Magdalen opened in early 2007 to rave reviews across the board. Reading those reviews, I learned that the chef, James Faulks, had worked at the Fat Duck, and his wife, Emma, was pastry chef at the Mandarin Oriental. And in light of how uniformly gushing the pro reviews were, I couldn’t believe the place had never before shown up on my radar. A friend of mine lives on nearby Bermondsey Street and hadn’t been. You’d think there’d be more excitement about the place, especially if you lived nearby, no? [Now that I'm blogging about it, I see that Around Britain with a Paunch had a good meal there in September 08 but that things ended on a bad note with the service charge.]
In any event, three weeks ago, Jon and I turned up for our 9 pm reservation, and we were pleased to see the intimate, dimly-lit dining room was packed. Our table wasn’t ready yet, so we cheerfully had aperos at the bar. The bartender was both friendly and generous: my glass of champagne was filled all the way to the top. It set a nice tone for the evening.
The menu offerings were what you’d expect at an ambitious gastropub, except that Magdalen’s starters were priced at the high end (£8-10). That said, the quality of our starters was very high. Jon’s generous portion of potted crab was very good – creamy, sweet essence of crab. As happens most times I order potted anything/rillettes, though, I wished for more toast.
While my braised cuttlefish was not much to look at, it was a delight to eat. There was definitely some pork in there lending a rich, meaty note to the creamy garbanzo beans and squid ink. A bit of Spain in London.
I can never resist pigeon because when it’s cooked right, it’s pretty much duck-meets-steak (i.e., super!). Magdalen’s was spot-on tender and juicy. The pigeon was a bit tough to cut without a steak knife, so I really should have asked for one instead of resorting to my fingers. (Jon said he didn’t mind, but then again, we’re married so he’s stuck now).
Jon’s rabbit with white beans and black pudding wasn’t the obvious choice for a hot June evening. But it was as you’d expect: hearty and meaty. On a cold winter’s night, I’m sure I’ll be craving this dish.
Our mains were £16-18 each and sides (of which we ordered two) were £4-5 each.
After so much tasty, hearty food, I would normally have skipped dessert. But feeling decadent, I tried the French toast and ice cream, which was well worth the ten thousand gazillion calories’ worth of butter and cream in there. £6.50 was never better spent.
Overall, the cooking and service at Magdalen were wonderful, and I loved the availability of wines by the carafe (we ordered one of red for £15 that went well with our meal). Our tab for two, including service, was £120.
The thing is: £60 a person is lot of money for what seemed to me like gastropub fare. We ate a lot of food, and it was top-notch cooking, to be sure, but nothing on the menu seemed destination-dining-worthy. Perhaps Magdalen has toned down the ambition of its menu since it opened in 2007 in order to become more of a neighborhood place. But if that’s the case, then it’d be worth lowering prices as well.
Magdalen, 152 Tooley Street, SE1 2TU; 0207 403 1342; closest tube station: London Bridge