La Cigale continues to deliver on its promise to bring France to Parnell and it does it well, in many ways. When the haven for Francophiles began its evening bistro ritual a few years ago it created a whole new dimension to the institution, already famous for its weekend market days.
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings the large high-ceilinged space that houses the deli, boulangerie and café transforms into a buzzing dining hall with a patchwork of tables and chairs spread into every corner. You’re in a warehouse, granted, but in the forgiving evening light it seems to turn into a lazy Provençal street somewhere in the south of France with the dormant market stalls and shop shelves creating the perfect stage set, adorned with all manner of French paraphernalia.
The fare served on bistro nights is both delicious and capricious, with no two nights being the same. The website tells you the menu of the week, with a choice of one to two entrées, two mains and two desserts at $62 a head for three courses. To give you a taster, on any given Friday you may have the delight of trying the goats cheese, roasted grape & walnut tart or garlic snails to start, navarin of lamb with summer vegetables or tarragon chicken with a creamy tarragon sauce comme main and a tarte aux pommes or espresso pannacotta with rum soaked raisins & coconut macaron. Need I go on? Memorable dishes in my books (I've been a number of times) include poulet aux cèpes (think tender chicken in a mouth-watering mushroom and cream sauce) and the hearty classic boeuf bourguignon.
You will need to book, at which point you are to indicate how many main portions you want (‘portions’ being the operative word, as all mains are served family-style in platters for sharing, along with potatoes, salad and baguette). Sharing phobes needn’t worry, there is always enough food. Don’t expect haute cuisine or silver service as dining at La Cigale is about as rustic as it gets, simulating everyday French eating at its best. If French is not your fave then come enjoy the same communal dining experience at of the vibrant Spanish nights that crop up every so often, or for the Moroccan tagines that are served once a month.
The atmos is chummy and lively and screaming for good wine, which you can order off the menu or grab from the shelves of the French wine shop Wine Direct just down the ‘street’ (the far end of the building) - which has some great deals on champers and the most prestigious French reds and whites. After the meal service one of the wait staff will wheel around the revered “cheese trolley” for you to order a wedge of stinky roquefort or oozy camembert to complete your experience with appropriate levels of joie.