It was Friday night and five friends were meeting for an evening of food, wine and banter at Cicada. I’d never been before, but my friends had assured me the pan-Asian food was very good and, with one step through the door, I had a feeling it would be a good night. The spacious bar was busy and buzzing, one wall lined from floor to ceiling with books – well, actually it was wallpaper, but very effective and matched nicely to the long shelves of bottles stacked behind the bar, which also cleverly acted as a partition between bar and restaurant.
We were already running late for our 8pm reservation so, although tempted, we forewent the bar and headed straight for our table. We were guided through a packed restaurant, past a row of comfy-looking booths, to an ideally situated round table not far from the bustling open kitchen. The vibey music combined with the suitably muted lighting set a relaxed yet vibrant mood.
The menus were swiftly delivered by our enthusiastic, friendly server Alex, and it wasn’t long before a bottle of Azienda Agricola Monte del Fra Bardolino 2009 had been emptied into five glasses. The wine was a soft, gentle introduction as we reviewed a neatly categorised menu comprising an eclectic array of dim sum, tempura, maki and sashimi along with curries, barbecue and specials.
One of the guys in our party was recovering from a gut-wrenching endurance race and was looking forward to a night of ‘retox’, giving us a great excuse to order an immense selection knowing he’d finish anything we couldn’t! We chose a hotchpotch of dishes to get us started and were most impressed by the texture and tang of the spinach and pumpkin gyoza (since there were five of us, they made sure our portion had five pieces). The chilli salt squid was light and perfectly cooked and the aubergine, sweet potato and courgette tempura gratified us all, not only the vegetarian among us.
With the next round of selections, we decided on a bigger, juicier wine and moved from Italy to Argentina. The robust fruit and soft tannins of the Nōmade Malbec 2006 aligned well with the extremely diverse range of flavours on the table. A particular favourite of mine, and an unexpected combination, was the duck, watermelon and cashew salad, a refreshing, crunchy complement to the smoky duck.
The wine kept flowing and as the conversation got more interesting, so did the food. After a platter of fresh, silky tuna and salmon sashimi we shared some of the intriguing and exceptional menu choices. The hands-down favourite was the black cod with sweet miso; the fish practically melted on the fork and was superbly seasoned.
Other dishes of note were the aubergine and chicken green curry with fried rice and Korean barbecue chicken which were attractively presented. The Singapore noodles were a tad dry but still tasty. Instead of just the one obligatory vegetarian dish, there was a good selection and the Pad Thai proved an excellent choice and was satisfyingly sized.
Our friend’s ‘retox’ wouldn’t be quite complete without a sampling of the desserts – which we couldn’t possibly let him do alone. The exotic ingredients and interesting flavour combinations continued to the end, with an almond and orange cake paired with ginger ice cream and a decadent mini chocolate cake with a dollop of pistachio ice cream.
As we looked up from the debris of plates, we realised the restaurant had emptied out and we were the only remaining guests. While we sorted out the bill, our server Alex sat down and joined in the carousing while we swapped anecdotes of visits to his hometown of Brittany.
We left Cicada full and tipsy after a great night of repartee and laughter and what can only be described as an excellent dining experience.
Summary: a good venue for Pan-Asian cuisine.
Cicada, 132-136 St John Street, London EC1V 4JT. Tel: +44 (0)207 608 1550. Website.