off, where does the idea come from stuffing a miniscule lychee fruit?! I would have thought it would be the opposite to be true, not that shrimp have much body to stuff - well, certainly not the ones found here. Again the wonders of sweet and salty combinations reared their head, with the lightly sweet and slightly floral lychee flesh combining with a slightly sweet, creamy shrimp infused savoury sauce, or bisque. It was not explicit in its flavouring, but quite lovely and delicate, despite being a popper. 

Moving straight on to the King Prawn, I was immediately put into the context of my friends' "o-face". This, was rather quite splendid. The most obviously spiced of the dishes yet. Quite obviously also tasting of coriander. A lovely combination of spices with the perfectly cooked prawn also worked well with the sweet and slightly tart sauce underneath, which allowed the spice to accentuate the sweetness. There were many facets to the combination of flavours, and being so copiously spiced made every bite rather enticing, compared to the monotone soup previously. The salad was also nice. 

~ Main Course ~
- Baked Skate Wing with Onion "Sambal", Green Apple & Lentil Sauce

The next dish arrived in a peculiar plate that seemed like an upturned sombrero, providing much more plate than food. This was a dish that was a bit different and a bit of a shame - seemingly verging off into diverse fish species to give respite to the endangered ones being "Fish 'n' Chip'd" to death, it would seem skate is a burgeoning species of the plate, or at least to me. The shame in being that they generally don't do anything when I see them in the Red Sea [well, stingrays, same thing], occasionally teasing and annoying them when I'm bored. Anyway, it is now food, so it was too slow. Not knowing what to expect, I started with the "sambal", which, obviously blissfully ignorant, looked to just be some finely cubed carrots, cucumbers and other assorted vegetables. So it was, with a rather predominant presence of ginger. Especially so. Exclusively so. 

Progressing onto the rollerskate, I was rather confounded with what I found. An awkward bone structure that looked like a harp, and some oddly textured flesh, which was similar to overcooked fish, in that in was that kind of soft and flaky composition. It tasted rather like fish, a startling discovery I know. Otherwise, there were no real surprises. Combined with the "sambal", it was more of the same, just punctuated by quite a lot of ginger. Copious amounts of ginger. Perpetual ginger. As well as the crunch of the other myriad vegetables, fruit, forest creatures and so on. I did not really take notice of the lentil sauce either; perhaps there was an added earthiness that helped subside the ginger overload of the "sambal" to a minimal extent, but otherwise, it was a background note. 

- Steamed Red Snapper with Black Chickpea & Coconut Relish

All thoughts of being left hungry were soon abolished when this monstrosity landed in front us, immediately posing as the antithesis of the previous dish, its mass having seemingly created a crater in the plate. I was obviously eating my subconscious words from before, and they tasted like fish. This was a rather epic portion of Sea Bream, or Red Snapper, I cannot remember now as the menu said one, and the waiter the other. So again, I attack the different constituents of the dish before plummeting my face into the plate. Whilst coconut is ambrosia and thus lifts anything with its inclusion to divine status automatically, the relish only had a hint of coconut, making it rather light and delicate rather than dear god rich and decadent. A slight earthiness was also imparted by the chickpea, but on the whole it was rather gentle. The fish itself, as much as can be expected from steaming, was rather bland. However, what did stick out was just how clean the fish tasted, which I would believe would indicate the freshness of the fish. It was cooked well, and had a noticeable lack of fish aroma, which lent to a very hearty fish. 

This lent itself well when combined with the relish, with its light influences not overwhelming the fish and vice versa, complimenting each other in splendid unison. However, light, delicate, bland, lack of aromas. These are hardly words to describe a collection of face exploding awesomeness. It was enjoyable for its lack of drama, but also seriously unexciting. For its lack of drama. Super cereal. Though it did throw a surprise. A sneaky bundle of noodles hid underneath the slab of fish! Damn those carbohydrates. I did not need to eat them, no, but..well. No buts. They got eaten. 

~ Dessert ~
- Banana Porridge with Sweet Potato Doughnut

Now dinner begins. It was obviously this dish that drew me to this specific menu in the first place, the mention of a doughnut, made out of sweet potato, sending my incessant desire to devour to rather elevated levels. The banana porridge and anything else was just a distraction. And whilst disappointed in not receiving an inner tube sized example of such with the plate, I was rather delighted at the presentation. Especially of the peculiar yellow strand sprouting from the Banana porridge. It would seem in the usual pretense of creating visual drama in such establishments, that the chefs had gone through the trouble of roasting a banana "vein" just for the sake of creating a centrepiece. I was sold. Gravitating straight towards the Banana Porridge first, I was rather surprised by a lack of. Porridge. It was a rather milky mush with a slight hint of banana, very slight, crunching with what I thought were cashew nuts sprinkled on top. It was very lightly flavoured and did not immediately make sense, so tried the little unmentioned compote being indicated by the slide of banana vein. My usually perpetually talkative friend was actually at loss for words for trying the compote, anything with that power must be something special. It was. I think composed primarily of banana and ginger, it was rather explosive, sending shards of awesome everywhere. Everything the compote was paired with, at once gathered meaning and depth. Combined with the banana porridge, suddenly brought out the banana flavour and spiced the concoction to a delightful extent. 

