One of my most frequented areas in London is that grid of streets surrounding Carnaby Street; not really an original choice I know, but I’m content with joining the masses who adore this part of town. It’s famed for being a great shopping destination – slightly less crowded than Oxford Street and a lot more interesting in its offerings – but I actually love it for the plethora of restaurants dotted in between the shops. No matter what I find myself hungry for, these streets never fail to deliver me something scrumptious.
I have my go-to senõr for ceviche, that slick American for barbeque, and even the trendy Korean for a bibimbap and a cocktail… oh, and I can’t forget the belly-warming ramen bar or the place where I finally found a kebab that I liked. That’s more than enough to keep me going back again and again, but it just had to go and outdo itself and give me another reason – a gem for those times I’m craving an Indian curry.
Casual, modern, fresh, Indian food; but not at the place you’re probably thinking of. I’m too stubborn and never patient enough to queue so that place is out of the question… but honestly, why would I bother when I can wander down the street to Cinnamon Soho, where the food is just as good, if not better, and it takes bookings! Hooray for common sense and caring about the comfort of your customers.
We gave the nibbles a passing glance, but decided to dive straight into the Soho Plates – three of the small ones to start, followed by three of the larger ones. Spoiler alert: even the small plates are quite generous and this was most definitely too much food for two people. Our order was met with a slight eyebrow raise from our waiter, but it was already a struggle narrowing it down to this point, so we ploughed on bravely.
Our meal got off to a more subdued start than expected with a pleasant yet pedestrian pepper fry, a dish of curry leaf and pepper fried shrimp. It was nice, but this was a case of nice guys always finishing last. Thankfully a much punchier impression was made by the double cooked pork belly ‘Koorg’ style and the Kadhai spiced chicken liver on toasted brioche; both bold dishes which really made us sit up and take notice.
Pork belly is always a good idea, especially when the meat to fat ratio is right and the oiliness is cleverly balanced with something like a cooling yoghurt, as it was here. On the contrary, chicken livers can be hit or miss… but the chefs at Cinnamon Soho delivered a resounding hit. The spicing was sensational and the cooking was perfect; I’m certain even those offal-adverse folk would be smitten. This was our favourite dish of the night, and quite possibly the best chicken liver dish we’ve ever had.
We were less aligned in our opinions of the larger plates. A certain someone really liked the vindaloo of ox cheek with masala mash, but I was less keen; while I really liked the Kerala style boatman haddock curry, but he wasn’t a fan at all. I think he objected to the hints of tamarind in the sauce which I thought added a welcomed element of sharpness, making the sauce more well rounded. At least we agreed that the paneer 65, a stir-fried curry leaf and green chilli paneer, was interesting though not enough that we’d favour it over a saag paneer from our Tooting local.
My main beef with the vindaloo was the beef itself; I found the ox cheek a tad dry and bland. I suspect that the meat and sauce are cooked separately which makes perfect sense in the restaurant world but does mean there’s a risk that very little flavour gets infused in the meat. Case in point. The sauce itself was quite delicious and properly spicy, as promised by our waiter! One of my pet hates is when restaurants tone down the heat levels because they think it’ll appeal to a wider audience. I’d rather they just gave their customers the benefit of the doubt – kudos to Cinnamon Soho for not being shy on the spice.
We had already bitten off more than we could chew so didn’t bother with dessert, instead we finished off the last drops of our wine and sat back feeling smug and sated. Like most of the other restaurants in this wonderful grid of streets, the atmosphere in Cinnamon Soho is quite relaxed and convivial. And I think – like all the other restaurants I love around here – the food has a lot to do with that!
Are you a fan of the restaurants in and around Carnaby Street? What’s your favourite?
Thanks to Cinnamon Soho for feeding us the best chicken livers we’ve ever had, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!