I feel like it wasn’t that long ago that I last reviewed Cinnamon Kitchen, but was excited to hear that Vivek Singh’s Cinnamon Collection was launching a new vegan menu and was grateful to be given the opportunity to visit their Westgate branch and check it out. When we arrived at the restaurant, I mentioned the new ‘vegan tasting menu’ as advertised on their website, and sadly they didn’t seem to know what I meant (perhaps it hadn’t actually launched yet?) but I was still happy to see that they now have a separate a la carte vegan menu that everyone can dine from – making it feel an easy decision to eat here with no awkwardness.
You may recognise some of the food from the first time I tried the restaurant shortly after it opened, but with a couple of different bowls and some updates to the dishes since then, I thought it was worth sharing our meal with you.
There are three options to choose from for your starter or main, and they all sound really well thought out. I went for the chilled watermelon and char-grilled fruit, served in little gem lettuce cups. It was deliciously refreshing and felt like such a summery dish, making me wish that it wasn’t almost October and suddenly freezing cold again. Despite almost all the elements on the plate being fruity, the balance of flavours with the zing from the mango and saltiness running throughout, and a slight bitterness from the gem, made sure you didn’t feel like you were starting your meal with pudding. Jamie and I had tried this previously, and I was pleased to see that they’ve upped the number of lettuce cups from three to five, as it’s still a very light and low calorie plate of food it felt like the right amount on the plate. The whole thing was presented so prettily. I am not one to choose a salad at all when I see it on a menu, but I really enjoyed this.
Jamie’s starter was pieces of grilled aubergine, served with a sesame tamarind and peanut crumble, and a little side salad. The aubergine was cooked perfectly – Jamie isn’t usually a fan of this fruit but he said the texture for once was very pleasant for him. The crunchy peanut topping was perfect with the melt in the mouth aubergine. The side salad didn’t feel like it was just there to bulk out the plate, it was bursting with different flavours and textures – sweet pomegranate, light and refreshing cucumber and lettuce, crunchy carrot and soft tomato. There were rather large slices of onion in comparison which were a little overpowering. Everything was drizzled in a lovely sweet mango dressing though and it came together beautifully. Compared to my summery gem cups, this was a more autumnal dish.
There was another watermelon salad as a main course but as I’d already enjoyed plenty of that in my starter, I went for the ‘kichri’, which a quick Google will tell you is prepared as the first solid food that babies can eat! It’s kind of like a cross between a dal and a risotto, coming as a bowl of thick soup filled with soft rice. The kichri itself was almost too salty for my taste, but the green peas on top really lifted the dish, then the browned cauliflower and toasted spices on top added a nice bitter note. I enjoyed it a lot, it’s essentially a tasty bowl of comfort food.
Jamie ordered tandoori mushrooms with a green mango and coriander sauce, served with free-flowing rice. The ‘meat’ of the dish was the three large flat mushrooms, which were cooked just enough so as to keep their texture. The sauce was really flavourful, creamy and sweet, then the chutney on the side added lots of heat. The portion sizes of both of our meals were spot on, with Jamie mentioning how there was a good ratio of everything on his plate. He also said that as a meat eater, he didn’t feel that he was missing out – this isn’t a vegan dish you’d feel sad about having to eat.
We also tried the couple of sides that were on offer, and overall it felt like a nice amount of food including this. The yellow lentils seemed a bit lacking in seasoning compared to the rest of the food, but that might have been in part as I tried it after I’d started on the very salty kichri. It was nicely cooked and warming, just lacking a little in flavour. The slightly sweet, freshly cooked tandoori roti however was a delight, and we both enjoyed scooping up the lentils with it.
I was a bit saddened to see that the poached pear we’d tried before no longer seems to be on the menu – it’s back to sorbets folks. On offer when we dined was a guava or a mixed berry sorbet. We ordered one of each. What came out plonked on the plate looked out of step with the rest of the meal, and to be honest I wouldn’t bother with dessert next time (though you know how I feel about this particular icy pudding). The mixed berry dessert, which I was expecting to be the sweeter of the two, was so sharp. It definitely cleansed the palette but the two little scoops for £6.50 were definitely not worth it for me. The guava was fine, fairly tasty, and I did find it in some ways refreshing that the restaurant had gone for flavours other than raspberry, lemon, or mango, which is pretty much the only thing you ever see on the menu usually. Still, now is the time for me to rave about the cashew milkshake which is on their drinks menu: it’s cheaper, it’s creamy, it’s sweet and delicious, and if you want something tasty to round off your meal, this should be it! I would also have no shame in going out for ‘cocktails’ with friends in the evening and making this my choice, as it looks great served in a cute glass jar topped with pistachios.
The overall experience at Cinnamon Kitchen is fantastic – the service can’t be faulted, and its a really lovely atmosphere to enjoy a meal out that feels like a treat. The prices are very reasonable for somewhere I’d happily choose to dine out at for a special occasion. The food is cooked to a really high quality and the portion sizes are better than what you get at some of the other higher-end restaurants on the rooftop terrace. If you’re a new student to Oxford this term, I recommend bookmarking this one as a place to visit with the parents when they’re next visiting our city!
We dined as guests of The Cinnamon Kitchen, all views are my own.