Tastes of Town: The Cinnamon
PUBLISHED: 12:00 05 August 2018
©2018 Danny Loo Photography - all rights reserved
There is a wealth of eateries in Harpenden, ranging from high-end cuisine to stylish cafés, with flavours from across the world waiting to be sampled. We're going to be taking a look at the choice available.
Hidden away down an alley off Harpenden High Street, just behind Sainsbury’s supermarket, Cinnamon doesn’t have the luxury of passing trade which many of the town’s Indian restaurants can depend on, so it has to live or die on the strength of its food and atmosphere alone.
Fortunately the standards are exceptionally high, ensuring a steady stream of regulars ranging from businessmen and sports clubs to the town’s doctors and Rotarians, as well as those newcomers prompted to visit following recommendations from their many satisfied customers.
Cinnamon’s small frontage hides an interior of TARDIS-like proportions, tastefully decorated in a contemporary style with enough room to fit in 70 covers. Take three steps inside and you’ll enter an entirely different world – fresh, comfortable and welcoming, it’s almost as if you’ve discovered a culinary secret, and have become the latest member of an exclusive club.
In fact, Cinnamon is very much a part of the local community, and customers are advised to book in advance at weekends, when it is frequently full, being particularly popular for parties because of the ability to cater for large tables.
Manager Moti Thakur has more than 25 years in the Indian restaurant business, with previous restaurants in Wolverhampton, Cambridge and Saffron Walden. He is assisted by his partner and former schoolfriend Amjad Khan, and it is unquestionably a labour of love for them both.
If you want traditional Indian restaurant fare of the highest standard, Cinnamon can provide it, but it’s definitely worth trying one of their speciality dishes for something a little bit different. Even the papadoms come with the chef’s own selection of dips and pickles.
When I visited with my friend David, we deliberately selected items which we wouldn’t normally have opted for in order to make the most out of our dining experience.
For starters, I had crocodile tears, which were melt-in-your-mouth chicken chunks matured in a rich, spicy marinade of dill, fennel, black pepper, honey and a trace of mustard oil, roasted in the tandoor over with shallots and bell peppers before being finished in a sweet pineapple sauce. Even the memories of it make my mouth water, and there’s no question of the popularity of this dish, as it is also available as a main course.
David had dall pakura – a vegetarian dish of spring onion coated with egg, coriander, lentil and gram flour, then fried to produce crispy chunks of goodness. Exceptional.
For a main course David had chicken tikka shogondha, pieces of chicken delicately flavoured with herbs and fresh coriander and complemented by spring onions in a thick sauce. As one of Moti and Amjad’s personal favourites, he knew he wasn’t going to be disappointed, and the finished product delivered on every count, offering rich flavours, succulent meat and a spicy aftertaste.
I had the rum-sam, which usually comes in a choice of chicken or lamb but was presented to be with a selection of both. The meat is grilled on the bone and then cooked in a special Nepalese sauce and garnished with onion and green pepper. I asked for it to be quite hot, as I love my spicy food, and although it packed a hefty punch the flavours were by no means overpowered by the heat. The meat slipped easily from the bone, and the different flavours of the sauce came to the fore on my palate, delivering an exciting and innovative dish which I will definitely be choosing on future visits.
Our food was accompanied by fluffy pilau rice, mixed vegetables and nan bread, none of which threatened the flavours of the main dishes, but offered subtle accompaniments of their own. It was without doubt an amazing meal, and we both left satisfied that we’d enjoyed perhaps some of the best Indian cuisine we had ever experienced. A first-rate performance from the kitchen, supported by warm and friendly service from head waiter Russell Khan.
I returned a while later with my wife, and personally chose a completely different menu to test their range.
I opted for chicken chaat, delicious zesty strips of spicy chicken served on a puri bread, while on my recommendation she selected the crocodile tears, which was just as good as the last time.
The Cinnamon prides itself on offering an extensive array of dishes you’re unlikely to find in many other Indian restaurants, and Motiur was on hand to make suggestions from the Chef’s and House Specials, tempting us away from the usual fare to experiment with something a bit different.
I had the beef nehari, strips of meat delicately flavoured with ginger, garlic, curry leaves, spring onions, coriander, chickpeas and roasted chilli, while my wife had the weeping tiger, succulent whole tiger king prawns cooked in a pan with a variety of spices designed to unlock a wealth of aromatic flavours.
For accompaniments we had komra and dall, a mixture of special lentils and Bangladeshi pumpkin cooked with dried red chilli, some chapati bread and a serving of lemon rice, just enough of a selection to balance out the main courses without filling us up with sundries.
It’s worth adding that Cinnamon also prides itself in offering a wide variety of vegetarian options, such as the hyderabad dalcha, a peppery chana dall tamarind sauce with ginger, garlic, onion, cumin powder, curry leaves, cinnamon, olive oil, red chilli and the surprise addition of pumpkin, an ingredient in many of the non-meat dishes on the menu.
There is also an interesting selection of fish dishes, including selections featuring everything from lobster and trout to sea bass and bream, again all featuring in the chef’s own recipes and proving there’s definitely that little bit special to discover in all aspects of Cinnamon’s menu.
Two knockout meals, which cement the Cinnamon’s justified reputation as the best Indian restaurant in Harpenden, and indeed, one of the finest in Hertfordshire. Outstanding. Every time.