Where has this year gone? The festive season is approaching once again, so there is still time to plan work and personal gatherings for Christmas. The latter is always a frantic time of year, as well as costly. However, in regard to wining and dining, there are plenty of affordable, hidden gems in London that offer a pleasant dining experience to host co-workers, family, or friends. Just recently, I had a spot of lunch at Cigala, an unassuming Spanish restaurant in the heart of Bloomsbury. Who would have thought this quaint restaurant, the latest addition to London’s collective hub of ‘gastronomic’ hotspots, would offer some of the most delicious dishes, directly from Spain? At first, I was not entirely sure what to expect regarding the quality of the food, as the interior of Cigala is not overly fancy but rather minimalistic. In my experience, ‘less is more’; this is why I appreciate that Cigala prides itself on being discreet.
Jake Hodges, a chef and the founder of Cigala, is the man to thank for the contemporary reinvention of authentic Spanish flavours and rich colours that are synonymous with Spanish national and regional cuisine at Cigala. Former head chef of the River Cafe and the French House and the son of the English novelist and film director Mike Hodges, Jake has spent years travelling around Spain to research dishes, a passion that began at his family home in Andalucia.
Since opening Cigala’s doors in 2000, Jake has continued to surprise and entice guests with original palette-teasers such as baby aubergines, La Bomba rice from Valencia, olives from Cheste, and the restaurant’s homemade bread with alioli, all of which are complemented by a diverse wine list.
Cigala – Homemade Bread
Cigala – Wine
I ordered some dishes from the tapas menu. The portions are quite substantial, so I would recommend two dishes per person, which is also enough to share. As an aperitif, I could not resist a glass of fresh, homemade ginger beer, after which I was fired up for the rest of the day. Cigala’s ginger beer is one of their signature beverages, or you may prefer a fresh rioja. To my surprise, I found the ginger beer quite spicy. It most definitely spiced up my life for a moment. However, I would suggest ordering a softer beverage, if that is your preference. I tend to avoid bread as a starter, as it leaves me feeling somewhat full before I get to the main course. That said, my friend persuaded me to taste Cigala’s homemade bread. It was warm and beautifully soft, but I found the willpower to stop myself from munching away before the rest of my food came.
Cigala – Homemade Bread with Amanda extra virgin olive oil and Mixed Olives
Cigala – Homemade Ginger Beer
For my main course, I opted for grilled squid with mojo verde and pickled guindilla peppers (Calamares a la planche) along with prawns cooked with olive oil, garlic, parsley, and chillies (Gambas al ajillo). As a pescatarian, I can eat seafood all day. There were a lot of choices on the menu for vegetarians, too. Although a little spicy, the food was deliciously succulent, with a prominent, fresh taste. Furthermore, my favourites were mainly protein-based, so I did not feel too full, which was nice. As a side dish to share, I ordered mushroom croquettes (Croquetas de setas), which complemented the seafood and were an alternative to pasta or rice.
Cigala – Calamares a la plancha – £10.50
Cigala – Gambas al ajillo – 10.50
Cigala is worth a visit. The food is tantalisingly good, at affordable prices, the portions are friendly, and the overall dining experience is warm and relaxing. If you are looking for a star-restaurant, I suggest you book a table at Cigala, where the food is ‘very much the star.’
Cigala is offering a Christmas lunch in the run-up to December 25th, which includes divine Spanish favourites such as Caldereta de Pescado, monkfish served with clams and prawns, and an Olla Gitano stew of chickpea, parsnip, carrot, pumpkin, pear, and saffron, thickened with almonds.
‘The taste of Spain, it seems, is too delicious to resist, particularly at Christmas!’