"It's not much but it's ours"

Thursday, January 18, 2007


I have to admit I was getting pretty fed up with all the press reviews of Barrafina (ooh look there’s some fresh prawns that have been fried and that’s not all, there’s some eggs that’ve been transformed into..into..a tortilla..amazing). The thought of intelligent people wetting their knickers because they’ve seen a razor clam is not very edifying. So to try and get away from this hispanophile hysteria I had a hard session down the gym (“move it lardy” etc..) then sauntered down to a new restaurant called Magdelen. Luckily I’d had the wherewithal to book so although the joint was jumping my table was guaranteed (…back of the net).

Magdalen occupies the former site of a Peruvian restaurant called Fina Estampa which if I remember correctly wasn’t wonderful and had a lot of dishes where potatoes were involved. The new place is easy on the eye in a “Thank God David Collins wasn’t involved” sort of way, although I found the lighting level to be at NYC levels i.e. makes your date look good but where’s the food. I was sans date but didn’t care because I had one of my meals of the year. I know, I know it’s only the 18th but please bear with me.

When I eat out my rule of thumb, as always, is to make a decision about the level of cooking within the first few bites of a dish. As soon as I started on my first starter of Cuttlefish with chickpea and gremolata I knew there was some seriously good cooking going on in the kitchen. The whole dish just came together really well – the meaty taste of the cuttlefish and its ink combined with the small tender chickpeas offset by the gremolata and a little chilli farewell.

Hot foie gras was a tranche of liver which had been poached then sauteed and served with pieces of pickled quince in a thickish sherry sauce. The only way the dish could have been improved IMO was by serving it on something like toasted brioche which would have soaked up some of the juice and provided a nice counterpoint. But, hey, props to the chef for keeping it simple.

I’m used to meals failing at this stage but amazingly my next dish outdid both my starters. On the menu it appears as “Thinly sliced pig’s head, pickled red cabbage and fried potatoes”. What actually happens is that the chef has cooked the pig’s head (yes, at the restaurant), removed and combined all the good bits and pressed them. The whole is then very thinly sliced and served warm with a beautifully judged pickled red cabbage. Oh and the fried potatoes are not an afterthought – I got even, crisp, small pieced of sauteed potato sprinkle with parsley. This dish was just brilliant in terms of taste, balance and execution.

I was still waiting for a tailing off in the food when it came to desserts, but Gingerbread Ice Cream and Blood Orange Jelly were again, beautifully executed.

Surely the coffee would be found wanting. Wrong again, the sourcing and execution was immaculate and the combination of Monmouth coffee with exquisite in-house truffles was spot on.

Finally, a word about the service. At all levels it was friendly and professional (special thanks to Shakira who seemed to be serving most of my half of the room but was still sharp enough to catch me taking my snaps and force a confession out of me. - now you know the awful truth).

What are you waiting for - just go !

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