From the Club Gascon people, an oddly Provençal incursion into the heart of legal-land; staff are charming, and the bright interior is pleasant enough, but we’re not at all sure that the formula is right for such a businesslike part of town.
Chancery Lane, the high street of the London legal world, was until very recently, maintaining the English high street tradition of not having restaurants of any note. The situation has improved a bit in recent years, with the arrival in the immediate area of Chancery, and also the very wine-led basement bar and restaurant 28-50.
This essentially English setting has now seen a very Gallic incursion. A restaurant once known by the suitably stolid name of Hodgson’s has now been taken over by the Club Gascon folk, and given a very French name indeed. Cigalon strikes us as an odd choice, though, echoing as it does that of a Marcel Pagnol movie whose eponymous hero was a Provençal chef whose restaurant remained defiantly empty. Perhaps the French have a sense of humour after all?
Further evidence of such humour is the dress of the largely male staff. We don’t normally comment on attire, but the dress here is too ridiculous to pass without comment: a uniform for the chaps that renders bizarrre the idea that France could be the home of chic. Clip-on braces are a sartorial solecism at the best of times. Why make all the (perfectly charming, French) male staff wear them? We felt as if were were extras in sitcom set in a tacky menswear shop.
And then we progress to the vexed question of décor. The light and bright premises of character (originally the premises of a Georgian auctioneer) have been given a Provençal-pastel make-over – as our lunch guest commented, ideal for ladies who lunch. But – hello! – we’re spiritually in the ECs, darling. The ECs are where the husbands of ladies-who-lunch venture out, mainly with other chaps, to keep the ladies-who-lunch in the Ws and SWs with their white wine spritzers. Who’s this décor for? How’s it going to feel in still semi-Dickensian Legal-Town in the deep midwinter? We shudder – almost literally – to think. (And the summer is traditionally a quiet time around the inns of court.)
The food is not bad, but – like the décor – we couldn’t help wondering if it is ‘right’. The bread, a selection, was OK, if not at all remarkable, but the overwhelming impression of a bowl of Provençal vegetable soup was that it was rather a lady’s portion. Our guest’s small portion of marinated sardines similarly failed to cause much excitement.
Main courses were a strikingly bronze-plated dish of red mullet (plus some impressively twiddled-with courgettes), and a relatively substantial veal chop, which our guest ultimately touted as the highlight of the meal. Puddings included a pleasant (if rather could-do-this-at-home) mélange of citrus fruits and sponge, and a very delicate chocolate tart, somewhat peculiarly presented on a slate platter with what looked like a small deboned fish, but which turned out to be a fancy smear of curd. Our guest pronounced it a moderate success, which was also his view of the coffee.
So what are we to make of a ladies’ restaurant in the heart of legal london, without either the boho appeal of Club Gascon, or the chic of its Sloane Square satellite, Le Cercle? We sometimes fear we must be missing something.