Ever since the new Westgate Centre opened I’ve found it slightly daunting and a bit too busy for Oxford; it feels like stepping into a London shopping centre, with its huge John Lewis outlet and a different pricey clothes shop in every direction. For students, the Westgate is a double-edged sword of tempting shopping opportunities and, arguably, a waste of money and time. The roof terrace seems to be an underexplored part of the complex, despite the wealth of eating opportunities it offers, from churros to cocktails to sushi, and, as my colleague and I found out last Wednesday lunchtime, an excellent Indian restaurant: Cinnamon Kitchen.
We were greeted at the door by a lovely waiter who took our coats and led us to a table by the wall with a cushioned bench on one side – it’s clear that this is a more formal restaurant than students are generally used to. The Oxford branch of Cinnamon Kitchen does have lots of space, with lots of tables that would suit families of four in the middle of the room, and some tables for two along the edges, both by the wall and next to the window. The layout makes it a good option for somewhere to take visiting parents, or to go with friends for a birthday meal. The decoration on the inside is understated and tasteful, with circular patterns on the wall and plants in the corners with broad, dark leaves. There’s also some outdoor seating which, while it’s probably too cold to use in the current weather, would probably be a good setting for a meal on a summer evening later in the year – even though the view is pointing in the wrong direction to see the spires of Oxford. We went for lunch, but it was easy to see that the atmosphere would also be just right for dinner, with muted warm lighting and calm background music.
The decoration on the inside is understated and tasteful
The menu itself is a really interesting choice, incorporating both standard British curry choices like Butter Chicken, and twists on classic favourites, like the Lassi Panna Cotta with orange and mint that I had for dessert; it’s a nice change from the usual kind of Indian takeaway typically enjoyed by students. The bar is attractive and tempting, but we held off the drinks so that we could get back to the library afterwards with clear heads, although on our next visit we’ll make sure to try out some of the options on the extensive drinks menu. The set lunch menu is a little too expensive for an everyday meal, but comes to a decent price if you’re getting a meal for a special occasion; at £18 for two courses, or £21 for three, the food is well worth the money, particularly when you take into account the exquisite presentation of each dish. My colleague is vegan, and so we were delighted when the friendly waiter produced a comprehensive vegan menu that includes a choice of two dishes for each course, as well as pre-starters and sides.
The service was relatively fast, but the food took long enough to come that you could tell that it was freshly made – and the open kitchen at the back certainly added to our impression that the chefs put a lot of care into preparing every order. For our starters, we had the grilled chicken skewer, and the vegan grilled aubergine with sesame tamarind and peanut. Both were delicious; the combination of sweet and crunchy in the aubergine dish and the delicate flavouring of the chicken made for a great start to a meal. The experience only got better with the arrival of the main course. I opted for the “Tandoori Trio”, which consisted of paneer, cauliflower and Padron pepper all cooked in a tandoori style, and, as an alternative to the usual vegetarian option of vegetable curry, it was highly enjoyable. I also got some chilli and cheese naan as a side with some dal, which is a rare variety on the typical naan options seen in other Indian restaurants, and the cheese definitely made a positive difference. The vegan main course was garlic tempered green pea kichri with broccoli and cauliflower floret pickle, which was not the most aesthetically appealing, but still tasted better than your usual vegan curry. Overall, the food was not too spicy and thoroughly enjoyable.
In the words of my colleague, it’s hard to fault this restaurant. With amazing food and fantastic service, consider this restaurant a treat, instead of settling for the typical student venues of Leon, Pret and Macdonald’s. Let’s use the Westgate centre for what it is: a selection of food choices that provides students with affordable, high-quality meals that can be enjoyed with friends, or with visiting family.