If you’re hungry for innovation… why the Cinnamon Club eats Apple Inc for breakfast.
It’s 6pm on a mild October evening, and leaves the size of saucers are falling drowsily from the plane trees as Sue and I cross Parliament Square.
To be fair, Sue is walking… and I’m practically jogging. I’m as excited as kid.
First, it’s autumn, and the game season is upon is. For the next precious weeks, I’ll take every opportunity I can to savour the taste of the ‘wild’… mostly the mushrooms I’ll hunt myself in the New Forest, but also some mouthfuls of truly free-range protein. (More about ‘shrooms at the close of this blog.)
Next, Sue and I are heading for the Cinnamon Club – and for only the second time in my life I’ll be eating their game tasting menu. Four years on from that first meal, I can remember it course-for-course (the ‘crown of partridge’ is maybe the most delicious dish I have ever eaten). I still have the printed menu.
Finally, tonight is the Cinnamon Club’s ‘game and Burgundy’ tasting dinner – pairing a four-course menu with four legendary vintages.
It’s as if all my passions have been distilled to their essence – and served to me in a shot glass.
Walking with Sue up the steps to the Cinnamon Club, I get a moment of foodie angst. Have I over hyped this? Can I ask ‘gourmet lightning’ to strike twice in the same place?
As Sue and I are ushered into a room next to the main restaurant, I’m looking for clues to buttress my new mood, when the nearest person in the group introduces himself: Laurent Chaniac.
Wait a minute… this is THE Laurent Chaniac, the Cinnamon Club’s sommelier – and the man who wrote the book on matching spices and wines. If you’re looking for an atlas that matches climate, soil, grape and vintage for every major growing region – to every spice known to man – then pages 216 onwards of The Cinnamon Club Cookbook are the place for you.
The table is set for about 20, and lottery of the place-setting has put Sue and I to Laurent’s right. We’re about to journey through a game/Burgundy landscape with the man who practically invented the concept of matching wine with curry.
I sense that the evening is going to be a masterclass.
Laurent introduces the first vintage (an Aligote). He describes the wine before we drink it – and I wish I could remember the cast-list of climate, soil physics, geography and botanics he uses to evoke it. But I can’t.
What I do remember is his tip that the wine should taste have a particular before eating the food – and then a series of different tastes as two work together, and you discover new complexities in both.
Does it work?
The Aligote is delicious. And as we eat the first course (char grilled partridge with ginger and dry melon seeds) you sense the magic spread around the room. The tastes of the wine and curry aren’t just talking to each other – they are dancing together.
And so it goes. The second course (tandoori pigeon breast with kasundi mustard) is paired with a 2003 Burgundy – and the raspberry of the wine reveals the flavours in the game – like the curator’s audio-guide to a block-buster art exhibition. The mix of flavours is beyond complex… it’s like swallowing a kaleidoscope.
Next, Head Chef Rakesh Ravindran Nair is with us in the room – who, together with Executive Chef Vivek Singh – created the menu for the evening. I can ask him in person why this pigeon tastes like no other I’ve ever eaten. The answer: the Cinnamon Club’s pigeon are reared in France, able to fly in their aviary and fed on a special diet that makes them… in wine terms… appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC).
And so it goes.
A third course of clove-smoke venison saddle – paired with a 30 year-old Santenay Premier Cru.
A final course of British cheeses paired with a Mersault that feels so fantastically at home in my mouth that I think (for a split second) that I am the glass the wine is being poured into. This has not happened before.
And somewhere in the magic of the meal, in the buzz of incredible flavours, I get the insight from Laurent that gives me my Eureka moment: the Cinnamon Club team start the whole process of planning the meal with the individual wines!
They pick specific vintages that interest them in terms of their constituent parts – acids, fruits, minerals and flavours – and then painstakingly choose the individual spices, marinades and ingredients which match them.
For me, as a curryphile and foodie, this is the outer edge of creativity.
This meal has been days or weeks in the planning… right down to selecting the onion seeds and ajwain that soften the tannins in an elegant red – and make an austere wine more approachable.
And the proof is there on the plate, and in the glass.
Over the evening, Laurent generously shares his encyclopaedic wine knowledge; he is great company. Head Chef Rakesh is also charm itself – and takes me on a tour of the Cinnamon Club’s kitchen. He sends me home with a handful of spice I have never even heard or read about (the bonfire-scented ‘marathi moggu’ and a recipe to cook it with).
If I were a physicist, this is like being taken on a tour of Cern – and sent home with a Higgs Bosun particle in my pocket.
Later that month, I drop off a batch of some wild mushrooms I’ve picked as a gift for Rakesh and the Cinnmanon Club kitchen team – and within hours Rakesh has tweeted me a photo of (and recipe for) the world’s first dish of curried ‘pieds de mouton with fenugreek leaves’. He’s invented a masala twist on an autumn staple – and it makes my day… if not my whole ‘shrooming season. I share the recipe below.
And somewhere in this exchange of recipes and ideas – and the privilege of meeting Vivek Singh, Laurent Chaniac and Rakesh Ravindran Nair – I get THE WHY of the Cinnamon Club.
It’s creativity – pure and simple.
Vivek Singh and his Cinnamon Club team are a group of very creative people – who just happen to be interested in how things taste.
The restaurants, the dishes, the books – are all the outcomes of this passion for invention.
In his famous TED lecture exploring THE WHY of leading businesses, Simon Sinek explains that Apple don’t really sell technology – they simply invite Apple’s devotees to help shake up the status-quo.
By re-inventing curry as the outer-edge of global fine dining – I think Vivek Singh has done the same.
Which makes the Cinnamon Club, for me, the Apple Inc of food.
And if I had to pick a favourite between these two innovators?
Let’s look at the options:
If the Californian tech giant diversifies into food, I’m not sure I’ll be booking a table any time soon.
But if Vivek Singh launches an app – it’ll be delicious – and I’m buying it.
Tandoori mushroom with fenugreek leaves
250g pied de mouton or similar meaty, chunky mushroom, cleaned
For the marinade
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp red chilli powder
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
1 tsp salt
Juice from quarter of a lemon
1 cup full fat Greek style yoghurt
1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
1 tsp dried fenugreek leaves, powdered
Pinch of sugar
Mix all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and make a marinade. Fold in the mushrooms and leave aside for 20 minutes.
Thread it through a skewer and cook in a tandoor or on a barbeque grill. Serve with coriander chutney and raita.