I recently met up with my parents for supper and there was a lot of discussion in advance about where to go. Last year I bought them the Time Out guide to eating out in London (I also have a copy and it’s very good) and so now they come up with lots of options, many of which I’ve never heard of. One of these was Cigala, situated on Lambs Conduit Street (between Holborn and Russell Square), it’s the sort of place you wouldn’t know was there unless you were actually looking for it. It’s a tough place to describe but I would say it’s a ‘posh Spanish restaurant’. Not posh in a snooty way but so many tapas/Spanish restaurants go for quite a contemporary look, whereas this is more along the line of white tablecloths, perhaps how Spanish always used to be before tapas became trendy? Who knows. Anyway what I do know is that it was a great choice of restaurant and after all this wittering on about tablecloths it’s probably time I told you about the food!
In short it was excellent! There is an extensive tapas menu and then also starters and mains if you prefer the more ‘conventional’ approach to dining. If you’ve read this blog before you’ll know I’m an absolute sucker for tapas/sharing plates/generally getting to try everything on the menu, so obviously tapas was a must! We thought we’d choose a few things from the tapas menu to share as a starter and then go for mains after. When I say the tapas list is extensive I’m not joking, but we managed to narrow it down to four dishes.
We had Berenjenas Almagro which is baby pickled aubergine stuffed with olives. Really tasty although not like any aubergine I’ve seen before!
Jamon y Queso – literally ham and cheese. The cheese was manchego which I really like as its not too punchy and goes so well with the ham. The ham was the highlight of this dish – smokey and full of flavour, and I LOVE capers so that was a very welcome addition.
Verduras fritas, which was tempura vegetables – aubergine, courgette and pepper. I’ve personally never been a fan of tempura vegetables because I think that the vegetables just become soggy and lose their flavour but these ones were some of the better ones I’ve tried.
And finally, croquettas which was my favourite dish of the whole night. I love cheese and melted cheese with ham and potato in breadcrumbs has just got to be one of the best creations EVER! I’ve tried my fair share of croquetas and I rate these ones very highly, the cheese wasn’t over powering and they were perfectly creamy. If you go to Cigala and don’t have them then you are committing some kind of grave offence!!
Having devoured the last morsel of croquetta (and being close to licking the plate clean!) it was time to move onto mains. My dad is usually fairly adventurous when it comes to eating out, but he is also a man, and men like meat, so he went for steak and chips. I’m usually reluctant to go for steak in a non-steak restaurant as I assume (these assumptions are based on past experiences) that the steak is more of an after thought and usually comes out pretty overcooked. However I was pleasantly surprised when the medium steak was actually medium and the portion of chips was extremely generous!
Being in a Spanish restaurant it seemed only right that we go for paella. There are various combinations to choose from including some form of chorizo, chicken or seafood. My mum is not a fan of creatures from the sea so we went for the chorizo and chicken version (you can only order paella for at least two people, so make sure you go with someone else who wants paella or you may be wistfully looking at other people’s tables!) They used a spicy, smokey chorizo which was so full of flavours, it was delicious. They used chicken thighs and so kept lots of flavours in it and meant the meat was still tender and not overcooked.
It was a pretty great paella. If you follow my Instagram then you may have seen that I tried to cook a paella a couple of weeks ago but despite following the recipe exactly it turned out more like a risotto, which was still tasty but wasn’t my aim! This was a proper paella with perfectly cooked rice which was full of flavour from the various spices they’d used whilst cooking it. The portions were extremely generous, I think three people could quite easily have shared what was meant for two people.
Having eaten our weight in rice/steak/chips, you’d think that we’d have had no room for pudding. You’d be wrong. Me and my family have a kind of superpower in that we almost grow a second stomach when it comes to pudding! I’m never sure about puddings in Spanish or Portuguese restaurants, I’m not sure why I just think I’ve never been convinced. We had a look at the menu and there was a pudding taster option, which included a selection. The one I was keenest on was chocolate and almond cake, so the waitress kindly said they could include that in the selection.
I eat pretty much everything but I’m not a fan of creamy things or custardy things, so I stuck to the cakes and poached pears. It was all really good but the standout was either the chocolate and almond cake or the poached pears. My parents are big fans of rice pudding (I hate it and it just reminds me of being forced to eat it at nursery school – don’t ask!) and they said that this was a particularly good one.
Having munched our way through a fair chunk of the menu we decided it was time to head off. It’s fairly reasonably priced and the total food bill was about £90 for 3 people, which I think is pretty good considering the number of people. Apparently they also do a set lunch for £16 on weekends so why not go there and meet some friends for lunch? The food was really good, the staff were friendly and it had a nice atmosphere. The number of Spanish restaurants in London seems to be growing fairly rapidly and a lot of them seem to try to be overly Spanish, but Cigala is just great food in an unpretentious setting. You can find their website and location here (http://www.cigala.co.uk) and Cigala is well worth a visit!