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Magdalen Restaurant Reviewed

A few tears, a few saintly things, a few blessings....another Bermondsey star

Written by . Published on March 15th 2012.

Magdalen Restaurant Reviewed

Magdalen is such a beautiful name, it is a wonder anyone ever wants to change or shorten it. Magda, Maggy, slip off the tongue easily enough but they don't have the lyricism of the parent, almost insultingly short by comparison. You might call a caffe Maggy's, but probably you would not want to risk calling a restaurant that.

For you artichoke buffs, I have since discovered the leaves can be used as an infusion for a diuretic

This Magdalen is named after the building. And while we are in the territory of religious names, around the corner is the fascinatingly monikered Crucifix Street...

For such an accomplished restaurant Magdalen takes no risks, it cruises, it has done this service before, but if you slip the critical slide rule over it, you don’t quite get what you thought you might get. It is a notch below the best restaurants in London, not by much, not by very much at all but it perhaps has life a bit easy these days with all that glass office space now opened up between Tooley Street and the river.

It should be a 16, but it is 15 on this showing, not bad at all, another star in Bermondsey, comfortable with itself, but lacking the kind of zip, esprit, niggle, attention to culinary details that would let me shove it up where it should be. Perhaps the difference in some gradings are just about electricity. I would vote for it for business or foreigners but not on a guided tour of what is happening in the city at the moment except its values are very much in the right place.

MagdalenanchovyMagdalen Anchovy

Such sentiments do not really extend to the staff who were impeccable through a rushed lunch hour or the room itself which is handsome and makes you feel like dining well off clean, ironed linen, albeit the table for two was thinner than a supermodel. (Or perhaps I am being too critical because I also had my mind full of what might be the best restaurant in the world – another article, another time…)

Magdalen insideMagdalen inside

There is a welcome innovation here to the menu - smaller options before and aft so there was an anchovy toast topped with half an egg to open and at the end instead of a full dessert there was a bowl of chocolate caramels which without being of Paul A Young standard were still pretty A grade. 

The anchovy toast though was a bit short on the, err, anchovy, you might get away with such genteel things in a nunnery, after you sister, but the monk's among us have been brought up thinking of the little fish as cricket bats of umami.

This after all is a menu that also includes pig's head as a terrine, sauce gribiche, pray. This is a kitchen, for those of you like to follow these things, was set up by a family and friends team who helped set up at La Trompette in Chiswick and have worked at the Mandarin Oriental and have some laudable plaudits on their website from other critics.

If you don't own a pinstripe suit or work for one, there is a good value £15 set lunch and carafes of Languedoc that can protect you from serious financial mayhem which on this visit was a greatest hits from the main script plucking the more healthy modernist sounding dishes.

The pan fried gnocchi with violet artichoke and curd smacked of being innovative but felt more like kitchen efficiency in using up the leftover potato-pasta without solving the artichoke's fundamental problem that it is all heart. (To digress a moment, for you artichoke buffs, I have since discovered the leaves can be used as an infusion for a diuretic…just so you know.)

The cauliflower soup with cepes, like the anchovy, lacked vigor or a real natural home for the cepes.

Not so an alpha boy's dish of garlic sausage, salsa verde and green lentils, note that green lentils, not black from Puy which you might expect at this level, but green, student curry lentils. Bad move. Tastes fine, but you expect other things.

MagdalengarlicMagdalen Garlic

The other main course was perfection, albeit not a technically very difficult level of perfection if you know how to poach an egg and drop it on to a silky fillet of prime smoked haddock in a butter sauce and scissor some chives on top. This, and the chocolates, might have been from a different kitchen.

MagdalenhaddockMagdalen Haddock

So too the rhubarb sorbet looking seaside pretty and pink with its cute tuiley wafer but, but, but, but, if you think about it, rhubarb does not usually have the kind of concentrated delineated flavour that lends itself to freezing. Or this one did not.

Magdalen IceMagdalen Ice

Maybe if you dried it molecularly speaking and beamed it back off Mars it might, but that had not happened. As a recipe it could not hold a candle to rhubarb and custard which would have fitted the menu well or better. Or even rhubarb and custard ice cream would be altogether cleverer and solved the issue with cream making the sifference. Or a fool. Or a crumble. Even a cobbler. Or an Eton mess.

Sorbet, no, Mags, sorry.You see my problem with 16…

Service 4

Atmosphere 4

Cooking 7

Total 15/20

Magdalen OutsideMagdalen Outside

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