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With a prime Westminster location, magnificent setting and consistently first-rate cooking, the Cinnamon Club thoroughly deserves its popularity as an events destination, says Anna Longmore
Bursting on to the London restaurant scene in 2001 at a time when Indian food still meant a chicken korma at the local curry house, and the prospect of holding a private corporate event at an Indian restaurant was unthinkable, it’s fair to say that The Cinnamon Club’s decision to open in Westminster was a gutsy one. ‘With hindsight, it was a relatively brave move,’ says managing director Rohit Chugh. ‘Because at the turn of the century ethnic cuisine was just at the cusp, but Londoners are a discerning bunch – do something well and they’ll appreciate it.’
Indeed, as soon as you walk through the doors, it’s apparent that this is no ordinary Indian. Set in the Old Westminster Library, the high ceilings, domed skylights and a gallery of bookshelves provide a magnificent yet suitably restrained setting that appeals to the local market.
Given the striking backdrop and inevitable Who’s Who of Westminster faces, it’s testimony to the talents of the kitchen that the Cinnamon Club’s food quickly becomes a talking point at any event. The refreshing, contemporary approach to sub-continental cuisine has a surprisingly universal appeal. ‘We don’t like the phrase Anglo-Indian, because it implies a fusion,’ explains Chugh. ‘While we use local ingredients and European presentation, the style, flavours and ethos are all Indian. It’s an evolution of the cuisine.’
With a vast selection of menus on offer, organisers can be as adventurous or as conservative as their invitation list dictates. Aficionados, or those after more of an experience meal, might plump for tasting menus, but the kitchen is happy to accommodate more conservative tastes, and offers a ‘traditional’ Indian menu as well as non-spiced dishes. The consistency of the kitchen is often lauded – an absolute boon for organisers who don’t have to worry about duff dishes. Tandoori dishes are a particular speciality that shouldn’t be missed.
The Cinnamon Club is accustomed to catering for groups. The maximum table size in the main restaurant is 14, but the restaurant’s private events business is growing rapidly, says Chugh. ‘People used to think, “Oh, an Indian restaurant, it’ll smell of curry and people won’t like the food.” Now they’re realising that this isn’t curry and that their friends are going to love it,’ he laughs.
Daniel Denize, engagement manager for the British Standards Institute, has selected the Cinnamon Club for a series of private business lunches for senior civil servants. ‘The location is key, as is the reputation of the venue – it’s a place where you might find a lot of parliamentarians, so it resonates well with that type of audience,’ he explains. ‘It also has the sophisticated feel of a private club.’
There are three private spaces at the venue, each with their own distinct personality. The mezzanine, above the main restaurant, retains the atmosphere of the dining room, which is particularly lively at lunchtime, while offering more privacy. The space can accommodate up to 30 guests, though it lends itself best to a smaller dinner of 20 or so guests with a pre-meal drinks reception. It’s also fun to settle in for an evening of wine and beer food-pairing with the infectiously enthusiastic head sommelier Mike Worrall.
The ground-floor private dining room, a sedate space with windows overlooking Great Smith Street on one side and the dining room on the other, seats 60 on five smart, square tables and is particularly popular for business lunches. Canapés are some of the best in town, which also means pre-dinner receptions are particularly popular here. Lighter options include South Indian beef in a spring roll with hot chutney or stir-fried chicken with dried chillies, but for events where dinner won’t be served, the more substantial Hyderabadi-style biryanis make great bowl food.
For the BSI’s government ‘roundtable’ events, Denize uses the private dining room for welcome drinks and canapés. The success of his events depends on tight timings, but the staff are well versed in dealing with high-level meetings. ‘These are very senior figures, so we try to keep the lunches down to a maximum of two hours including canapés,’ he says. ‘If the kitchen is late with a course or the plates aren’t cleared fast enough, we would have problems, but so far they’ve delivered it right on time. The service is unobtrusive, and very respectful that it’s a business forum.’
While the Cinnamon Club is renowned for being an appropriately sober setting for business-focused events, not many people know about the downstairs bar. A cool, modern affair with a rich, spice-inspired colour scheme, cream drapes, slate floor and leather armchairs and banquets, it has a capacity of 60 and can also be used for pre- or post-dinner cocktails in conjunction with one of the more traditional dining spaces upstairs. There’s a projector screen behind the well-stocked bar that’s set up to show Bollywood films, but Ferrari and the BBC have both used the screens to project corporate messages.
It’s telling that a vast percentage of the Cinnamon Club’s diners and event clients come back again and again. The restaurant is built on traditional foundations, but there’s an energy and enthusiasm running through the front- and back-of-house teams that eludes many restaurants. ‘We want to maintain standards, but also never stop pushing the boundaries,’ explains Chugh. ‘That way, we can make sure that the regulars – because there are lots of them – are never bored.’
Address: 30-32 Great Smith Street, SW1P 3BU
Tel: 020 7222 2555
Email: [email protected]
Number of function rooms: 4
Main Dining Room (-/130/320)
Private Dining Room (-/60/70)
Downstairs Bar (-/-/60)
Contact: Priyanka Sharma, head of events
This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, Spring 2008.