Cigalon, 115 Chancery Lane, London WC2

Cigalon means cricket, of course, the Mediterranean version rather than the Aggers-and-Blowers one (or, come to that, the "French-cricket" kind). And the owners have gone out of their way to conjure a sense of being in a setting that might involve some Continental chirping in the shrubbery. What used to be the site of Hodgson's Wine Bar, in the heart of London's law courts, has been transformed into a small Provençal paradise.

The walls are overlaid with basket-weave struts. High mirrors reflect the complicated white pods that hang in metal lattices from the ceiling. The pods could be pupae waiting to become bees. At the entrance, trellises in a honeycomb design seem to await the arrival of honeysuckle. By the loos, a branching design climbs up the cream wall. Overhead, the light fittings are shaded by a graceful structure of spokes like the struts of an umbrella or an insect's wings. Between the chairs and tables lie several three-quarter-circle booths, upholstered in what looks like sackcloth and feels like corduroy. The booths are so warm and enclosing, it's hard not to think you're in a cocoon.

Before us the kitchen is on full display, accessed through knee-high walls of rendered plaster, like an unsuccessful patio, and the chefs work against an old-fashioned backdrop of white tiles, as though they're in a municipal bathroom. Have I painted you the picture yet? This is the Provençal outdoors, brought indoors. Wherever you look, you feel the spirit of a verandah, complete with bee, insect and cricket images. Even the cocktails continue the theme: the Thyme Daquiri fills your senses with herbs and rum, while my Sazerac (an old New Orleans concoction of bourbon, sugar and bitters) came rinsed in absinthe, the Green Fairy herself circling around my head.

The menu is a pleasing hybrid of old-fashioned Provençal (salade Niçoise, soupe au pistou, cote de veau with Menton sauce, and a "traditional lamb tripes and trotter stew" that I steered clear of) with Italian grace-notes of pasta and polenta. My date Angie's carpaccio of veal looked like salmon and was of such unearthly tenderness, you didn't need a knife to cut it. The accompanying rocket was crispy, the capers were tart and the three swung along together as though performing "All the Single Ladies" with the hand actions.

My cannelloni de daube de taureau resembled two spring rolls covered in Branston Pickle, but was delicious. The beef had been braised until caramelised, and it melted into the shallots-and-red-wine-with-bone-marrow sauce (sauce diable à la moelle) as seductively as Porphyro melts into Madeline's dream in Keats's The Eve of St Agnes. Both dishes, I noted, involved solids that were halfway to becoming liquids.

There was nothing ambiguous about the aioli de cabillaud, or poached line-caught cod. I've seldom seen a fish so perkily solid, so pristinely white. It had been steamed rather than poached, I suspect, as had been the perfect lumps of vegetable that sat in a tiny puddle of broth, while the aioli purée (potato, garlic and olive oil) was a beautifully subtle partner. A side dish of black olive mashed potato was tasty as hell (though a mistake if you'd eaten the tapenade bonne bouche). Angie's grilled red mullet was served standing upright, perfectly filleted, with tagliatelli and mussels. The fish tasted far stronger than my cod, having been cooked in the shellfish liquid. It was, said Angie, "a Marco Polo plate", starting off in Italy, discovering China and Japan and bringing back noodles (which is why Italy has pasta). It was like a deconstructed spaghetti alla vongole, with extra pungency.

Our waiter Stéphane, with his luxuriant whiskers and charming manners, was straight from central casting. When I spilt my cocktail, he rushed to procure another. When I asked how a sauce was constituted, he rattled off the ingredients. When I confessed ignorance of Provençal wine, he recommended a 2006 Bandol which opened out, over 90 minutes, into something close to nectar. He took a lively interest in our every choice of food and drink, without ever asking, "How are you enjoying it?".

We finished this excellent meal with a tian d'oranges, mandarin slices on caramelised orange mousse on a crumbly biscuit, and a less successful "traditional Corsican" cheese and lemon cake with blackberry sorbet. The sorbet was yummily touched with a hint of basil or sage, the cheesecake a bit too cake-y. Then, as we hit the coffee and the lavender madeleines, a small rustling noise crackled on the speakers that had been playing indifferent French-classical stuff all evening. It was the noise of crickets, calculated to send diners out into the night thinking they were in Carcassonne. This is quite an illusion to pull off in Chancery Lane. But then, the staff at Cigalon had been performing small miracles of transformation all evening.

Cigalon, 115 Chancery Lane, London WC2 (020-7242 8373)

Food 4 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 5 stars

About £110 for two, with wine

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: Southern comfort

La Provence

135 Babbacombe Road, Torquay (01803 322 664)

Tuck into a generous serving of sea bass and vegetables (£14.95) at this intimate, family-run restaurant specialising in seafood.


239 Brompton Rd, London SW3 (020-7584 4477

The crab bisque (£8.75) and the warm garlic and saffron mousse with mussels (£7.75) are perennial favourites at this popular eaterie. )

Chez La Vie

92 Station Parade, Harrogate (01423 568 018)

Try the French onion soup (£5.95) or the monkfish fritters in tartare sauce (£13.50) at this local favourite.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower