As we were welcomed to Magdalen on a windy Wednesday evening near London Bridge, I was put in mind of a family-run restaurant in the best sense. Elegant and contemporary in its decor, crisp white tablecloths were prominent against deep maroon walls and wooden floorboards, creating a warmth that is often absent from restaurants of this calibre.
This extended to the staff, who were professional but genuine and genial throughout. Feeling at home, we sampled the intriguing aperitifs whilst perusing the menu. The light damson fizz was revitalising, and it would be difficult to choose between it and the pleasantly syrupy black apple aperitif which I would have enjoyed by the pint, if possible!
The menu itself felt refined and purposeful, showcasing a distinctive selection of dishes. Daily printed menus allow for fresh and seasonal plates, with quality ingredients used in appealing and unusual combinations.
We opted for cured Hereford beef and the special, which was a combination of quail and snail. The beef was simply garnished with watercress and a British hard cheese that really enhanced the carpaccio. The quail was mouth-watering to look at, crisp well-seasoned skin combined with moist meat in perfect harmony. Snails too have never tasted so good, for once not hidden under an landslide of garlic (it was provided but not enforced) and presented on toasted sourdough.
The quality of the main ingredients in both starters were respectfully allowed to shine through, and presententation of the dishes was considered and attractive. These agreeable trends continued in our mains. I opted for the braised black pig cheek with sausage, crackling, white beans and cabbage, a hearty combination that could be dubbed ‘The many faces of pork’. Tender and succulent, I am now convinced the cheek is the best part of a pig, and the crunch of the crackling was a satisfying contrast while avoiding being tooth-breakingly impenetrable. While the gravy could have been a little richer, this was an excellent dish.
The baked brill, too, showcased a variety of textures. Plump flesh beneath a crisp skin was paired with the crunch of grilled lettuce and soft beans in a sauce of traditional parsley and lemon. The eater’s experience in terms of texture, not just flavour, in each dish felt thoroughly considered, and showed the refined skill of its chefs.
We moved onto dessert, but not before sampling the curious-sounding ‘salted caramels’. An interesting addition to the structure of the meal, these acted like a dessert side dish. The small bowl of delicious chocolate salty balls that explode in your mouth quickly disappeared, and neither of us were particularly willing to share the last one. They were yet another nice touch, and along with the aperitifs constitute a reason to visit by themselves.
As for the desserts, we were once again impressed. We always have high expectations of ice cream in such restaurants, demanding something that justifies its inclusion on the menu. Our expectations were easily met by the creamy and fresh raspberry ripple ice cream, garnished with crumble topping. The second dessert was a lesson in how profiteroles should be made. Just as I feel strongly yorkshire puddings should be soft, I now feel strongly profiteroles should be crunchy as these were. Neither sickly nor doughy, they were brilliantly presented and cut in half with more excellent vanilla ice cream. A different and pleasing take on the classic dish.
The food, presentation, decor and service combined to make a very enjoyable evening indeed. At every stage we were keenly aware of the effort and genuine care taken over every aspect. Along with excellent ingredients, an interesting menu and a great wine list, we are happy to give Magdalen high marks.