29 Oct 2010

A Chip Off the Old Block

NEIGHBOURING Chancery Lane’s chain restaurants, Gaucho and Chez Gérard, Cigalon restaurant and its bar, Baranis opened last week, free from a PR’s bleat. Off the radar, it wasn’t my first lunchtime pick. I wanted to bite into The Portman, the new gastropub from the team behind The Only Running Footman. However critic Andy Lynes’ encounter with costly, imprecise cooking in a cramped environment led my companion and I to spare it time to sort itself out. Meanwhile we landed at Cigalon who are offering 50% off in their honeymoon period according to the pavement A-frame.
Brought to you by the minds behind Smithfield’s Club Gascon, what was the formerly burger heavy wine bar, Hodgson’s has emerged leavened. A palette of lilacs, which coincidentally mirrored my shirt, extends from threads in dense banquettes to trellis partitions. Even the cut-off ties and jaunty braces of the polite and currently uptight staff take up this Pantone. That these straps tug at what must be a job lot of weirdly baggy trousers is pure Madness...
After a pot of very acceptable bread with punchy black olive tapenade and vibrant olive oil, the surface of which reflected the skylight, I selected a starter of marinated sardines. Clocking the small portion (a sardine and a half) I wondered whether chef was also taking 50% off his portions. Served on an avocado coloured plate with a leafy tangle, it proved meticulously filleted but woefully underseasoned. Providing it a memory of the sea helped, hence the twist of salt from what I assume is the restaurant’s only mill (condiments aren’t yet part of table furniture).
Seemingly served on a plate styled on a lid, veal on the bone was more successful: perfectly pink in the most intimate places with a gutsy Provençal topping of olives, chives, garlic, tomatoes and peppers. However its pleasure was momentarily blipped by a chickpea chip – a first and last for me. In appearance, this pointlessly reformed seed evoked sculpted sofa innards. On the palate it rested lethargically, providing nil discernible approximation to food. Fortunately espresso, brought too early, proved a smooth, thick, malty and desirably rousing, palate cleanser.
Finally, mounted on a misshapen slate, the sum of the parts of a surprisingly savoury seeming dessert of squat chocolate, anise pepped molten cylinder and puréed goat curd exceeded its parts, the latter looking like a witchetty grub after a lightening strike.
With 50% off, our lunch offered remarkable value, with my main course and dessert (albeit if personified, with a face for radio) showing solid cooking. But when the offer ends, end of next week, I wonder whether what will become merely good value will be good enough?
Incidentally, the Baranis bar below features a petanque pit for up to eight players. The Côte d'Azur posters, along no doubt with the city sleazes and their squeezes, arrive next week.
Cigalon/Baranis, 115 Chancery Lane. WC2A 1PP
Le Cigalon on Urbanspoon