Much was the same with the sweet potato doughnut - being rather infuriatingly hard to section when being provided with fork and spoon, it was rather pale in isolation. Before I broke down in tears, I tried the compote of destiny with a little section of the doughnut, and immediately it was transformed. Obviously the compote also contained cinnamon as this hint became rather evident when combined with the doughnut, bringing retribution to its initial disappointment. The surprises did not end there though! Beyond the great combination of the Tokaji wine, in particular with the Banana Porridge, the Roasted Banana vein/slide/string was also rather delectable! Another one of those dishes that was greater as a sum of its parts.

- Espresso & Petit Fours
Rather surprisingly, the espresso also came with its selection of Petit Fours, which included the smallest and most darling [yeah that's right, DARLING] little Macaron ever, no bigger than a marble. Which was consumed by my friend. The heathen. What I did have however was a jellied peach or apricot candy, which was rather enjoyable, with a persistent and natural tasting flavouring, and a likeable soft texture. I also had one of the minute chocolate balls, which was rather deceiving. Despite being almost invisible to the naked eye, in the mouth it soon became a creamy torrent of extravagantly decadent chocolate. It persisted. And persisted some more. Was it a tardis of chocolate?! It was a moment that seemingly did not want to end. I approved. It was wonderful. And tarted up the otherwise clean and uneventful espresso ^_^.

~ Drinks ~
Hegyalja: Tokaji Aszú, 5 Puttonyos [2002]

Ever adding to my extensive repertoire of null, a dessert wine was chosen, naturally to suit the main course of the meal. Not knowing much beyond Sauternes, Moscato and Passito wines however, I left the choice to the waitress, who had selected a Tokaji Aszu wine. Not Essencia, but inching my way closer. Well. I'll need to afford it first, but at least I have an inkling of what to expect. Or perhaps not, considering the extraordinary excess that is Essencia. In comparison, this glass was delightful, but rather light hearted. Slight honey notes, and similar to a Sauternes in many ways, but perhaps with less prominence of fruit, like peach if I can remember. It was rather elegant however, with a clean finish that did not give way to alcoholic haze like in some cheaper wines, but light of body. It combined rather well with the dessert, as suggested by the waitress, and in particular with the banana porridge, being rather light in effect like the porridge and thus supporting its flavour with gentle sweetening rather than pummelling it with its own. 


And so drew the end to day of extravagance, excesses, indulgences. Expectations were raised, indulgences were had, money was spent, more money was spent. More money again. And then some more. The dinner at Cinnamon Club serving to top the events with a final indulgence, fulfilling my need to dine here, but also leaving me with some questions unanswered. The dinner, in its presentation, and composition was generally splendid. I do not usually place too much importance on neurotically intricate aesthetic values of food nor the procedures or etiquettes of serving, as they are not quantifiable items that can be eaten and thus satiate me. However, they were pleasing in this case, serving to draw a certain atmosphere. The execution of the dishes were generally well done, but ultimately meek. The flavours were simple, clean, inoffensive, bland, boring, and other perhaps slightly unflattering descriptives, with only a couple offering some aural titillations [teehee]. What  all dishes did provide though were well thought out combinations, with each case working better as a combination of its constituents rather than as the single entities in the plate. Ultimately however, what notion I had of experiencing a new take on Indian Cuisine was only in influence. A hint of a spice, or a method of cooking or a certain combination, drew the mind to a certain connection, but it certainly was not defiantly of the nationality. 

Granted, the menu was an Indo-Malaysian special, myself having neither experienced variation of a theme of the one, and much of anything of the other. Most importantly, generally not having a clue or knowing any better with regards to authenticity, in my bright-eyed newbie state of current. However, what I do recognise is the innovative use of ingredients - the typical combination of sweet and salty being rather epic as always in particular, and just the general scope of the other combinations. This and more, is easily enough to push me for a repeat experience. As a brief reading of the special Diwali event has already spurred me into. So, a pleasurable draw to the theme of the day's excesses, chosen over a free home meal. Well. Had I been allowed to pay naturally. 

No idea why I'm being spoilt so much recently, beyond being the perpetual bum, but I cannot complain. I gladly skipped the 40 minutes to the loo back to my car to burn away those calories in excess.

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