Cinnamon Club head chef Vivek Singh has been right at the heart of London’s fine dining Indian scene for nearly over two decades now. When he first opened The Cinnamon Club in Westminster in 2001, the restaurant was part of a new wave of Indian restaurants in the capital that merged authentic Indian flavours with rigorous French technique. The result would come to define an era of Indian food in London - an era that in many ways we’re still living in.
Cinnamon Club landed to a rapturous reception from critics and diners alike, and it would give birth to a mini-empire of restaurants, including two Cinnamon Kitchens in London, and the more relaxed Cinnamon Bazaar in Covent Garden. Indeed, Cinnamon Kitchen set its own precedent too; the idea of having a lively open kitchen at the heart of the restaurant was somewhat new when Cinnamon Kitchen City opened 15 years ago - now the theatre of an open kitchen is almost a fixture of modern, relaxed fine dining.
Singh was born in West Bengal, India. Like in many traditional Indian families, it was expected that he would follow his father’s professional footsteps and become an engineer, but Singh was enamoured with food at a very young age, and headed off to catering college at the age of 20. He spent many years honing his craft in famous Indian hotels like The Oberoi, before an opportunity arose to open a restaurant in London with well-known Bangladeshi businessman Iqbal Wahhab. The pair opened Cinnamon Club in 2001 and the rest, as they say, is history.
That history is still being written. Singh remains focal to London’s food scene, both through his restaurants as well as his mentorship - Cinnamon Club has been a platform for many budding chefs, including the likes of Asma Khan, who hosted supper clubs at the restaurant long before Darjeeling Express found a permanent home.
We caught up with Vivek Singh to find out where he loves to eat in the UK, and he returned some fascinating insights! Read on for a few of Vivek’s personal recommendations.
Frog by Adam Handling, Covent Garden
Vivek says: I’ve always believed Adam Handling’s cooking at the Frog (since it’s E1) days was another level in its creativity, imagination, and sustainability credentials. Always one to champion British produce with a zero-waste philosophy, Adam’s Covent Garden flagship is one of the finest dining experiences you will find in London. Thoroughly deserving of its shiny new Michelin star, it’s Adams time now.
Where: 34-38 Southampton Street, WC2E 7HF
Book now: Frog by Adam Handling
Fallow, St. James's
Vivek says: I love the menu at Fallow, again a celebration of seasonal British produce, championing lesser-known cuts and promoting a fuller use of every bit of resource. Brimming with ideas, not shying from spice, I spent an entire afternoon eating the fish head in sriracha butter sauce and was much happier for it. Oh, and the Chelsea tart is not to be missed!
Where: 2 St James’s Market, SW1Y 4RP
Book now: Fallow
Rambutan, London Bridge
Vivek says: Cynthia Shanmugalingam’s Sri Lankan restaurant in Borough Market may have taken a while to come to fruition but it’s been well worth the wait. Deep flavours, great buzz, and exciting counter dining, it’s seriously good. The pineapple red curry is a must order if it’s on the frequently changing menu. I’m rarely one to visit a restaurant twice, however I have already been to Rambutan three times this year.
Where: 10 Stoney Street, SE1 9AD
Book now: Rambutan
Gouqi, St James's
Vivek says: My most exciting Chinese restaurant of the year – the menu by ex Hakkasan chef Tong Chee Hwee is a dream. The location opposite Trafalgar Square may not be an obvious choice for a high-end restaurant, but once inside, the decor, the drinks and food offering and quality of cooking more than makes up for it. I was also very impressed by the selection of wines by the glass. It’s not cheap, but well worth going.
Where: 25-34 Cockspur Street, SW1Y 5BN
Book now: Gouqi
Vivek says: Often overlooked by those who are forever looking for the next new opening, Benares has been a London stalwart for 20 years now, but rarely has the cooking there been better than it is now under Sameer Taneja. Sameer has taken the menu, it’s cooking and storytelling to another level, and regained its lost Michelin star, and for a very good reason.
Where: 12a Berkeley Square House, W1J 6BS
Book now: Benares
Want to see more chef recommended restaurants? Check out restaurant top fives from the likes of Jeremy Lee, Adam Byatt and Roberta Hall-McCarron for more of the UK's hottest, must-visit restaurants.