When I was a girl I played piano. Every exam I took was measured on a combination of elements, each with a maximum number of points to be earned. There were three pieces of music, scales and arpeggios, sight reading, and listening tests. To pass you had to get a total of 100 points from all these elements.
My piano teacher always told me that you had to pass your pieces and your scales – these were the bedrock that would assure you a pass mark. The rest were incidentals which could boost you to a merit or a distinction. But pieces and scales were vital.
Part way through practicing for my final ever piano exam, my teacher died. I was at sixth form and stopped dedicating the time needed to rehearse three long classical pieces or to learn the epic variations of scales in each key. And so I failed one of my pieces and my scales in my exam. Had my teacher been right, that would have meant total failure. But miraculously somehow I passed.
Eating with CC at Cinnamon Kitchen in Shoreditch last week, I wondered if restaurants are like piano exams. The critical things are food and service, but is it possible to still have an enjoyable meal, without these elements being stellar? Does food really make or break a night?
If it’s good can it make up for dull conversation, terrible ambience, awful company or bad news?
If it’s bad does it spoil your appreciation of the conversation, ambience and so forth?
I suspect restaurants don’t know the answer to this, since good restaurants seem to pay as much attention to service and atmosphere as they do to food. And I wonder if they could control your company to really guarantee you great conversation, they would.
CC is always excellent company, so I’ll describe the food. Cinnamon Kitchen does what I’d describe as British Asia fusion food. The base is British – steak, fish, lamb chops, but marinaded or complimented with spice from the Indian sub-continent. If you’re looking for a curry, this is. It the place. If you want good food with a twist, give this a try. I had grilled aubergines with satay crunch to start and CC had scallops. Scallops are becoming my benchmarking dish – are they chewy? Are they served with something which overwhelms the flavour? Neither in this instance, apparently, getting a big thumbs up from CC.
We had Angus fillet steak and prawns for our main, with a side of greens made up of spinach and perfect to the bite peas. The steak had been marinaded in gentle spices, enough to add flavour but not to overpower, though it wasn’t as tender as I’d have hoped.
Dessert was spot on – lovely light chocolate souffle with a cardamomy sauce for me and kulfi ice cream for
CC which looked like small slabs of white chocolate on a plate when it arrived.
When coffee arrived, I think we were satisfied we had eaten well. And that’s when the trouble my last blogpost began with started. Because no matter whether the food is good, the service balanced (not too many interruptions, just enough advice to be helpful) and the atmosphere relaxing, you can’t help your clientele.
Our two businessmen demolished their food without savouring it, as CC and I looked on with horror. But did they spoil the experience and taint the food with the association of their behaviour?
With hindsight, not at all, though the restaurant itself, through no fault of its own, sadly didn’t end up the talking point of the night.