In conversation with Vivek Singh

Chef Vivek Singh
Credit James Mason Photography/Cinnamon Kitchen

Vivek Singh needs very little introduction. Executive Chef And CEO Of Cinnamon Collection, Vivek Singh is indeed a busy man. Angela Sharda interviews Vivek Singh about his restaurant in the City, his love for cooking and what is in the pipeline for the rest of the year.

Q. What is your signature culinary style?

A. I would say my signature culinary style is contemporary Indian. I tend to draw experience from Indian spicing and cooking techniques, marrying this with local British produce, we basically bring together the best of both worlds.

Q. It will be the restaurant’s 15th anniversary. How do you plan to celebrate and what are the biggest lessons you’ve learnt in this time?

A. We have lots of exciting things in the pipeline to celebrate Cinnamon Kitchen City’s 15 year anniversary. Over the summer months we launched a special 15 year anniversary menu named Thrill of the Grill – the name probably gives away the concept. Its 15 of our most iconic grill dishes from the past 15 years all in one menu. We also have a fantastic supper club with Hattingley Valley, pairing Indian spice with English wines. In October, we’re bringing five of the ‘hottest’ chefs together to celebrate Spice in the City – we have partnered with Cavita, Rambutan and Kricket for a one-off exclusive evening to curate a menu centred around our love for spice. We are also hosting a number of masterclasses throughout Autumn and Winter, covering all sorts of topics – there is plenty to choose from when it comes to celebrating the journey of Cinnamon Kitchen City!

The biggest lesson I have learnt, is… I guess, it’s not as bad as it seems! The City isn’t as scary as it seems. We opened Cinnamon Kitchen City in 2008, in the depths of the financial crash, and with no surprise, everyone was asking me why? Why not delay it? The City isn’t known for Indian restaurants, or any restaurants at all really so it was always set to be a challenge. Looking back, compared to some of the other challenges we face as restauranteurs, opening in 2008 in the City isn’t as bad as it seems!

Q. What do you love most about having a restaurant in the City?

A. To let you into a little secret, I had never been into the City prior to opening Cinnamon Kitchen City, I had never even seen Liverpool Street Station. As soon as I visited the site, I instantly fell in love with Devonshire Square, the warehouse and the most amazing terrace and buildings that were once used as the spice warehouses of the East India Company. The connection to what we were looking at opening was fascinating, something that leapt out at me and something I couldn’t forget – I loved the site then, and I love what we have made from it now.

Q. How did it feel to own the City’s first tandoor bar and grill?

A. To me the City restaurant is an expression of confidence and desire to demystify Indian cooking. Coming from the success of The Cinnamon Club, an Indian fine-dining concept, opening Cinnamon Kitchen City was more about making things more accessible, energetic and somewhat younger. But the bar and grill was more than interaction in the community, it was also about having confidence in the chefs and our team. We have taken a community first approach with Cinnamon Kitchen City, there are no secrets to keep from guests, but add in confidence and ambition and it gave us the recipe to truly succeed.

Q. The train strikes continue to be a consistent issue for all who work in the City. What impact does this have on business?

A. It is likely that restaurants are affected by everything and anything, and in more ways than most people realise – whether it’s a little too hot or cold, less confidence in the stock markets and banks – every wobble hurts and the train strikes are no different. The City post-covid has changed and so the way the hospitality industry operates has also changed, we have gone from 5 days of strong weekday trading, to now, at the best of times, the City thrives on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. So if one of those days happens to be a train strike days, it’s an added kick in the teeth.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as a restaurateur and how do you overcome them?

A. As a restaurateur, the main challenge is to remain front and centre in the customer’s mind. We need to give them reasons to come back again and again, whether it be at different times of the year, to celebrate milestones with us etc. We need to stay relevant with trends and keep that solid connection with our audience. The answer for restaurateurs in the City is it’s all about building your community, and this doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time – give them reasons to return! We need to reach out to give customers different reasons to come in and experience us.

The way we build a community is through brand and chef collaborations. Bring something new to the table that enhances your offering. To celebrate the anniversary this year, we are collaborating with three chefs who all love spice just as much as me, therefore we’re offering something new but different for customers to experience. We’re staying relevant but not changing our ways to keep our audience engaged! We also work a lot with charities, by donating auction prizes, partnering with charities for supperclubs – again we’re tapping into a new audience but also staying relevant with our own community. We also offer new menus that are aligned with current trends, we’re always looking at ways we can offer something new but always on brand.

Q. What’s your favourite dish on the menu?

A. Oh wow, what a tough question. At the moment, to start, it has to be the Punjabi samosa smash with curried white peas, onion and chili. And for mains, the Tandoori Achari cauliflower with spinach in a garlic sauce – and no I haven’t turned vegetarian!

Q. What are your favourite Indian restaurants in the City?

A. I didn’t know there were other Indian restaurants in the City… when I opened CKC I was told there weren’t any hence why I had to open one! All jokes aside, I would say Gunpowder near Spitalfields.

Q. What is the secret of your success?

A. That’s a good question, opening a restaurant in the City – that’s the secret!

Q. What’s in the pipeline for the rest of 2023?

A. We have so many exciting things happening, we’ll be celebrating the restaurant’s 15 year anniversary with a few supperclubs, all offering something different. We have Diwali coming up in November, so we will be teaming up with a renowned luxury country house hotel to bring the ultimate Diwali celebrations (not sure if I can say much more!), we also have the festive season fast approaching where we will have special menus available across all our sites – I’m not sure I’ll have time for much else!

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