On the busy, dusty streets of Marrakech, we would often pass doorways leading to beautiful riads with stunning courtyards filled with lush, tropical plants and fountains. And every time I stole a peek at these courtyards as we hurried past, escaping the call and beckon of an interested souk stallholder, I’d be surprised by this sudden and magnificent display of light and greenery.
From the street, the restaurant’s exterior seemed unremarkable, but after shedding my coat at the door and being led into the stunning dining room, I understood why the team at Truly had pronounced this dinner as a gastronomic “experience” rather than, well, just another meal out.
Natural light pours in from the greenhouse-like ceiling, meaning the space requires almost no lamps or spotlights when daylight is available (which happens to be at 6:00 pm and onward at the moment, with British Summer Time). Guests dine under gigantic banana leaves and hanging plants, creating the illusion of sitting in a garden. The interior decor is a combination of modern rustic: sophisticated in its colour palette of taupes, pale purples and greys, but remaining true to its Provencal roots with bleached wood accents and a natural stone bar. As daylight fades, the tables are lit with candles and decorated with pots of succulents, rather than fussy floral arrangements, making the Cigalon one of the most Instagram-friendly restaurants around. And although Truly offers a variety of French dining experiences, this one, in particular, is rather special because of that dining room.
But what I loved the most were the spacious semi-circle booths in the centre of the room – perfect for two people or more. Strategically placed in opposite directions, it felt like dining in a semi-private space, which felt so special!
We began our Provencal-themed dinner with a delicious cocktail and a potato terrine with peas and baby gem lettuce, which both John and I loved. It tasted like French country cooking: hearty and rich. The peas were slightly underdone (which I assume was intentional), so they popped in the mouth with a little crunch – a great contrast to the layered potato terrine.
To follow, I had the spring vegetables and seaweed cocotte while stealing bites from John’s soft poached egg with bacon, tomato and pickled mushrooms. I loved the sourness of the mushrooms coupled with the runny egg yolk and salty bacon.
We both ordered the crispy lamb belly with Borlotti beans and wild garlic, but were so amateurishly defeated by this point, we could only finish about half of it!
In truth, I’d been holding out for the amaretti and lemon cheesecake dessert, which our waitress couldn’t hide her enthusiasm for: “It’s amazing,” she enthused. “And, so cute!” she added, conspiratorially. When our desserts arrived (John had opted for the dark chocolate Moelleux and rhubarb sorbet), I saw that the cheesecake was indeed very “cute”: in keeping with the rustic theme, it was served layered in a sweet little jar, with a tiny dessert spoon on the side. Polishing it off in no time, I snuck bites from John’s plate, and ended up finishing his dark chocolate Moelleux, which was filled with wonderfully gooey, yet light, chocolate cake.
We left the restaurant arm-in-arm on our way to the tube station, and I thought how nice it was to have a date night at a restaurant other than somewhere local, for once. I love the pubs and restaurants near our home, but this dining experience felt like something a little out of the ordinary; a breaking of habit.
Thanks to the wonderful and friendly team at Truly Experiences for organising such a unique and unforgettable evening for us. I’ve now added Cigalon to my list of hidden gems in London – and I wouldn’t hesitate to take my family or friends back for a memorable lunch or dinner.
Read more of my reviews, over at Angloyankophile.com – Jaime