Cinnamon Kitchen, Nine Elms

As a south Londoner, I welcome with enthusiasm news of my favourite restaurants opening south of the Thames. That was the case with Cinnamon Kitchen by Vivek Singh, which has now taken root in the (still very much) developing Nine Elms.  Although the site offers, in my opinion, a view of one of the best bridges in London (Chelsea Bridge), occupies the site of the very iconic Power Stations and is located next to London’s best green space (Battersea Park), Nine Elms still remains a no-man’s land.  Yes, Battersea is (somewhat) out-of-reach, but I don’t understand why Londoners don’t make the effort to traverse there.  It’s no wonder that the Cinnamon Kitchen seem to be running a never-ending 2 for 1 offer in order to entice people to this spot just south of the river.  Having wanted to check it out for a long while now, my sister’s birthday offered the perfect opportunity, especially given its proximity to her from nearby Pimlico.

Like its surroundings, Cinnamon Kitchen’s setting oozes contemporary elegance.  Set in an exposed brick-arch, its industrial and edgy look totally contrasts with the more classically styled other Cinnamon Groups restaurants, especially its smart Westminster offshoot.  The restaurant’s utilitarian design, with its bare walls, copper tones, dark wood and uninterrupted space, pays homage to the railways overhead.  All make the perfect backdrop to enjoy the large open kitchen at the back.  Space wise I really love it.  And the constant rumbling of trains passing adds to the charm (à la Bermondsey’s Maltby Street).

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To match its setting, the concept behind Singh’s food here is “modern Indian”, using “innovative techniques’.  I have mixed feelings about modern Indian cuisine: dishes can be so “modernised” and transformed to the point where it no longer feels like Indian food at all. What I love most about authentic Indian food is that it’s no nonsense: unapologetically packed with spices and always comforting.  The menu offerings at Cinnamon Kitchen are wide: as well as the a la carte, there’s a tasting menu (including a vegan one), express lunches and all-day dining.  Given that their 2 for 1 is only valid on a la carte, we went for that.

Although the Cinnamon Kitchen isn’t really fine dining, we were delighted to be presented with complimentary amuse bouche from the chef in the form of the Gujarati steamed chickpea cake, Dhokla.  Garnished with a tamarind and a coriander chutney, this was a wonderful sweet-spicy opener for the food to follow.  A bright yellow bite, its gentle sweetness, offset by the spicy kick of the chutney atop, leaves you wanting more.

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Onto the menu proper, we requested a few dishes to share from each section.  For starters, we went for the Railway Style Vegetable Cake (£7), Bombay Street Food (£8.50) and the Pink Aubergine (£7.50).

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On the first, I didn’t know what to expect but was delighted to cut into the cake to find a brilliantly pink vibrant interior, studded with raisins and glazed with an attractively creamy kusundi mustard on top.  The plate effectively elevated the patty-style staple typically sold on Indian trains.  There it comes dry, encased in sliced white bread with a sachet of ketchup; here it’s moist and vibrantly spiced, with beetroot and a mustard sauce.

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The Bombay Street food selections were delights for my companions.  Comprised of vada pao, tapioca cake, and chilli paneer, whilst the latter was a touch too spicy, the other two were served alongside an impressive array of chutneys though none were particularly “innovative”.

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The aubergine, meanwhile, was probably a highlight for me: spicy and inventive, it had a wonderful sesame peanut crunch, offset by the gentle warmth of tamarind chutney.

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Onto the curries, the menu doesn’t offer any of the more comforting, predictable bowls you might imagine but instead seeks to invent, and at pricey levels.  The Kale & Quinoa Koftas (£15.50) were, nonetheless, a wonderful surprise: the puffed quinoa had a gentle crunch, whilst the dates in the koftas added a welcome sweetness.  It could probably have been a touch more saucy to enjoy alongside our sides of very garlicy naan, potato paratha and Pilau rice which, for me, was a highlight: subtly spiced, fragrant and fresh.

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My companions, meanwhile, loved the Khadi Pithod Saag (£15), a spiced chickpea gnocchi curry, served in a yoghurt and spinach sauce.  The gnocchi themselves were a triumph and a wonderful Italianate reinvention of Indian food, and I’ve never seen khadi, which is a yoghurt-based Gujarati soup/sauce, used in such an impressive way.

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The Bitter Melon (£14), meanwhile, was far too bitter and its skin totally inedible.  The soya ragout, though an ode to vegan cuisine, featured far too many cloves – my nemesis.

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Also disappointing were the trio of daal.  Not only did these not compare to my mum’s at all, but each was far too similar to one another and small portioned.

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Overall, however, the Cinnamon Kitchen Battersea site is an attractive setting to spend a long evening by the river.  The well-presented and colourful street food starters were probably the highlight for us, conjuring up all the fun and spice Indian food.  Though as compared with Jikoni, or some of the other new Indian restaurants that have opened of late (Jamavar, Bombay Bustle, Kahani, Indian Accent and others), the menu probably isn’t as modern and boundary-pushing.  If you’re after something more interesting, I’d probably head to one of those.

Cinnamon Kitchen Battersea, 4 arches lane Battersea Power Station SW11 8AB

Website: http://www.cinnamon-kitchen.com/battersea/

Rating: ***

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