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Kitchen confidential

The Westgate's new Indian restaurant is causing much excitement with its high-end cuisine and chic setting. Here's why.

A few years ago we never thought we’d enjoy eating in a shopping centre (Mmmm, soggy KFC). Then Oxford’s Westgate Centre came along and changed everything. Muddy’s Sascha Way happily whizzed off to Cinnamon Kitchen for an exceedingly posh curry.

 

THE LOWDOWN

You might have visited one of executive chef Vivek Singh’s London restaurants – Cinnamon Club, Cinnamon Soho, Cinnamon Bazaar (I wonder what his favourite spice is? I guess we’ll never know…). Now, fortuitously for us, he’s chosen Oxford for his first provincial outpost with this one opening on the top floor foodie zone of the Westgate late last year. Don’t call it a curry house though and don’t try to order a vindaloo, this is a contemporary take on Indian cuisine.

THE VIBE

Even on a dark, drizzly winter evening the view of the city skyline was impressive. The restaurant’s outdoor seating area, with its large umbrellas and twinkly lanterns, should prove a very pleasant spot on a balmy summer evening (remember those?). Meanwhile, inside the decor is clean-lines, modern and well lit. There are clusters of private tables, large and small, some communal benches and – where we were seated – banquette seating from which you get a nosey at the open kitchen and its chefs whizzing around. It was certainly buzzing on the Saturday night we stopped by, with a mix of couples, large parties, girls on nights out, shoppers seeking post-splurge sustenance and friend-of-Muddy and Loose Woman Saira Khan and family.

SCOFF & QUAFF

We headed straight for the bar, naturally, which was invitingly lit with flickering lanterns. Rest assured, this is not a ’25 pints of Tiger beer, please’ post-pub crawl Indian restaurant. The cocktails are banging –  I had ‘The Rose’, Champagne infused with, er, rose and Indian sandalwood, which was fresh and aromatic without being overpowering. My husband had a Virgin Mary of sorts – a creamy, non- alcoholic Tomato Lassi made with caramelized tomato, yoghurt and fenugreek leaf, which was apparently a lot tastier than it sounds.

I loved the menu – so many interesting fusion dishes, exciting new ingredients to try and so much daintier than the kind of food we associate with Indian cooking. There’s plenty of gluten free, dairy free and vegetarian options too. I started with organic cured salmon with green pea wasabi jhalmuri (the jhalmuri turned out to be crunchy puffed rice, which added a sweet crunch to the dish), accompanied with a glass of light sparkling wine. My other half went for a tender, impeccably spiced Achari lamb fillet with a spinach roti and anchovy chutney.

For mains we shared two dishes: beautifully soft char-grilled sea bass in banana leaf parcel, lime pickle and sticky rice and a spicy but light seafood biryani, with yoghurt and pomegranate dressing. Both dishes were pitch perfect.

We moved on to mango and cardamom kulfi, a traditional Indian ice-cream, with mango salad and a luscious sticky ginger toffee pudding with garam masala ice cream. The toffee sweetness melded magnificently with the heat of the ginger and the gentle spice of the garam masala. On the rare occasions I’ve previously managed three courses at an Indian restaurant, I’ve rolled home, uncomfortably stuffed to the gills, but this meal felt perfectly calibrated – indulgent but at the same time healthy and fresh, and just filling enough. I was seriously impressed.

OUT & ABOUT

Retail therapy is the obvious choice for a pre or post prandial activity – Westgate is crammed with temptations from John Lewis to Cos to & Other Stories. Fancy culture? The new arthouse cinema The Curzon is on the same floor. Or fancy, er, getting more drunk? Buzz bar The Alchemist is but moments away although it’s super popular at the moment – people were queuing six deep at the bar last time I was there. And actually Cinnamon Kitchen is so good I’d say it’s a destination in its own right – you don’t need to bolt on anything extra to make it worth the trip. Who’d have thought it from a shopping centre restaurant?

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: It’s a real all-rounder, so pick your occasion. It works equally well for date night, a birthday get-togethers, a Saturday night out in the city with cocktails and gourmet dining, or the perfect end to a day’s shopping with a girlfriend.

Nor for: Beered-up boys out looking for poppadoms and lager lager lager. Unadventurous korma lovers might struggle to find something to suit.

The damage: It’s pretty good value for such gourmet cooking. The set dinner menu is £24 for 2 courses or £28 for 3, with à la carte starters £6.50 – £9 mains £12.50 – £25 and puddings £2.50 – £9. I’d be tempted to come for lunch – there’s a 2 course set lunch everyday for £18 or 3 courses for £21. Kids have their own ‘junior’s menu’.

Cinnamon Kitchen Oxford, Westgate Shopping Centre, OX1 1TR. Tel: 01865 951670.

 

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