La Cigalo

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Oman Restaurant Review is a great resource and a fantastic read. With almost 8,000 members, you're always going to get a spectacular variety of opinions, backgrounds, and expectations. Every day I scan through the recent posts and find disgusted reviews ("the food made two out of five of us ill"), some extremely sparse ones ("I recommend this place"), and the glowing reports of replete and happy guests, all from real people with distinct points of view. What's quite rare is for everyone to agree on a restaurant's quality, price, ambience and food. But one place in recent months has been popping up again and again, every time with a good review. That's not normal. I had to go and try La Cigalo: could dozens of enthusiastic local foodies possibly be wrong?

They weren't. It was really good. Those people on ORR are clever, and I'm very glad about that, because I don't think I would have ventured into the flamboyant La Cigalo environment without some strong words of praise urging me on. Usually I'm a bit suspicious of restaurants with more than one speciality, but French and Italian actually sit well together. Both boast simple styles with full-bodied flavours and few ingredients, put together with respect, and lots of cheese.

First thing you see when you walk in is an enormous dessert counter. It's a beautiful sight and it took me a while to get to the table - I wandered back and forth smiling at the prettily-put-together cakes and slices and meringues and macaroons. Since I moved here I've become cake-fatigued by the number of franchise operations that feel the need bring in something as simple as a croissant from Dubai. I don't eat cake at any of the chains now; I won't until I know they can whip up a freaking cookie themselves. I'm grateful that there are new, independent places opening up all the time who emphasise fresh, homemade goodies. Those are my blessed cake havens, but I can't think of any that offers desserts on a scale to rival La Cigalo, where the bar constitutes maybe a half-mile of playful, tempting treats that are obviously lovingly-made but don't have that that angles-too-straight-to-be-homemade, sterile, professional look. 

Contrary to the position of these paragraphs, we did eat savoury courses before trying any puddings. I loved the little amuse bouche that came out first, and Maurizio was impressed that it was correctly identified as panzanella, not bruschetta, which is what it is often erroneously called, or at least it's erroneous if you're a Roman. This was a happy occurrence because it put us at our ease. OK, said Maurizio's eyebrows, maybe this place does have real Italian food. My eyes looked at Maurizio's eyebrows, and said, oh good, we won't have to storm out of here in disgust. Then the pizza arrived and we knew everything was going to be alright. Thin, crisp, fresh and covered in the right amount of the right stuff - fresh sauce and good cheese. The smell wafted. Slices were stolen.

I had a quail egg nicoise salad (always a pushover for that one exotic ingredient) and then, because I was still a little peckish, the lobster thermidor. I forgot how big lobsters are, and how rich thermidor is. This one was an afternoon-shift cancelling monster, but it tasted so good. And just in case you haven't passed out from finishing all that creamy seafood, there's a tiny quiche on the plate! They do look after you here. The extra stomach I've had grafted onto my back came in handy then, because we still had dessert to try and I wasn't leaving puddingless, having simpered so long at the array of cakes. We got the lemon meringue - with that lovely bit of bite outside, and inside smooth, tart and refreshing - and a selection of macaroons, selected solely on their looks but packing a punch with flavour too. The passion fruit and chocolate was the best.

The staff then sent over a selection of gelato, I think because we had been quite enthusiastic when talking to the chef, especially on learning just how much of what La Cigalo offer is properly homemade. They've got an army of chefs back there! All the cakes are fresh daily, all the sauces from scratch. Kind of sad that I would even need to mention this, but you know what it's like here, with four star hotels serving up fresh-from-Carrefour desserts. The ice-cream is all made in-house too; I don't eat gelato unless it's super-fresh, and that's not snobbishness but salmonella talking.

So I add my voice to those who discovered and enjoyed La Cigalo before me. It's friendly and efficient, has really good, well-thought out, fresh food, and a pretty big menu that's shortly going to get even bigger; there's something for everyone, but as of now not in an unfocused way. I think La Cigalo know what they're doing. Although after extensive googling, I still don't know what la cigalo means.

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