This is an archive review. Cinnamon has now closed and has been replaced by Island Spice. Heston Blumenthal‘s laboratory kitchen, what’s that all about,...

This is an archive review. Cinnamon has now closed and has been replaced by Island Spice.

Cinnamon, Ryde

Heston Blumenthal‘s laboratory kitchen, what’s that all about, eh? Who in their right mind really wants to pay ninety quid for a taste of snail porridge or egg and bacon flavour ice cream? Oak flavoured crisps? Leather mashed potato? To your reviewers, salmon poached in liquorice is not imagined to be the stuff of a Good Meal Out.

There’s a far more reliable way to get some really exciting tastes and smells on the your plate. Good Indian cuisine can be guaranteed to have interesting – and satisfyingly tried and tested – combinations of flavours, textures and aromas to tempt the most unsophisticated of olfactory organs. And, if you really think the whiff of leather would enhance your eating experience, you can always go to Cinnamon, in Ryde’s Union Street, and inhale the aroma given off by the new chairs.

This sleek addition to Ryde’s ever-expanding number of eating out venues offers a marked contrast to its previous incarnation as the extraordinarily well-stocked Bloomsbury antique shop. Gone are the stuffed birds, tapestries and crystal lampshades; in their place is discreet window frosting, recessed lighting and the aforementioned leather thrones.

Having failed to even get a seat last week, being forced to take their custom to Yelfs, Matt and Cat took no chances and arrived at Cinnamon quite early in the week and early in the evening. This uncharacteristic promptness won them a table for two in this popular new establishment. So keen are people to try this eatery that, according to the waiter, any desire to eat there on a Saturday night must be anticipated at least a week in advance – and that’s with two sittings, in winter. To underline this and as a pointer to those ordering takeaways, on another occasion Matt and Cat pre-ordered their food an hour early but still had a twenty-minute wait. Cinnamon is popular, no doubt about it.

As Matt and Cat took their seats, and before the waiter had time to flick their napkins over their laps, the place started to fill up. A couple of ‘scene‘ kids, some cosy couples and a family group provided a chattering backdrop. The restaurant also has a takeaway service; several punters came and went during the evening, clutching their bags of spicy fare.

The masala was creamy but without being artery-worryingly oleaginous.

Cinnamon appears, at first glance, to have the trappings of an off-the-peg neo-Indian. Recessed lighting in pinky hues? Yup. Orchids in glass vases? There, on the bar. Smartly uniformed staff? You got it. All standard, and none the worse for it. But there’s a hard-to-define difference about this restaurant. In place of the usual ethnic tapestries, the walls were decorated with a few large abstract canvasses. Look down at the floor expecting the inevitable wood laminate, and reflective black tiles return your pleasantly surprised face.

The menu was presented and designer Cat fondled its satiny texture whilst admiring its photography. Matt meanwhile was reading the contents; many of the dishes had pleasingly exotic names such as chingri sabji (stir-fried shrimps), hash makhoni (tandoori grilled duck) and bhutta hara pyazz (stir-fried baby corn, mushroom and spring onion with spices). A simply-labelled section of ‘old favourites’ included the inevitable korma, madras, and the like, but otherwise the menu appeared to be quite a departure. However, closer examination suggested that possibly some more ‘old favourites’ had been smuggled in under alternative names: was moglai murgh that old friend, chicken moglai? So it seemed; the careful explanations in the menu made all clear. Matt threw caution to the winds and ordered gosht sagwala: lamb with spinach, fenugreek, herbs and spices and a hint of butter. Cat cleaved to her custom and chose murgh tikka masala: yes, by now Matt and Cat had worked out that murgh meant chicken.

Gosht sagwala with vegetable bhajee

Gosht sagwala

Whilst perusing the bill of fare, Matt and Cat nibbled on poppadums and chutneys. Here again, Cinnamon broke away from tradition, substituting the usual lime pickle with an orange-coloured shredded coconut. Very nice.

Without much delay, the main meals arrived with a flourish. A brace of waiters with a trolley loaded with various napkins and cloths, cutlery and lighted heaters, descended on the table and, in a blur of activity almost invisible to the eye, the food was arrayed enticingly in front of the diners. And a excellent display it made. An exciting-looking side dish of mixed vegetables was flanked by Cat’s tomato-red tikka masala which provided an excellent visual contrast to the green spinach of Matt’s lamb sagwala. All this plus an undulating naan. As well as appearing splendid, this stuff was tasty, full of texture, and certainly a cut above the average Indian. Matt and Cat ate with pleasure, relishing a really good meal. Cat’s chicken was so tender it almost dissolved on the tongue and, unlike some other establishments, the masala was creamy but without being artery-worryingly oleaginous.

Relaxing after the meal and awaiting the bill, they discussed how, in an Indian restaurant the art of fine, if impersonal, service is often at its acme. One can admire the skill and panache of the waiters, delivering food and clearing plates with effortless, yet almost mechanical, grace. Banter is kept to a minimum, if tolerated at all – and never presume to rearrange the tableware yourself! It’s all got to be just so. Pleasingly, there are exceptions and, at Cinnamon, Matt and Cat’s waiter did unbend at the end of the evening, allowing himself a few moments enjoyable chat with his guests. When he then presented the bill your reviewers were pleased by the modest prices. For a place that’s packed to the rafters most weekends, this is good value. It’s to be hoped that they can keep this up all summer, too.

Finally, in the tiniest writing at the bottom of the stylish menu is the legend, “The management of Cinnamon Restaurant reserves the right to refuse service to anyone without explanation“. So, while such great Indian restaurants continue to thrive: Heston ‘Duck à la Toilet Duck‘ Blumenthal, you can keep your leather to yourself, thank you. No explanation needed.

This is an archive review. Cinnamon has now closed and has been replaced by Island Spice.