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.

peopleJonathan Ross has got a left-field suggestion to replace Clarkson
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Johnny Depp is perhaps best known for his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean
peopleBut how did he break it?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Lewis Hamilton secured his second straight pole of the season
f1Vettel beats Rosberg into third after thunderstorm delays qualifying
Arts and Entertainment
Written protest: Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, has sent an open letter to the Culture Secretary
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
  • Get to the point
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

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss