THE legions of people who, we have been led to believe, have spent the past month munching on meat-free versions of their favourite food as they endure Veganuary, can breathe a sigh of relief.

The end of the month has passed and with it endless wittering about the benefits of a vegan diet. The fact most people will be only too glad that it’s over shows that, despite the proven ethical, clinical and moral benefits of a plant-based diet, it can also mean giving up the tastes and textures that make eating fun – and not just a means of survival.

The same, I would argue, can be said for that other unaccountably popular 'holier-than-thou' trend, Dry January, which has long since outgrown its roots as a novel fundraiser.

But vegan doesn’t have to be dull. Yes, I know we’ve been reading and hearing that all month, but sometimes, very, very occasionally, it is actually true. And here to prove that, are the virtuoso chefs at Cinnamon Kitchen – almost certainly the finest – restaurant in Oxford city centre.

This month they have been luring diners out of their new year stupors with a vegan menu which is good enough to have us chucking the chicken and leaving the lamb for good.

The menu is a set four-course special, with a couple of choices for each course. Of course, if you are with someone who can vaguely stand you (or who is understanding enough to allow you to shovel up their choice if you prefer it more), get one of each and share.

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We piled in with grilled aubergines which came served with a fabulous sesame, tamarind and peanut topping. This was, quite genuinely, better than most any meat dishes I've eaten so far this year.

The aubergine was cooked to the peak of perfection – firm on the outside but soft and yielding within. They had a delicious flame-grilled tang matched by the sweet-sour tamarind. The roughly crushed peanuts gave crunch and texture and the whole thing also had a pleasant spicy kick.

The other starter was char-grilled fruit chaat. This twist on the popular Indian street food was a complete contrast – almost more of a dessert, but still a pleasant palate cleanser. It consisted of little cubes of baby gem lettuce loaded with melon, pomegranate and other exotic lovelies. Very refreshing, I could almost feel the blush of good health returning to my pallid cheeks after weeks of overdoing it. Given a choice though, I’d go for the spicy aubergine.

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Next up were the mains, and they were both equally big, bold and beefy – despite, of course, a natural absence of beef or any other beast’s flesh.

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The most substantial were the tandoori mushrooms. These absolute monsters came served with a beautifully coloured green mango and coriander sauce as well as steamed rice. Again it was as satisfying and delicious a plate I have ever eaten in an Indian restaurant. It was so good, I momentarily considered kicking the meat into touch and going vegan forever.

The plump mushrooms had bite and a rich juicy texture but none of the chewiness and cloying fattiness you might get from meat. They were enormous too – the vegan equivalent of a ribeye.

The other option was a fun garlic tempered green pea ‘kichri’ – with broccoli and cauliflower floret pickle. This was delicate, majestically cooked, bursting with freshness and with enough warming heat to keep the January chill at bay.

They came served with an extremely satisfying, delicately spiced and addictively moreish Punjabi chickpea curry and warm, springy tandoori roti.

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I had never thought of vegan fare as particularly filling, but this most definitely was. Still there was space for pudding, which came in the form of saffron poached whole pears. These pretty visions of intricately prepared fruit, stalks poking upwards as they should, were served beside dried fruit and a lemon-thandhai sorbet.

Thandhai is a fancy milky festival drink flavoured with almonds, fennel seeds, watermelon kernels, rose petals, pepper, vetiver seeds, cardamom and saffron – and the sorbet carried all those flavours. There was no escaping the spice...even in dessert.

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It was all wonderful and changed my conception of what a vegan diet could be when done properly. I’d go vegan, I really could... but only if I could eat at Cinnamon Kitchen every day!

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  • Cinnamon Kitchen is on the roof terrace of The Westgate Oxford.
  • Book at
  • Parking: The Westgate car park is famously (and controversially) cheaper than the nearby council-run facilities, is obviously closer, and gets you out of the rain and cold. But it's better still to get the bus or walk.
  • Cost: Set menus cost £19 for two courses / £22 for three.
  • A full a la caret menu is, of course, always available – and is excellent. Curries start at £10.50.
  • Must have: Do not miss the spicy stir-fried baby aubergines in coriander sauce (£10.50)