Monday, 9th April 2018 – Le Cigalon, London
Le Cigalon sent me an email inviting me to test drive their new 5 course menu for £29.50 a head (it’s normally £36.50 for 3 courses), which for central London is a massive bargain. Having discussed catching up over dinner with our friend Janice I asked her if she was interested. The answer was in the affirmative, even though it was a Monday – well, it’s all right for Janice, she’s retired now and doesn’t have to worry about getting up in the mornings to go to work! Presumably the restaurant management choose a Monday to do their test run because it’s normally a quiet day, but however you look at it a 5-course set menu for under £30 a head in London is a bargain, even if the food turns out to be ordinary. It didn’t sound as if it would be ordinary in any way. However, first we had to get there.
I’d suggested to Lynne that we meet up in advance at the Punch Tavern, on Fleet Street, because it’s close and it would be easy to get from there to the restaurant. The Punch is a fabulous old building, apparently originally known by a completely different name, and now the Punch because the staff of Punch magazine used to drink there en masse in the 1940s. It’s much quieter now, at least at 5:30 on a Monday afternoon, the journalists long gone along with their publications. It’s very pleasant in there, and the friendly bar staff made me a lovely rhubarb sour to get the evening underway while I waited for Lynne to make it in.
It was a very good cocktail and coming in at around £8 it also seemed a bargain. Lynne finally arrived somewhat fraught having gone the wrong way initially (as had I), but she still had time for an old fashioned before we went round to the restaurant to find Janice.
It was short hop to Chancery Lane and le Cigalon, which was disguised behind scaffolding, though you would not have known it once you got inside. The space feels airy, with a massive glass roof, as if it’s been a giant conservatory in another life. The banquette seating was very comfortable, though Lynne found the chairs to be not at all to her liking, battling a cushion that was too big to be any help, and eventually admitting defeat. I would have happily swapped but she was having none of it. We ordered some champagne to help us think while we studied the menus.
Eventually decisions were made and we were able to order. There was no sense of urgency or being rushed in any way by the charming waiting staff, which was nice. A lot of London restaurants do the “two hours and you’re out” thing, which I really, really loathe. In fact I won’t go to places that want to do that to me. There’s nothing worse than being happily settled in, chatting away and enjoying your food and wine, and then being made to feel you have to get a shift on and get out because they want your table back.
While we were deciding, bread and a small portion of tapenade arrived. The bread was OK, but was lifted to something rather more impressive by the tapenade, especially as that also came with a blob of pesto, which gave it even more of a kick.
The first course, something of a palate cleanser, arrived in the shape of a tiny delicious tartare of mackerel, shot through with pastis and fragrant with tarragon, the whole accompanied by pickled cucumber that provided a ribbon of sharp freshness through the dish, cutting through the oiliness of the fish. It was very pretty too!
We had ordered a carafe of a viognier, which does not seem to be listed on the current wine list on the website. It came in a 450ml carafe and was perfect for three of us to have with the mackerel and the second course, where we had a choice between green asparagus with orechiette pasta shapes, dill and a ricotta salad or braised veal head, with salad and a mustard dressing.
The veal was tasty but the asparagus was the knock out winner in that round, the cheese coating the pasta with little gooey crumbs of dairy loveliness, and the pasta soft but still just al dente, the asparagus still with some crunch to it. We all three agreed the asparagus was the better of the two dishes, though I could happily eat either of them.
We finished off the viognier, and moved on to the main course, and a bottle of red wine, a Malbec from Anne de Joyeuse. The two mains we went for could not have been more different. There was roasted lamb belly, with borlotti beans and wild garlic. I must admit that was the one slightly disappointing dish, the fat for me being far too undercooked. The beans on the other hand were fabulous, stuffed full of flavour, and lifted further by the addition of wild garlic which is one of my favourite things at this time of year.
I felt the fish was far more successful. This was a sea bream fillet, small but nicely executed, the skin crisp and the flesh flaking under the application of a fork. Underneath it were three batons of salsify, cooked to softness in butter, and served with a green peppercorn sauce. I really enjoyed my half of the fish and it went surprisingly well with the red wine too!
We were then handed a portion of cheese with toasted raisin bread. I failed to get a photo but it was a large chunk of Comté and I do have a slightly overwrought over enthusiasm for Comté. This had been properly kept and was at just the right temperature and consistency. It was ideally suited to the lightly toasted bread and it disappeared to enthusiastic moans and groans from the three of us.
And then it was time for dessert. Again there was a choice and this time it was hard to choose. There was roasted apple, tonka bean cream and hazelnuts. The green apple was a sorbet of startling freshness, and the remainder of the dish was lovely, sticky, tasty and went brilliantly well with a glass of muscat. A great way to end a meal.
The best of the desserts though, was the dark chocolate moelleux, soft in the middle, extra gooey on the outside, and served with a nicely punchy blood orange sorbet. I’m just not sure where they might be getting blood oranges from at this time of year, but I’ll let that go. It wasn’t especially pretty, just being two round things on a plate, but it tasted good!
Would I go back? You bet! Especially if they keep doing the special test runs. They also do wine dinners, which may need investigating for the future.