Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Magdalen, Bermondsey


It says a great deal more about my inexcusably spoiled attitude to London dining than it does about the excellent team behind the Magdalen that I only just resisted the temptation to dismiss the menu as "familiar". It is only familiar, of course, to hopeless restaurant addicts like me - there's the pig's head and gribiche I had at the Prince of Wales in Putney; the calves brains and capers from Racine; braised kid and artichokes from the Anchor & Hope. I'm not suggesting that any of these places invented those things (although the more knowledgeable of you are welcome to provide a more comprehensive back-story if you fancy it), but familiarity should not always be a stick to beat restaurants with - it should be a source of pride, and is to the benefit of us all, that the best dishes are passed around the gastropubs of London in tribute by enthusiastic chefs. There's nothing wrong with a familiar menu if it all tastes good, and the food at Magdalen certainly all tastes very good indeed.




Rabbit bruschetta were fresh and summery and though slightly over-oiled (actually, quite soggy if I'm going to be honest) were still a fairly decent mix of textures and flavours. I have a bit of a troubled history with rabbit; so many places cook it so badly that for a while I thought there was something about bunnies that made them inherently unsuitable for eating, and it was only a freshly barbecued version with aioli from a local restaurant in Catalonia a few years back that convinced me they were worth bothering with at all. Here the rabbit meat was sweet and juicy and as good as (I imagine) it can be.



I loved my starter of smoked anchovies, radishes, green beans and duck egg. The salad was dressed perfectly (and actually seasoned quite aggressively, fine for me but a bit too salty for my friend), the anchovies were tasty and soft (if not very smoky for some reason) and the egg was boiled to a nice runny yolk. Unpretentious, using top ingredients and displaying just enough technical skill to be worth the money, it was a classic gastropub starter. My friend's chilled cucumber soup was also delicious, studded with sweet brown shrimps and topped with dill, and very attractive to boot.



Hereford rump, white beans, spinach and rosemary was about as good a dish as I can remember from a restaurant like this, and I relished every second of the, er, 30 seconds or so it took to shovel it down. The beef itself was seared to a lovely pink, and was all incredibly tender, but it was the sauce that it came swimming in that made it really special - rich and brown and, for want of a better word, just very, very "beefy". An incredibly successful way of serving what was presumably not the most expensive cow money can buy - just cook it well and top up the flavour with a bit of extra effort in the kitchen. Top marks. And a friend’s baked brill was equally technically accomplished, with a great crispy skin (there should be some kind of law against serving fish any other way) and a silky butter sauce spiked with salty samphire.


Looking back now, I can hardly bear to think how close we came to not ordering the Magdalen cherry & almond tart. We were stuffed and slightly sozzled (well, I was), the midsummer sun was beginning to set over Tower Bridge, and had we thrown in the towel after the main courses I still would have considered it one of my favourite mid-range meals of the year. But we were enjoying ourselves very much and I quite fancied an excuse to neck a small glass of Jurancon before the train ride home, and so we thought it would be a good idea to share a dessert. What arrived was one of the greatest little cherry and almond tarts I've had the pleasure of eating in my whole life. Buttery and syrupy, with a generous handful of juicy cherries and scattering of toasted almonds, the filling was beautifully light, slightly crunchy on top and with a delicate but solid base that broke under the slightest of pressure from my spoon. Was it just that it was fresh out of the oven, was it the effect of the sweet wine, or is the pastry chef at Magdalen one of the great unsung heroes of London gastronomy? I don't know, I didn't want to know, I just want to go back and do it all again.


Detractors amongst you will point out that for the prices they charge at Magdalen, you would hope the cooking is at least very good. And yes, with £8 starters and £18 main courses and £6 desserts, while not being anywhere near unreasonable, it is perhaps more than you could spend in some local restaurants. But cooking of this style and quality - accessible, unpretentious, terrific cooking; cooking of warmth, flavour and spirit, not perfect but always enjoyable, this is not something you find in every neighbourhood. In fact, it's not something you find very often, anywhere. Magdalen is a restaurant that anyone can enjoy, and deserves to be enjoyed by as many as possible.

9/10

Magdalen on Urbanspoon

I was invited to review Magdalen.

14 comments:

Hugh Wright said...

Magdalen has been on my very, very long to-go list ever since it opend to a chorus of very favourable reviews a few years back. Great to hear that they've evidently kept those standards up! Accordingly it moves a little nearer the top of the list...

thelittleloaf said...

Very jealous. My Dad visited last week and has been raving about it ever since. Prices certainly aren't cheap but I understand that there's a 3 course lunch menu for £18.50 on weekdays - sounds pretty fair to me. Definitely top of my list of restaurants to visit this summer.

Patrick said...

I love Magdalen and really glad to see you review it - it's always quiet whenever I go in and it would be great to see them do really well.

Ben Bush said...

Glad you enjoyed it Chris. Long been a favourite of mine but haven't been for ages. Coincidentally I'm going tomorrow so I'm glad it's still up to snuff.

Incidentally, while I agree that there's nothing wrong with familiriaty if it's done well, I think Magdalen can claim to be something of a trail-blazer with some of those dishes. It was one of the Anchor & Hope's earliest spin-offs so it's been pracitising some of those dishes for some time.

(Apparently I first went in January 2007. Yikes!)

Gregory said...

Great to see someone do a review a venue where the paint on the walls is actually dry !

....and even more pleasing to see that Magdalen are continuing to please, some years after opening.

I think "familiarity" is a symptom of ambitious chefs whose career in London will take them from place to place. I dare say the brigade at Magdalen have probably (at some point) been on duty at the places you mention.

Thank you for reminding me of this great place.

gastrogeek said...

It was SUCH a lovely meal, thanks again for taking me. That samphire and brill was the business... We'll have to go for a cherry tart each next time, none of this sharing nonsense.

Mariel said...

mmm looks really delicious - would love to go there my next visit to the UK.

Milli said...

Ooo, you got a bit poetic there about that tart, you'll probably spend the rest of your days tasting Cherry and Almond tarts that never quite live up to your memory of this one. I ordered one in Wallace & Co the other day which had obviously been microwaved and the syrup burnt my mouth! When you go back to Magdalen to 'do it all again', I'm there!

Richard said...

Magdalen is wonderful - chose it for my birthday meal this year. I rather cheaply call it the "Posh Anchor and Hope" given the slightly more formal surroundings and still high quality of English cooking. A pork dish I had there on the last visit was stellar. Well done them.

Going With My Gut said...

Oh gosh. I had an absolutely wonderful meal there circa 2007. Really can't figure out why I haven't gone back since! Thanks for putting it back on my radar screen.

Wen

thecriticalcouple said...

we have visited Magdalen a number of times and always had great food. Lovely and charming, can't help but feel it deserves more recognition. Nice review too Chris.

Gary said...

I'd love to able to go some where like this, looks absolutely amazing!

Krista said...

I went with Ben (per comment above) back in 2007 and loved it--the food, the atmosphere, and the service. I took clients there for ages and they were always suitably impressed. I too am glad to see it's still producing and that you've highlighted it to the food-loving community. They deserve a little bit of a spotlight after "all these" years.

Ute@HungryinLondon said...

really love Magdalen too, had an amazing dinner there recently. I agree with you and the other comments, it does deserve more recognition.