If you’re really clever, really rich, or really talented in any field, you don’t need to shout about it. You do your thing quietly, confidently, and don’t need to impress your brilliance on everyone you meet – excellence will reap its own reward. Cigalon is just such a restaurant.
Taking its name from the French for “cricket”, the chirping insect found in warmer climes, this particular little grasshopper wannabe finds itself on Chancery Lane, plum in the middle of the land of law courts and lawyers – you’ll see a bewigged chap now and then scurrying down an alleyway to a building where he’ll say things like “M’lud”. Or something like that.
The Gascon family of restaurants is the pedigree here, which includes Club Gascon, Comptoir Gascon and Le Cercle, and Head Chef Julien Carlon and the rest of the staff have all been through the ranks there.
Soothing pastels and the most gorgeous central island of booths that wrap themselves around each other, each one offering an enclave of seclusion, create a stunning first impression. Chuck in a couple of olive trees and you’re seduced into feeling that yes, you really are in a Provençal idyll. The addition of indoor trees could easily come across as gauche and a bit naff, but the effect is measured and subtle.
The exceptional black olive tapenade that is presented as the first morsel, sets the tone. A depth charge of flavour, the distilled essence of black olive, kicking off eager anticipation, salivatory switches flicked to “go”. Excellent, bouncy bread, a cute touch of being toasted on one side, completes a joyful first few mouthfuls.
We crack on:
Niçoise Salad – ordered to test the kitchen, the simplicity of the dish offering no hiding place for a slack brigade. What we receive is a supermodel of a Niçoise. Glorious oozing egg, flashes of red from sweet roasted cherry tomatoes, intense salted anchovy, and the finest tinned pale tuna. Or is it? We’re told that the tuna is a confit in olive oil, prepared in-house – beyond the call of duty and an utterly brilliant touch. £6.50 of Niçoise perfection.
King Scallops and Poutargue Risotto - Scallops that have had just a whisper of heat from the pan, the dense sweetness requiring little more. Poutargue is the French Bottarga, dried mullet roe shavings, and injects soothing risotto and scallop with a salty slap of the sea.
Line caught Salt Cod in Vegetable Broth - reads like an anodyne bore-draw football fixture, but what arrives is an exercise in balance and precision. Pearly white flakes of fish, nestling in a broth of delicacy, the joyful addition of a seriously garlicky aïoli adding spark. Looked so simple, yet over delivered at every step.
Fillet of Hake on Camargue Black Rice – Another deft piece of cooking, meaty fish with crisp skin sitting on dense jet-black rice, the plate given a shock of colour with a shellfish bisque and two prawns. The sweetness and depth of flavour of the prawns was a palate juddering surprise, the bisque carrying a kick from the anise of Pernot.
Bagna Cauda with Crudités - More often seen in its home of Piemonte, Italy, but also found in Nice, the Bagna Cauda is dense and pungent, a hot blend of anchovy, garlic and butter, ready to receive crunchy vegetables for dipping.
Bay leaf Creme Brûlée – A delicate twist on a classic, crunchy in the right places, creamy in all the others, completing a seamless afternoon.
Downstairs the Baranis bar reveals a gravel lined Petanque alley, where you can throw a few balls around, drink Pastis, and explore a wine list led by Provençal and Corsican bottles, overseen by enthusiastic bar manager Yohann Bodier.
There is a measured poise to everything going on here, from the genuinely warm and unaffected welcome from manager Yann Osouf, ex-Wolseley, to the controlled pace of the dishes coming from the kitchen. The comforting sense is that these guys have been doing things too well, for too long, to screw things up. Two visits here saw expectations exceeded on our return.
The Set Menu at £19.50 for two, and £24.50 for three courses is as fine a set menu option as you’ll find in London, and has all the panache, quality and attention to detail of the A la carte.
Cigalon is very clever, very talented and very slick – it just doesn’t need to shout about it.
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