A crack team from Club Gascon have decided to go it alone in the City. What's particularly exciting is that their cuisine at Cigalon has headed south to Provence. Rosalind Mullen reports
Cigalon may have been backed by Pascal Aussignac and Vincent Layberie of Club Gascon fame, but that's where their input ends. Restaurant manager Yann Osouf is keen to stress that although head chefs Maxime Le Van and Julien Carlon are Gascon-trained - along with him and most of the staff - this is their baby. It's particularly evident in the menu, which hails from Provence with a bit of Corsica thrown in. This style of cuisine is in their blood - Le Van is from Nice, Carlon, ex-head chef at Comptoir Gascon, is from Marseille, and Osouf, whose influence can be found in the wine list, is Corsican.
"The inspiration for opening a Provençal restaurant came from the simple fact that Maxime and I were raised in this fantastic region, full of culinary style and tradition," explains Carlon. "The restaurant setting as well was a big part in the decision, with the beautiful glass ceiling that creates the feeling of the outdoors indoors, just like a Provençal veranda."
The menu, meanwhile, is divided into starters, grills and specials, main courses and desserts. Some of the most traditional Provençal dishes are found in the starters, such as Soupe au Pistou (£4.50) with vegetables and pesto. However, there's a nod to Italy with the use of polenta and carpaccio in a few dishes, and they've given salade Niçoise (£6) a twist by using fresh tuna, poaching it for 30 minutes and then marinating it for half a day in olive oil.
Being a Mediterranean menu, there's plenty of fish, including the best-selling starter of grilled sardines escabeche with citrus and spices (£5.50), and the main course of poached line-caught salt cod in vegetable broth with aioli (£13.50). Selected dishes from the grills and specials are changed every day depending on the availability of fresh produce. Most of the fish comes from Brittany and clearly the beef comes from the Camargue. On the meat side, customer favourites include rib of Camargue beef, port and shallots reduction (£24), which is a cut that is rarely, if ever, sourced by British restaurants. Also, traditional lamb tripes and trotter stew (£12.50), and rib of veal with chickpea fritters, which comes with a citrussy sauce Mentonaise (£21).
There's a noticeable use of citrus fruit in the desserts, too, which reminds diners of the South and provides a refreshing tang after the generously sized main courses. Gourmandise d'Agrumes (£5.50) is a confit of grapefruit, quatre, quait, grapefruit curd, blood orange and ginger sorbet, with a concentrated marmalade flavour that leaves a lovely citrussy taste on the palate.
Cigalon, which opened at the end of October, is closed at weekends. Three chefs work in the open kitchen with the grill at one end of the room, while six work in the kitchen downstairs in Baranis, a more informal bar complete with petanque section. Levan and Carlon alternate where they work and the two kitchens serve both the restaurant and the bar.
Le Van explains that the menu will strive to bring Provençal tastes to London, yet follow the seasons. "We have a very close relationship with our suppliers both from France and the UK," he says. "Our menu displays Provençal classics, but what is really exciting is to try to recreate the taste of this much cherished area of France by playing with the produce available in London. We create our dishes by starting with beautiful ingredients and getting the best of them in a style that we believe represents our region."
Sample dishes from the menu
Clams with fennel £6.50 Braised Camargue beef cannelloni, shallots red wine sauce and bone marrow £7 Creamy polenta, wild mushrooms and rocket £6.50
Grilled cuttlefish, Jerusalem artichoke purée and fennel £14.50 Roast rabbit leg with Swiss chard and savoury jus £14.50
Black leg chicken breast, confit leg, corn sauce and trompette mushrooms £18.50
Selection of goat and ewe cheeses £8 Aniseed bitter chocolate tart and goats' cheese curd £5
Traditional Corsican cheese and lemon cake, blackberry and lavender sorbet £4
Cigalon 115 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1PP
Tel: 020 7242 8373