Long-on my List has been Mediterranean Cinder. This Belsize Park restaurant had largely drawn me in thanks to its Josper cooking. As their website exclaims, they’re “passionate about cooking over fire”, with “best quality ingredient…kissed by flames”. Heavy romance. As a lover of smokey flavours, I had cloud-high expectations – think unadulterated, bold and barbecued cooking, ideal for seeing out summer. A trip to Cinder’s is also a good excuse to visit the beautiful, residential Belsize Park, which feels like a million miles from London.
Because there’s a lovely little terrace, Cinder was able to open with outside dining early following lockdown easing. This place does feel like a real neighbourhood haunt. It’s (usually) a charming street to sit out on. I say usually as on my visit a woman was shouting at guests on an outside table for a good 15 minutes or so. It became real live cinema action for guests and staff alike – even the staff stepped out of the kitchen to witness the screaming.
Thanks to Autumn’s early arrival, my companion and I sat in – though booking 3.5 weeks in advance only secured us at 6.45pm table, probably thanks to their small size with only 14 covers inside. And sadly their small size and tight bookings proved the letdown to mine and my companion’s evening. Our reservation was abruptly called to an end at 8.15pm when the waitress promptly brought our bill whilst we were still eating and our sharing plates were still plentiful. Though the food – which I’ll come onto – lived up to expectation, their service left a bitter aftertaste.
At the centre of the grilled menu is vegetables which means veggie / vegan options are extensive – too many to fit onto our small table. We shared a selection of dishes. First up came the Heritage baby tomatoes, aubergine, tahini and mint (£9). This dish puts the tomatoes (rather than the aubergine) at the centre, which are layered above a babaghanoush-like dip, with some well-marinated onions for tartness. Colourful, light and seasoned with a coriander-seed based dukkah, this was a celebration of summer produce.
Next came the Hispi cabbage with chilli, red onions and pine nuts (£9). This is one of the most popular dishes here and I understand why: fresh, crisp and charred, it’s an ideal salad accompaniment to the coal-cooked other dishes. It’s all about quality ingredients cooked to a smokey finish.
The bowl of sweetcorn, chilli, coriander and crunchy corn (£9) felt like a celebration of the last of the summer’s fresh corn. With the sweetness of the corn offset by its charred edge – cooked until the cusp of burnt – it’s a match made in heaven, with plenty of herbs added for freshness.
Probably the star of the plates was the veggie side of Triple Cooked New Potatoes, Black Lime Salt (£5), which were served with a duo of dips (on my request): confit garlic tahini and burnt tomato salsa. The former was a dreamy accompaniment to these crisp-skinned baby potatoes enclosing a melt-in-the-mouth creamy interior.
The drinks at Cinder shouldn’t be overlooked (if you have the time!). As well as an extensive wine menu, their cocktails are pretty unmissable. My companion’s Burnt Peach Bellini (£12) had a savoury note to counteract its usual sweetness and made for a good food-pairing, whilst my Cinder Maragrita (£12) had been infused with a homemade jalapeno syrup which gave it a very welcome salty-chilli kick.
Though I loved the flamed-finished food and punchy cocktails at Cinder, our rushed service – especially given the food took a while to arrive – was ultimately a letdown to the whole evening. Especially at such a neighbourhood haunt which should be built around attracting regular custom. Even when my companion and I provided this feedback to the waitress / manager, their response was pretty defensive in tone rather than understanding and/or apologetic. Post-Covid, for me at least, restaurants – even those popular / “scene” spots with back-to-back bookings – should be putting service at their forefront, a trick Cinder seem to be missing.
Cinder, 66 Belsize Lane, Belsize Park, London NW3 5BJ